Riding shotgun with each of four of the world’s best pro-sailors, how do they compare?

Missing marks, forgetting to start the stopwatch, or misunderstanding the race committee, they’re the things you and I have to live with. If only we could sail like the pros we’d never miss a beat and our results would take a hike. But perhaps you’d be surprised at how many mistakes the top guns make and even more surprised at the markedly different styles between sailors that have often spent many years sailing with each other.

The RC44 event in Portoroz, Slovenia gave me an opportunity to ride aboard four different boats run by four different world class skippers as they went head to head. Never before have I had such a great opportunity to observe four of the world’s best sailors slug it out in a fleet of strict one designs. The difference between them and their different approaches was fascinating.

Dean Barker – Quiet, consistent, in control and definitely running the show. I’ve never heard Barker raise his voice in any situation, I’m sure he must, but I bet there are precious few who’ve ever seen him let rip. Our match race against Team Aqua was no exception.
Barker makes all the calls through manoeuvres, including when the crew should move to the high side and roll the boat through a tack. As a result the boat has a feel of well oiled machine. The downside? Perhaps as a team they’re not as quick to respond when caught off guard.

Russell Coutts – Totally locked into the weather, manoeuvres and tactics, his mind appears to work as if three separate computers are running in parallel, analysing each situation at high speed while providing the appropriate action for any given moment. His voice makes the final link between the three issues, but the reporting rhythm can appear erratic. Long periods of silence as his mind works on identifying the breeze up sun and a mile away are broken by intense bursts of vocal activity, so fast that his lips can barely keep pace with his mind.
Also, don’t misinterpret his use of the word ‘please’ as a polite invitation to respond in your own time – ‘please’ in Coutts speak assumes a high level of urgency. The rest of us use a less flattering expression.

Ray Davies – Brain and mouth have a direct link with no filter or buffer in between. What you hear, is what he thinks and the feed is constantly on. Polite, clear and effective, it’s easy to both understand where Davies is coming from, as well as get into the rhythm of his thoughts. Sometimes it’s even possible to anticipate what’s coming next.
Not afraid to squeeze into tight spots where only solid walls of carbon exist, Davies has the kind of faith in a situation opening up that comes only through years of experience. To the rest of us, that gap was never going to be; a) there, b) big enough, or c) present at the right time. For Davies it’s spot on.

Cameron Appleton – Mellow, determined, highly capable and very easy to underestimate. Like Dean Barker, Appleton appears calm, focussed and in control as he makes the major calls. Yet, while Barker is the centre of the decision making process, Appleton is happy to spread the load more, allowing him to focus on driving when the situation gets intense without having to make too many crew calls. Sometimes, particularly when during the match racing an opportunity to control the situation crops up, there is simply nothing said leaving the crew to respond to the boat’s movements and their experience to anticipate Appleton’s next move. Most of the time it works.

Video – On board with Cameron Appleton and crew in a match against Russell Coutts