A night out with Mike Holt

The one thing that grabs you when you meet Mike Holt is that he exonerates the “ordinary genius!” I recently met him downtown Chicago in Timothy O’Toole’s on North Fairbanks, running late, I landed in the basement and there he is the current twice International 505 world champion at a table sipping a quite beer and no-one knows who he is?

I think the one great thing about Mike is not just his love of the sport, but it’s that he really has the “International 505” somehow flowing through his veins; from his humble beginnings in Essex to traveling the world, I still think, he thinks, he owes the class something when he has brought so much to the class himself.

He must be the most traveled 505 helm ever (up there with Howie), he tells me that he did the “Bloody Mary” in London in January, renowned for being baked in Californian sunshine, who in the right mind would fly 5,000 miles to prove you can race in near “bloody” freezing conditions. Only a mad Englishman living in San Francisco!

So on we go to the local Indian (one of Mikes most favored cuisines) and we get on to the topics of the finer points of sailing, he is a lucky chap with both Rob and Carl being top class crews and a couple of boat around the world, he has made the class his own playground (through brutal hard work), but has also brought so many influences and changes to the class.

Back in San Francisco at the 2009 worlds’ where we first met, he was an impressive heavy weather sailor, now he is just an impressive sailor, back to back wins in Kiel in the German heartland and then South Africa (if anyone doubts they way this man sails then take a peak on youtube of the penultimate race where Mike is on a flyer downwind if you don’t believe me), I have never seen anyone sail the angles and constant speed that he showed that day.

So getting on to boats, what makes him so fast, well he has sorted out his loft, got fast around the entire wind range and can sail with any crew, but when it comes to the boat, he has a vested interest in 9072. We keep chatting and he recon’s that this boat has the most wins of any boat ever to hit the 505 world championships, 9 race wins in total and counting and he suggests that the boat is significantly better than his new one.

This is where it gets interesting, because the human in him comes out, “it feels fast, it sails fast, it makes me fast, it just fits, I can’t tell you why it’s just the best boat I have ever sailed”, quite a line from a man, but it matches his personality with new insights about how he sails.

You see it’s not visual he is talking about feel, the feel for constant speed, height, the ability to always come back no matter where you are.

But more importantly is that he constantly recognizes he makes mistakes, if he could undo all of the past, would he now be on 4 world championship wins (he got the lowest overall points in both San Francisco and Australia), but when many look up to this man for guidance, he is still learning and adapting himself, that’s a demure man for you!

So what next, well he tells me he is heading to the Australian nationals, he said he hasn’t done that one before! And then I quiz him about Weymouth in 2016, mentioning that this is going to be one of the toughest fleets ever.

“That doesn’t bother me”, he says, “look at Kiel, if you can win there you can win anywhere”, and he will be in 9072 his favorite speed machine, so will he equal the gods of Colclough, and Krister (the only sailors to achieve 3 in a row), as he already sits abreast of Farrant, Marks, Elvstrom, Buffet and the rest.

There is definitely more to come from this champion and he is looking fit, sharpe and more than anything makes more water time than many do over several years!

Weymouth will be a battle worth watching.

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Congratulations to Mike Holt and Carl Smit – great achievement in being the 2015 International 505 world champion’s.

Parker international 505
Congratulations to Mike Holt and Carl Smit – 2015 Int. 505 world champion’s.

Pure boat speed, empty race track, lots of time on the water and a man who now know’s how to win, in the best sailing class in the world.

Once may be lucky (I don’t think so), but twice in a row magnificent!

Will he match the great Peter Colclough by delivering 3 in a row in Weymouth 2016?

Watch this space!

Mike Holt provides some insights into what makes him such a powerhouse in the International 505 class

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 Holt Parker 505
Mike Holt wins the 2014 world championship in Kiel Germany

David Parker

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?

Mike Holt:

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?

Mike Holt Parker 505
Mike and Rob win a tight final race in Kiel Germany to take the 2014 world 505 trophy

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?

Mike Holt
Mike Holt, is a class act in the International 505 fleet, an astute heavy weather guru, but over the past few years has gained all round speed that has led him to dominate the class in recent years.

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 mike@iointegration.com or see him in action at most events!

The SAP International 505 World’s at Kiel, Germany – who will win!

Well, the world’s are now in action at Kiel, a huge fleet has turned out for this championship race with at least 20 top contenders all capable of carrying off the trophy. But so much will depend on the weather this week.

If the wind stays up watch out for Mike Holt, perhaps the best “big-wind” sailor in the fleet today, he works the boat really hard and focuses on incredible speed to keep him out of trouble. Although not a seasoned Olympian, he just won the British 505 nationals and narrowly missed being world champion in both San Francisco and Hamilton Island on discards. If the stays up, he is going to put some serious numbers on the board, letting him throw some of the poor performances.

Likewise Howie Hamlin and Wolfgang Hunger, all perform well in big weather, so by the looks of the forecast, the wind will remain in for the 1st half of the event it will be interesting to see how they are set for the lay-day.

The fleet is dominated by the German’s so I would expect by the end of the week for them to hold around 7 of the top-positions and if the wind goes soft, they will use their incredible experience to mark some numbers on the board.

The we have Jan Saugmann, in his new boat, with a DNF in the 1st race and a 13th in the second, the twice world champion may find it hard to recover from this position to come within the top 10. Andy Smith (GB) is a newcomer and with Ian Pinnell, always putting numbers in I have an outline feeling that if the fleet goes “Olympic” with variable racing conditions these two – fireball and 505 world champions will put some serious markers on the board. Andy looks like a tactical wizard, being able to manipulate himself through difficult and big fleets.

Nicholas is a class act and with a 4th in the second race can afford to throw the 1st, interestingly only 4 of the top 10 have consistent numbers and this early on, you need to score some 1st to be able to throw out the bad numbers that some of them have.

Today’s racing (if held) will be interesting to see who puts some good numbers in. But if the wind stays high and “Holty” could dominate really early giving him that break later in the week, however his all-round speed is much improved this year with a change of loft.

Watch-out it will be interesting, but as I say the 1st 10 around the 1st windward mark will really be the players, so getting a good start with speed, the top mark will really establish the leaders for the rest of the race.