Case study: Race preparation - it's a family affair.
Race Preperation, J109 skipper David McGough
Sailing for David McGough is a family affair
J109 owner and skipper David McGough explains the essentials behind a successful, ongoing and enjoyable racing campaign
David McGough has just completed his10th year campaigning the J109 Just So, which he bought in March 2007.
With his family, he choose the J-109 because it was well built, a reasonable size, robust enough for offshore, but also nimble around the cans. Also, because they liked the idea of one design racing and could sail together.
David explains, “The J109 seemed to offer everything we were looking for. I suppose I should say you can also cruise it, but we have not done much of that! It has been the right choice for us and the J019 is a lot of fun to sail across a range of conditions.”
The McGough’s goal has always been to enjoy racing the boat as a family. In fact, David feels that is one of the main contributors to their success, commenting “We wanted to build a ‘family and friends’ team who would not shout at each other, or blame each other. But, we also knew we wanted to develop as a team, come away with a positive experience and work our way up the fleet. Overall, we feel we have delivered My son Will calls the tactics and there are times where being told to be more aggressive on the start by your son is interesting!!”
The family consider their biggest success yet has to be the 2015 Fastnet. David was talked into competing by wife Mary and son William, who both participated too. Offshore has always been something they enjoyed and had success at.
David says. “To be honest, I was a bit reticent and had actually never done the Fastnet before, although I had a lot of offshore miles. The responsibility for 8 people around the Fastnet was not something I took lightly.”
There were around 350 boats in the 2015 Fastnet. During the first two days there was very little wind. Then the wind came in at around 20 - 25 knots as Just So crossed the Irish Sea. It was clearly not a race to suit the big fast boats like Comanche. After two days the team managed to get a connection to the tracker and we saw they were in the lead overall on handicap!
Their excitement is still very evident. “We finished 8th overall, the first J-109 out of 23, the second British boat. And, I believe we were the first amateur boat. I can’t describe the feeling when we crossed the line at Plymouth. Not only all safe and sound, but with a result I had not dreamed of. With not a single professional on the boat!”
This year the Just So team were the overall winners of Dartmouth Week and won each daily prize, won the Warsash Spring Series and missed winning the Spring Championship by a single point.
Just So has also dominated Class 4 of the JOG Coastal and Offshore series, winning the Offshore series in several years and winning both Offshore and Inshore in 2016.
David believes there is a clear ‘pyramid’ route to how you can become successful in yacht racing. Boat preparation is a key foundation to this pyramid. It is essential to ensure the boat is well prepared.
“You need to be a perfectionist! Having smooth antifouling is critical. I have generally had this sprayed on although a skilled person with a roller and a final rub down also works. Whilst it is expensive, having the boat lifted and scrubbed on a regular basis is also critical. I try to be there if I can, and will apply wax to the area above the waterline. It also gives you the opportunity to check the anodes and see if you have any weed on the propeller. That will definitely put you at the back of the fleet!”
In their 10 year campaign David has created a core team of 15 regular crew, plus other occasional crew. Some of the crew have been sailing together for nine years, which builds fantastic teamwork. This enables the McGough’s to deliver a consistent racing performance, working with 8 people on board. Events will normally include the Warsash Spring Series, JOG coastal and offshore races and various championships or regional regattas.
“For the offshore there are always three of the family on board. For other events there are usually four of us. We have grown a fantastic amateur ‘Just So’ team with huge camaraderie. Over the years we have become more competitive with more time on the water. The teamwork just happens!”
Motivation and fun is an important criteria on Just So. A key principle is you don’t get shouted at! Training is another key part of the pyramid, and Just So use the J-109 Spring Series for early season training. Here they are up against identical boats in a range of conditions.
David says “There is no hiding and you know where you stand on boat handling, trim and performance. We are competitive, but we also share a lot of humour and the team has a lot of fun.”
David believes it is important to decide what you are going to do afloat, and then optimise the sail plan for it. With input from Jeremy White (Elvstrom Sails, Hamble), whilst Just So has overlapping jibs for class racing, for the offshore IRC events they have found having non-over lapping headsails gives the right balance and a lower handicap.
“We have had sails from different sail makers. However, when Jeremy took over at Elvstrom he made a significant contribution to our racing performance. He understands our needs, designing the right shape and he made sure we had the right amount materials in the right place to give the sails their appropriate strength and shape. Our sails have a hard life and we managed a great result on the Fastnet with a mainsail that was three years old. Integrating carbon into the sails was a huge benefit to us too. They have been really robust.”
Importance of accurate sail trim
David believes when they get the trim right they are hard to beat upwind in a fleet of J-109’s. He thinks their sails maybe slightly more sensitive to trim than some others, and you have to be ready to make adjustments for any change in conditions and sea state.
“We get the best out of our sails by continually trimming and discussing whether we have the optimum performance. I give regular feedback on how it feels on the helm. You can feel as the wind drops if the sails are all too tight and you stop pointing until you ease, in particular the jib luff tension.
The crew call out our performance relative to other boats and the person on main sheet gives a commentary on the wind speed and direction and calls the back stay tension. We get the foredeck to provide feedback on how the set up looks from the foredeck when we get set up on the beat. And we pay a lot of attention to the slot and the backstay tension.”
Biggest challenges for the crew
Thinking about some of the toughest moments together David comments, “I can think of a few! Overnight to Cherbourg, downwind with the wind increasing to 34 knots with the spinnaker up, boat speed 17 knots, 2.00am, pitch black and the odd broach! We got the spinnaker down and held on!
In the early years getting the spinnaker wrapped but half pulling offshore at night. Waited until dawn and had to cut it down! And, being offshore with power failure, no instruments, no engine and sailing into St Peter Port Harbour! They are up there!!”
Crew welfare and safety
Underpinning the philosophy of having fun is ensuring the crew all feel they are well looked after and are safe. Mary McGough knows good food is important and ensures everyone is well fed. The onboard joke during their successful Fastnet was that Just So was the ‘gourmet cruise ship’. Safety is also extremely important. Everyone coming on board, however experienced, has a full safety briefing. The crew take pride in looking out for each other, especially during those moments when things are going wrong.
Before the end of each year David talks to the team about the options for the next year. Then promptly gets out an initial one page schedule. This means the team can consider the racing programme as they make other plans for the next year.
Fundamentally, David believes the core to their successful pyramid is building the right team combined with good preparation, commenting “I’m extremely proud of our team and what we have achieved without professionals.”