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Sea Sure 2021 - RED - LEADERBOARD

Tom Gillard's (almost) perfect 2022

by Mark Jardine 9 Nov 16:00 GMT
Tom Gillard and Rachael Gray win Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Week 2022 © Dougal Henshall

It's hard to win a major championship, fine tuning your boat, your sailing skills, knowing the venue, and putting in that vital time on the water, but sometimes you get a sailor who puts together a season which on paper looks nearly impossible.

Tom Gillard has done just that in 2022, winning an incredible number of events, in multiple classes, which include World and National Championships. I spoke to Tom about his (almost) perfect year.

It's not one type or style of sailing Tom does. He seems equally as comfortable in single-handers, double-handers, and with his crew hiking or on the trapeze. I was interested as to how he switches between the different techniques needed in each boat:

"I've sailed all these classes for quite a long time. I think having all the settings for the different boats is important, and I remember most of those off the top of my head - I don't write anything down. Making sure all the boats you sail are sorted, in terms of how the systems work, is important, but I don't really do anything different when switching classes. My practice only really consists of boat-handling: lots of tacks, lots of gybes, over and over.

"Each class has its quirks, such as when to go low in the Fireball, and when to head up in the breeze, which is important to get right, working out the best VMG angles upwind and downwind. Using all the boats around you, seeing their angles and how fast they're going is what I use for judgement. In terms of instruments, I take a compass when I'm on the sea, but I leave it ashore if I'm on a lake, as I use land bearings as transits then.

"Working for North Sails it's obviously a massive help to have new sails for each season, and my other sponsors provide nice new masts and fittings for each boat, but also there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work making sure all the boats are right. I sometimes polish three boats simultaneously for a whole day, as I think making sure the bottom of your hull is spotless, and as hydrodynamic as possible, is essential. Your boat doesn't need to look pretty on the top, and most of my boats have dinks and bumps, but the underside is absolutely immaculate on all of them, and my slot-gaskets are perfect.

"Going from one event to another I don't sail before the first race day, as I've done too much sailing and I need some time out of the boat to give myself some mental headspace. It's important not to do too much sailing. An example was the Merlin Nationals, which was straight after the Scorpion Nationals, where Rachael [Gray] and I were sailing both events. Everyone wanted us out on the water for the practice day, but I just said, 'no, I need some time out of the boat'. Rachael had a broken thumb for both events, by the way!"

Planning out a year in multiple classes is complex, as often championships for different boats will be scheduled at the same time. Tom looked at the calendars of the Solo, Streaker, Scorpion, Fireball and Merlin Rocket classes to plan his season:

"It worked out that there were no clashes between the events, which meant I could do them all, so I acquired the boats. I was even trying to find a GP14 for the Worlds, but that was one too many!"

While Tom's 2022 was spectacular, there was one championship that got away, with a runner-up finish in the Streaker Nationals:

"In my defence, I did have mild pneumonia! I've won the Streaker Nationals nine times before, and it would have equalled my dad's tally of ten wins, so I really wanted that one. I probably shouldn't have sailed with the way I was feeling, but I really did want to do it. Martin [Penty] sailed brilliantly, so it wasn't like there wasn't strong competition. He's an ex-Fireball World Champion and a very good sailor."

A good time off the water is just as important as the sailing, so I asked Tom which class, in his opinion, has the best social activities:

"I would say the Scorpion! It's a chilled-out vibe, a nice bunch of people, with newcomers to the fleet alongside old hands, and everybody's very open about what they do to make the boat go fast. It's a real community. The class is going from strength to strength; whether you've got a wooden boat or a fibreglass boat, there's help everywhere, and no-one feels at a disadvantage."

Tom's plans for 2023 aren't quite as smooth as this year due to calendar conflicts:

"There are a few clashes next year unfortunately, so I have to decide which events to do, and see which ones North Sails want me to do but, on the whole, I'll be sailing the same classes as in 2022."

Tom has competed in 25 events this season, winning all but two events, where he finished second. This year he has won the Fireball UK Nationals, the Fireball UK Inlands, the Fireball Worlds, the Solo Nationals, the Solo Nation's Cup in Carnac, the Scorpion Nationals, Salcombe Merlin Rocket Week, the Merlin Rocket Nationals, and the Merlin Rocket Inlands this past weekend. A quite incredible year and easily my vote for best British sailor of 2022.

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