Having started sailing oppies at Salterns Sailing club to being an instrumental part of Team Aqua on the RC44 race circuit, James Dodd talks us through his role as pitman onboard the boat. James progressed through the RYA Junior and Youth National squads in various classes, including Cadets and 420s, qualifying to represent GBR at multiple World Championships. We asked James a few questions to get a better understanding of his responsibility onboard.
Tell me about your position onboard?
I do pit, which means I am primarily in charge of sails going up and down, uniquely in the RC44 the runners are also in the pit, so they add a big dimension to what I’ve got going on every time the boat changes tack.
What is the essential skill to have as a pitman?
I think timing is key. I need to recognise all the manoeuvres as they are about to happen and understand what calls the tactician will make because, as pitman, well-timed smooth manoeuvres are very dependent on what I am doing so I always need to be switched on.
How do you interact with the rest of the team?
During the racing, I tend to keep my head down and focus. A lot of things are happening around me, but I try to continue chipping away at what I’m doing and handling anything that gets thrown at me. When everyone does that, the overall team performance is more efficient.
What do people not realise about the role?
I think everyone appreciates how hard being the pitman is, we are a pretty unique breed! No one wants to do the job. On the RC44 any manoeuvre involving the gennaker means the pitman has got to control the bowsprit, the halyard, and the runners; all in the same split-second movement. Everyone else in the boat recognises how demanding the role is.
What is the biggest thing that can go wrong, and how do you deal with it?
I think for me, the biggest thing that can go wrong, and my biggest fear, is trawling the kite during a drop. All that is prevented by good halyard management and tack line management, which in the breeze is harder because there is water coming over the deck. So you have to pick your moment.