David Parker had the opportunity to interview Mike Holt the latest International 505 World Champion who has been the heart and soul of the class for some considerable time and I consider to be the best “heavy weather” sailor ever to step into a 505. Mike kindly offered to be interviewed and provides some great insights into how he approaches sailing in “the most competitive fleet” in modern sports sailing.
Mike, you have changed up the set-ups of your 2 boats over the years, sailing a traditional “West Coast – Californian set-up” (transom mainsheet and Glaser sails) to a more traditional European set-up with center-mainsheet, P&B sails, why did you feel the need to do this and how has it improved your overall performance?
I have always had center sheeting, never could get on with transom sheeting! Historically I used P&B sails until 2008 when we switched to a Glaser/M2 combo. We had been on our own path with a Van Munster boat and P&B’s and decided with the Worlds in San Francisco we would go with the equipment we felt was fastest at the time, Rondar hull, M2 mast and for breeze, Glaser sails.
Early last year we started using a suit of P&B’s I had lying around and not used and we liked the look on an Alto mast. Felt that we could sacrifice some high wind speed for better low wind speed, especially with the amount of European sailing we planned in 2014. Basically we wanted to be competitive across the wind range and we felt we achieved this.
I’ve been watching you sail over the years and seen a dramatic change in a couple of areas, first you now believe you can “beat the best” and I think your overall performance through all wind conditions has improved significantly, how did you achieve such a shift in psychology and performance?
We had been scoring good individual race results for a while, but not really able to put a good series together at a Worlds. So we have spent a fair bit of effort on boat preparation, calibration, and perfecting all our equipment and then on executing lower risk strategies when racing. Basically leaving no stone unturned. We also worked on fitness and weight.
Mike, you are renowned for your off-wind speed, what are you looking for on the leg, to gain the most advantage and how does you strategy change from being in the top 5 to down in the 20’s when you round the 1st windward mark?
The goal is always to be in touch at the top mark and then look for opportunities down wind. Once in wire running conditions you need to have a plan as to which side you believe is the correct one and what phase the wind is in when you round the top mark. Has it got left or right, what is it trending. Then execute the run at full speed. We basically just sail the boat down the run as fast as we can.
You changed to a new crew this year with Rob Woelfel to replace Carl Smit (due to business/family commitments) and have been almost untouchable since, what difference has Rob brought to the boats overall performance?
Rob and Carl are both very similar, both very athletic with a burning desire to do the best they can. The advent sailing with Rob last week was simply he could commit the time required to attend all the events and put together a practice schedule. The old time in the boat story…
Now you have one World Championship under your belt, I don’t think you are finished yet, if you were to emulate on of “the greats” of the class who would this be and why and if you sailed against him/her, what would your tactics be?
I think we are really lucky to sail against a large number of greats now, Wolfgang, Nico, Howie, Mike M, Jan, Holger, Julien, Ian P, Ethan etc. Earlier in my 5O5 career I sailed against Colclough and Bergstrom too. When we were all together at the Mid Winters in Florida last weekend, we were talking about the evolution of the way we sail the boats, wire running, HA foils etc. The tactics used to be very different, so it would be an interesting challenge to mix 60 years of sailors into a “dream” regatta!
Give a new-comer some advice on sailing the 505?
Copy, copy, copy. Do not believe you can reinvent the wheel. Use the same equipment, mimic the styles and learn to sail the boat.
Mike, I’ve seen some great video of you inside the boat and there’s a lot of intensity in your sailing (almost to the point of madness!), you do lots of work on the helm which may be surprising to some, but how are you maintaining maximum boat speed?
Drugs. Or beer (ed. Mike grew up in Essex, so it’s part of the passing out ceremony for Essex boys when they leave the territory!). Or too much coffee. Back to the previous answer, I watched PC (Peter Colclough) sailing in breeze at a UK Nationals in Prestwick in 1987. He smoked me off the line, so I followed and watched how he sailed the boat. Very aggressive steering and mainsail trimming with the boat very flat.
Mike, thanks for sharing some insights into the class and your approaches to sailing the International 505, Parker’s wish you all the best in South African for the 2015 World Championships.
Mike Holt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or see him in action at most events!