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The Selden SailJuice Winter Series: We speak to founder Andy Rice

by Mark Jardine 9 May 12:00 BST
Bloody Mary 2016 © Tim Olin / www.olinphoto.co.uk

We spoke to Andy Rice, the founder of the Selden SailJuice Winter Series, about how the series started in the first place, the growth that has taken place over the last ten years, and what plans are in place for the 2018/19 series.

Mark Jardine, YachtsandYachting.com: How did you come up with the idea of the SailJuice Winter Series in the first place?

Andy Rice, SailJuice: I sort of pilfered the idea from a magazine called Fast Boat which was briefly around 20 to 30 years ago. They pulled together the winter events into an article where they analysed them. I remember Ian Walker won the conglomeration of events that year in a combination of 420s and Mirrors. It seemed like a nice idea which gave greater meaning to each of the individual events and I hoped it would also add strength to each of them, giving competitors an extra reason to get out of bed on a cold winter's morning if you thought the forecast was a bit marginal. It seems that's exactly what it has managed to do.

Mark: Going from an idea to implementing this in reality is a big step. Was it difficult?

Andy: It was all on a bit of a wing and a prayer in the first year. I rang up some of the clubs and said I was putting together the series and asked their permission to put their event in the series. People didn't see any reason to say anything other than "Why not?". So, it started in an ad-hoc way, pulling together the scores of the individual events in the first couple of seasons.

Then Simon Lovesey from SailRacer approached me and there were a few things that he saw could be done which would make it more of a coherent series; so there were a number of step changes -such as online entry - which reinforced the early commitment from sailors to do the events, and helped clubs predict the number of boats and sailors they'd have accommodate and to cater for.

Gradually we started bringing in different elements, one of the keys being the Great Lakes handicap system. This became essential to me during a Steve Nicholson Memorial Trophy at Northampton where I saw a Merlin sailing faster through the water than a Fireball, and yet at the time the Merlin had the favourable handicap. Often Merlins and Phantoms would dominate the top ten of events as they were so called 'bandits' – the Merlins, being a development class, seem to get faster every year, and the Phantoms had just made some step changes in their rules, such as allowing carbon rigs, and the boat was measurably faster. The Great Lakes Group was formed and then started the beginnings of our own handicapping system.

In one of the events in the 2017/18 series you had to go to fifteenth place to find two of the same boat. To have fourteen different classes in the top fourteen was great.

Every change that we've brought in has initially been seen as controversial, and the Great Lakes handicap system was kicked around on the YachtsandYachting.com forum, as to why it was there and what it was supposed to achieve, and there were calls for transparency and how the system worked; but the measure for me is if you've got multiple classes all doing well at the top of an event, what more do you want?

Mark: I ended up titling my interview with the RYA's Bas Edmonds about the PY system, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't", so whatever handicapping system you introduce some people will love it and some will hate it, but it seems to be working well so far.

Andy: If the handicap system doesn't work for your own particular circumstance then you won't like it, and the questions keep coming in asking and suggesting how the system can be improved. The Great Lakes Group handicap to the highest performance of the boat, whereas I believe the RYA's PY system handicaps more towards the middle of the performance curve. The reason Great Lakes do what they do can be seen in the Musto Skiff and the foiling Moth - two boats which are very hard to sail. If you have lots of boats capsizing and being rated in the handicap system, it makes it very easy for the likes of Ben Schooling and Robert Greenhalgh to turn up, sail their boats perfectly, and then win by a county mile. So, the Great Lakes system is quite elitist in the sense that it handicaps to the performance of top sailors, but it keeps the top sailors honest.

Mark: You've had six years of support from GJW Direct. How did that help progress the series?

Andy: Firstly, it helped to pay for Simon's and my time, putting in the effort behind the series. I never realised when I formed the series just how much work it was going to turn into, and mostly it's a labour of love, but having a title sponsor does make a difference.

Mark: Now Selden have stepped in as the title sponsor. What does it mean to have a company that is so embedded in the sport involved?

Andy: I think what Sam Vaughan and Suze Hart at Selden spotted was that there are very few events where you have an opportunity to reach out to the whole of the UK dinghy scene in one go. Typically, through each of the Winter Series events which we've done, we get anything between 80 and 100 different classes taking part. Of these, Selden make spars for all but about eight of these classes, so it's a phenomenally effective way to reach these disparate groups.

Mark: Is Steve Norbury, the Managing Director at Selden Masts in the UK, is going to be competing in the series again?

Andy: He's been competing for many years and he does very well in his RS Aero! Steve has seen the success of the series with his first-hand experience and, because it happens in the winter, we don't have as many events to compete against for eyeballs viewing websites such as YachtsandYachting.com – we can really capture people's interest. For every person out in the cold weather competing there are another 100 at home, cupping a hot chocolate and maybe watching the Six Nations Rugby, but having one eye on the results coming through from events such as the Bloody Mary.

Mark: Are you maintaining seven events again for the 2018/19 Selden SailJuice Winter Series?

Andy: Yes, we are. We've had many approaches from other clubs, the notable one being King George Sailing Club which did such a fantastic job of stepping in at the eleventh hour when the Bloody Mary wasn't able to take place for the first time in its 44-year history (due to a lack of water at Queen Mary Reservoir). I've never had so much unsolicited feedback from sailors saying what a fantastic job they did on fairly limited resources. Rather than increasing the number of events, Simon and I are talking to some of these clubs about projects beyond the Selden SailJuice Winter Series – watch this space!

Mark: Will you be managing to sail at any of the events, or will the running of the series, reporting and the events you cover around the world, get in the way?

Andy: It really depends on 'day job' commitments. I hope to do some of them, and I generally manage to take part in a couple each year, but it's been a while since I've done a full series! I have massive admiration of those who manage to get four counting events and then there are people like Richard Botting who complete all seven which is a phenomenal commitment.

Mark: As always, we'll be following the series avidly on YachtsandYachting.com and Sail-World.com, and I know our readers love watching the Selden SailJuice Winter Series unfold too. All the best with organising it again and congratulations on securing Selden as a title sponsor.

Andy: Thanks very much Mark.

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