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Developing products with Gul: We speak to Mark Barnes

by Mark Jardine 31 Mar 2017 14:00 BST 31 March 2017
B14 sailor Mark Barnes © Mark Jardine /

We spoke to B14 and Merlin Rocket sailor Mark Barnes about the sponsorship arrangement he has with Gul, how this helps him in his sailing, the feedback he gives to Gul on product, and what he and the B14 class have lined up for the 2017 season, including their new 'classic series'.

Mark Jardine: What is your relationship with Gul and how long have you been working with them?

Mark Barnes: The B14 Class Association have been working with them over the last two years. We've been working with Mike Pickering to develop products for skiff and hiking boat sailing.

Mark Jardine: How does the product development cycle work, with regards to test product coming to you and then you giving feedback to Gul on that product?

Mark Barnes: We have a two-pronged approach here. We have development product that comes to us for us to try out, such as hiking pads to see if they'll work on a hiking skiff and also sailing on other hiking classes such as the Merlin Rocket, various sizes that we'll try over a couple of events and then hand the products back to Mike for his appraisal from our information. Gul will then go away and maybe bring the product to market with a couple of tweaks or maybe bring it straight to market.

On the other side of things we get product that is currently on the market, which people use on the circuit, but after a set number of events we send all the product back to Gul - be it boots, wetsuits, gloves, hiking shorts - where the team analyse the product. From this they get real data on how a product wears over time, leading to constantly improved product.

Mark Jardine: Does this specifically relate to wear and tear? Real-world scenarios as opposed to testing a material's abrasion in a lab?

Mark Barnes: That's exactly it. They're getting the true feedback of what really happens on a boat when you're doing hoists, drops, the places that you may catch the kit against fittings, and they can see if the wear is around the shins, the top of the boots: improving the product for the next generation.

Mark Jardine: What's your favourite piece of Gul kit?

Mark Barnes: The Code Zero system and also the Hydroshield tops; they're just brilliant.

Mark Jardine: Early you talked about hiking pads and hikers. What difference do they make, especially on a hiking skiff?

Mark Barnes: We've actually decided not to use the hiking pads on the B14 as they restrict mobility, but when I take them into the Merlin Rocket it's an essential as it takes the pressure points off as your legs going round the deck. The problem on the B14 is, because you have to be so much more mobile and we're hiking straight legged, we find that if you have the pads on the back on your legs it puts a hard point on the outside of the wing which may restrict you getting back in.

Mark Jardine: So you adapt the kit according to the kind of sailing you're doing?

Mark Barnes: Very much so. With the B14 we've put padding in on the trampolines to give a softer hiking position.

Mark Jardine: What events do you have lined up for the 2017 season?

Mark Barnes: Gul are sponsoring the B14 domestic circuit. We have the standard TT series and within that we have a classic series, which is for any boat that is pre-Ovington build. They have their own series within our series and it has generated a lot of interest. People can buy a B14 at the bottom end of the ladder and they can come and compete. It's cheap sailing in a skiff on a full-blown circuit; you can get out on the water for around £2,500.

Also we have the Nationals at Whitstable, a four-day event, which is open to the European sailors as well, running straight into Whitstable Week so you can have 10 days of sailing if you want. Then we're off to Australia after Christmas for our World Championship - it's being held at Port Dalrymple Yacht Club in Beauty Point, Tasmania - and hopefully we'll bring the Ashes back to the UK!

Mark Jardine: With the Classic Series, I presume this is fully aimed at increasing participation in events and making the sailing more affordable?

Mark Barnes: That's exactly it. We have a lot of people come to our stand at the RYA Suzuki Dinghy Show and see the price of a new boat, and a lot of people - especially those who are coming out of University with massive debts - are looking for 'bang for buck'. They want to attend the events but they can't put the money into a top-end boat, so we're very much gearing it towards them.

Mark Jardine: Are their opportunities on any of the established B14s to crew or helm with an existing owner?

Mark Barnes: Yes, there are. Like many classes, the top sailors are often multi-class sailors, so we're always looking for high quality crews to step in for a couple of events with the likes of myself, Nick Craig, Mark Watts or Jasper Barnham: all well-known names in sailing. At some point this year all of us will be needing someone to step in to cover for our normal sailing partners.

Mark Jardine: Brilliant to talk to you Mark and best of luck for the 2017 season.

Mark Barnes: Thank you very much.

Find out more about the B14 class at and Gul at

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