Having started out as a youth in the 420 on the Australian sailing circuit, Brisbane born Alex Gough's apprenticeship as a sailmaker with North Australia was his first step into serious big boat racing. A three-time veteran of the Sydney-Hobart race, Gough's career took off in 2018 when he raced with the Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race. Gough now races professionally internationally as a pitman onboard German 52Super Series team Platoon and on Monaco based 44Cup team Charisma. We asked Gough a few questions to get a better understanding of how he became such an instrumental part of an international team.
Tell me about the role of pitman?
My main role is to control the timing of all the sails going up and down, which is key in the manoeuvres and boat handling. I also work closely with the bowman and we organise the sails onboard and set the boat up for racing. The 44 is a small boat, so we have to multi-task during racing, often doing more than one job at a time, making it very challenging and rewarding.
What is the most important skill to have as a pro sailor?
It's defiantly important to have a solid set of boat handling skills, sail trim and understanding of how to set up the rig and the sails. If you have an extra skill like sail making, rigging or boat building to add to the team that is a huge bonus! In the end you need to be a team player, level-headed with a good work ethic.
What makes a winning team?
A winning racing team needs individuals who can do their jobs at the highest level, who can manage their areas of the boat but come together as a team when required. This applies across all areas of the sailing team and shore crew. The team, which is made up of many small parts, must come together and work as one cohesive unit.
Who is your sailing hero?
Hard question, there was lots. Guys like Malcom Page, Nathan Outteridge, Tony Mutter, Casey Smith, Stu Banatyne where all guys I looked up to when I was young.
Who would you like to thank for taking a chance on you?
There have been lots of people that have given me amazing opportunities along the way! People like Adrian Finglas who was my youth sailing coach, who showed me what possibilities there were in sailing from a young age, Mark Bradford who was my boss at North Sails, he guided me towards professional yacht racing. But there were countless people that helped give me opportunities and allowed me to prove myself. Someone like Chris Hoskings also was instrumental in helping me break into professional sailing and taught me what attributes make a pro sailor. I honestly feel like as long as you work hard and fit well into teams the opportunities will come your way.
At what point did you feel like you had made it?
There is no real point of 'making it' but more so a place where you are performing well and getting good results as a team. There is always room for improvement and making yourself a better sailor. You reach one goal, and there is always another to aim for.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
Finishing the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race and winning the leg from Melbourne to Hong Kong. Then recently the final race of 2021 44Cup worlds where it came down to the wire in the final downwind of the last race. We finished 2nd but it was a tough and exciting regatta.
What advice would you give a 16-year-old wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I think it's important to have a strong dinghy background to develop the basic skills. Then be hard working, willing to learn, listen and ask questions. Also, you should pick an area of the boat you want to focus on and develop those skills as much as you can.
What has sailing taught you?
Sailing has taught me from a young age to be able to work within a team. But also finding strengths and weaknesses as a sailor but importantly as a person.
What do people not realise about the industry?
Probably that sailing can cater for a huge variety people and their skill sets. From the analytical ability of a navigator to the physicality and technicality of being a bowman. There is always an opportunity for someone on a yacht, and the results of having so many different types of people mean's you can make personal connections that last a lifetime.