British sailor Ian Williams talks to Sue Pelling about his Gold Cup match racing win in Bermuda earlier this week 18/10/06
Twenty-nine year old British sailor Ian Williams and team have won the 58th King Edward VII Gold Cup in Bermuda beating some of the world’s top match racers including the likes of event favourite James Spithill.
Williams and crew Bill Hardesty, Gerry Mitchell and Mark Nicholls won the event with a score of 3-1 over Frenchman Mathieu Richard and collected prize money totalling 25,000 US dollars. By winning the event Williams moves into first place in the Match Racing World Championship standings with 35 points.
Chatting this morning Williams told yachtingworld.com that he’s now in San Francisco ready to do battle in the Allianz Cup, which starts next week. According to Williams his win in Bermuda was a tough one although he would agree that maybe the standard of competition wasn’t as high as last year, commenting: “Yes, it is fair to say the competition wasn’t quite as strong as it was last year. I think perhaps some of the people weren’t quite so experienced in terms of finals racing. That’s where you find the likes of Coutts and Gilmour very hard to beat purely because of the experience they have, and the way they work you. Having said that James Spithill was there and is pretty hot at the moment. It’s been a long time since he hasn’t won an event. Also it was interesting to see that the likes of Jes Gram-Hansen didn’t even progress from the first round.”
Although Spithill, who won the event last year, was the favourite going into this event Williams believes that winning comes down to performance on the day, getting a good start and taking the correct shifts, adding: “Spithill is particularly strong when the breeze is up. He knocked us out in the quarter finals last year in 14-16kts and he had a reasonably significant speed edge over us then. But in the lighter air I don’t think he quite had the same speed edge this time.”
Williams’ impeccable starting performance throughout the regatta was undoubtedly the key to his success. Racing heavy, 33ft long-keeled International One-Designs (IOD) which are not known for their swift manoeuverability, it was crucial to get the timing right going into the start. “These boats are unusual for matchracing because they turn so slowly and take a long time to accelerate. This means that the pre-start becomes quite important. Here you quite often end up with one person convincingly winning the start. One of our starboard starts we managed to hold Mathieu Richard away from the line for four minutes. If you can do that you’re well on the way to winning the race.”
Sailing for a nation known for producing the best Olympic sailors in the world it was interesting to hear Williams’ thoughts on why Britain has seen few British match racers succeed on the world circuit. “I think the RYA obviously have a strong Olympic focus. I was lucky enough to get some lottery funding while match racing was still in the Olympics so between 1997 and 2000 I was funded for my Soling campaign. When the funding stopped it was difficult. Since then I’ve funded my own sailing while training to be a lawyer. Because I had that initial leg up with lottery funding I was fortunate to have been able to break into the match racing scene but it’s tough for youngsters now trying to get onto the match racing circuit because you need to do a lot of travelling which costs a lot of money.”
Interestingly although as a youngster Williams did a stint of Cadet sailing with his best result being an eighth at the worlds, he progressed immediately into match racing. Commenting on his transition to the match racing scene in 1994 Williams said: “I was lucky because there were a couple of guys from my club – Richard Sydenham and Adam May – who won the youth nationals the year before with Lee Sydenham. That year they were looking for a middleman and we won two youth world championships together in 1994/5.”
Eleven years on Williams finds himself on the top of the world ranking list preparing to do battle next week with the world’s greatest matchracers including the likes of Peter Gilmour, Chris Dickson, Ed Baird, Jesper Bank and fellow British sailor Ben Ainslie. One thing for sure, if he wants to follow his ambition of one day becoming involved in an America’s Cup campaign, he’s definitely on the right course.