Nick Craig chats to Sue Pelling 2 Oct 2013
Craig on method of preparation for a national or world championship
Most championships are won before the event because preparation is everything. Quality time on the water is the best preparation. Racing against the best people possible, having a few learning objectives each time you sail, and to be willing to experiment with new things outside the big events. Ideally your sailing should have a mix of racing, two-boat tuning and solo practice depending on your strengths and weaknesses. Fitness is also really important. I generally step up a gear in the gym and bike in the six weeks preceding a major event.
On what gives him the edge over his competitors. Is it psychological, physical, talent, best equipment, or a good mix of each?
It’s actually rare that I’ve had an edge – I’ve lost a lot more championships than I’ve won. The time I perhaps had an edge was 2005-7 and I’d say that was down to a lot of quality sailing and gym work. I was doing more sailing and gym work in 2005-7 than at any time in my life and any other amateur. I think there are many more talented sailors than me; it took me many years to win major events whereas more talented sailors have done that much faster. I’d say I have won events through hard work and strong preparation rather than superior talent. Hard work pays off in the end.
I always aim to sail with the best equipment. But I don’t think that has given me an edge in the classes I sail because everyone has access to the same equipment, which is a feature I like. Psychologically, I like big events especially when it goes down to the wire on the last day. They are my favourite days, I love that buzz. I think that mindset helps.
On addressing his weaknesses?
A mix of working hard on them and not getting too hung up on them – you can go a long way through leveraging your strengths. For example, the 2008 Endeavour was light airs and we were heavy but won it through winning most of the starts to make up for our lack of boatspeed.
I generally struggle most with light airs pace, partly because I switch boats a lot. Time in a particular boat is key for light airs pace whereas I find time in any boat works in more breeze. As much two-boat tuning as I can do in those conditions with a fast partner is very effective though not always easy to arrange. I’ve had an edge in light airs when I’ve put in the quality time to earn one.
On using other sports to enhance fitness on the racecourse?
I aim to have a varied programme to keep it interesting so sustainable. I do a fair bit of cycling, swimming, rowing machine, weights and circuits. In the build up to a major event, I’ll focus more on what is required for that boat. For example the OK is hard on the legs but not on the upper body so I’ll focus on leg work whereas the Finn needed a lot of both. I think fitness has been a major edge for me in amateur sailing, though it’s getting tougher to maintain that as the years pass. The pro sailors were always fitter than me, sailing the Finn for three years was great for me in realising just how fit it’s possible to be, I stepped up a fair bit during that period.
On the reasons behind the decision to remain an amateur sailor?
I have a realistic understanding that I’m not good enough to make the Olympics. I’d never have beaten the likes of Ben [Ainslie] and others even with unlimited time. Whilst there may have been a professional route in yacht sailing, I much prefer dinghy sailing, so the amateur route has made sense for me and I’ve loved it and have no regrets.
On his first Endeavour Trophy win?
I was 30 representing the OK class. It took me five attempts to win the Endeavour; it is an extremely tough event. Stu Bithell, James Peters and Ben Saxton who all won or nearly won it at their first attempts are exceptionally talented, that wasn’t something I was able to come close to.
On his closest Endeavour rivals?
There have been many all with very different sailing styles, which is what makes it so interesting. I think Jim Hunt, Geoff Carveth and Roger Gilbert have been the most consistent performers over the years with James Peters and Ben Saxton hugely impressive over the last few years.
On the choice of Endeavour boats over the years, and the most successful?
I love racing the Enterprise and RS400 but the Xenon has been a huge success due to Topper’s excellent support. They provide 25 ready to sail boats, which makes it easy for people to compete and ensures as level playing field as is possible.
On his plan of action to ensure a best possible chance of winning?
Secure the best possible crew.
On selecting a crew for the Endeavour Championship?
I think the two key qualities needed are to get a crew with a great feel for a boat so the boathandling comes together quickly, and exceptional hiking fitness because eight races in two days is tough, particularly in a breeze.
On the importance of attending the Endeavour Trophy training day?
For me the training day is key. I take a little longer than some of the uber-talented sailors to get up to speed so I like that time in the boat to get the feel of it again. And starting is so important at the Endeavour so we’ll put ourselves under pressure on the start line on the training day by pushing the ends to sharpen ourselves up as fast as possible.
On the difference between competing at the Endeavour Trophy and a class championship?
A big difference. Burnham is highly tidal and the courses are short. Starting, boathandling and boat on boat tactics therefore become much more important. It’s been a good event for me as these are my strengths whereas big course champs play a little more on my weaknesses.
On the importance of winning the Endeavour Trophy?
It’s a fantastic event with more depth of competition than almost any other UK event, so it is very important to me.
And finally, on giving advice to Endeavour first timers?
Spend the practice day working on your starting/slow speed boathandling so you can focus as much as possible on the racing at the weekend. Chat to as many people as possible with Endeavour experience to get an understanding of the tides.