Ian Walker: The Role of Tactician

Ian Walker checks in on his latest sailing in the Caribbean and the role of tactician in high performance sailing.

Antigua Sailing Week
Ian Walker's latest ride, TP 52 Gladiator at Antigua Sailing Week.Antigua Sailing Week

This Spring I've been fortunate to have already raced in Key West Race Week and two big boat regattas in St Barths. As I write this, I'm heading back out to race on the TP52 Gladiator in Antigua Race Week. It will be the first time I have raced in Antigua so I'm really looking forward to it. We will be racing a TP52 in a mixed handicap fleet under the Caribbean rating system. I love the TP52. It is undoubtedly the best and most competitive Grand Prix keelboat I have ever sailed and after several successful seasons skippering Patches a few years ago, I have a real soft spot for the class. The boats have developed and are even better now than they were back then.

This year I am racing as tactician on a British boat owned and steered by Tony Langley with a top International crew. The tactician’s main job is to work closely with the navigator to devise the best tactics and race strategy. I am the decision maker for the boat, which whilst fun, can also be a brutal, lonely role – just as skippering a Volvo Ocean Race boat can be. The job gets considerably easier when the boat is going fast and the crew is working well. Nothing makes a tactician look better than a fast, well-sailed boat! For this reason I have a big interest in helping to organise the training time, and working with the trimmers and helmsman to improve the sails and set up of the boat. This warm up regatta will really help get us in tune and ready for the first Super series regatta in Italy next month.

Despite having inshore races in each stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race, it’s been a while since I’ve done tactics inshore – I’m pleased to be getting some regattas under my belt. Tactics is a high-pressure game but it’s also a bit like riding a bike. You can approach it very analytically and simply manage the percentages and the risk, or you can approach it with a lot of flair, gut instinct or intuition. Is it an art or is it a science? My feeling is that first and foremost, you must treat it as a science and manage the risk and percentages - but you should never be afraid to follow your gut instinct.

From Antigua I fly directly to Palma for the first regatta of the season on a Wally 100 Magic Carpet 3. This is another beautiful boat with a very enthusiastic owner and a really strong team. We have some tough boats to race against but we will be hoping to get MC3 back to winning ways. It's all a long way away from sailing thousands of miles offshore in a Volvo Ocean 65 and whilst the travel isn't much fun, it is nice to be able to have a warm shower and comfy bed every night.