Interview with Triple World Champion Simon Payne

A good day at the office! Simon collecting the 2010 European Champion’s trophy at Silvaplana. Copyright Loris Von Siebenthal

Simon Payne is a well known figure to many as a highly competitive racer in both two-man and singlehanded high performance dinghies. He demonstrated that again most recently by securing that sought after triple-crown of championship wins, which many a dedicated racer seeks, by taking the 2010 World, European and National championship titles.

Phillippe Oligario, Committee member with the Moth class, caught up with Simon during a welcome period of down time since his Europeans win, for a question and answer interview, to see just what it is that makes this successful racer tick, and how he views his plans going forward.

Q. Simon, to many you seem to have been on a winning streak over the last two years. What do you principally put this down to?

A. Principally I’d say it’s enjoying sailing, good planning, and strong preparation with an ability to hold my nerve and be focused. Club races don’t matter, I’m happy to lose there, but Internationals races do.

Q. How does it feel to be crowned National, European and World Champion all in one year?

A. Well I have to say it feels good. I know I’m not the fastest, or the fittest, or the best sailor, so I feel fortunate. I feel I’ve punched above my weight really, and made the best of what I’ve got.

When two become one… Simon and his Abarth Mach2 executing another perfect gybe Copyright Thom Touw

Q. At the National Championships you were pretty much unbeatable across all wind strengths, ranging from 8 knots to 20 knots. It seems the weight advantages are now fairly obsolete in terms of strong wind sailing particularly. Do you think the equipment has anything to do with this?

A. Well I think you won’t ever completely overcome the laws of physics, but sensible gear selection and a good set up minimises any shortfalls when it’s not your conditions. I think if you are an average weight of say 75kg’s you can get way with one mast and sail, but if you are say 64 kg like me, you need to be prepared to make changes to stay in the game.

Simon cruising at speed.. Copyright Thom Touw

Q. How did you prepare for this year?

A. Nothing special really. I got a new boat and did a few test sails after my knee operation. I was a slow as anything, but I felt like all the foundations were there. Anyway, I’ve won the Worlds before and I guess because of that I don’t feel any real pressure now. The event in Dubai in March this year went well and I enjoyed it, in fact, I believe that’s a big part of preparing to win actually. You mustn’t put yourself in a situation where the event can become a horror show. Sometimes it costs more but that’s why I don’t camp when i am there for example. I can’t afford for things to go wrong. Having said that, this years Europeans were awful. Despite the best preparations you make, there are some things in life you can’t control, and my mind wasn’t on the job. I made silly mistakes, and I was lucky to beat Arnaud Psfarogiuis. I didn’t feel I deserved it really.

Q. You are the first ever person to grab all three titles in one year. Does this mean we will see a “Federer-esque” approach to your sailing now, where you will be aiming to keep break records?

A. Records don’t interest me really. Actually I think I had all three titles in 2006 too, but that seems a long time ago now.  I’ve done every Worlds and every Europeans since 2004, and I may well take a short sabbatical. I’m still keen to race, still feel good, but there are other things in life… so winning sometimes comes at a price. Maybe I just need a rest. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Q. Now that you have all three championship titles, what is next for you? I know we asked this before and at the time you played things down with talk of sailing your yacht and spending time out of the Moth, yet one year later on you are multiple champion!

A. For me I honestly don’t know. I’d like to remain current in the Moth Class and my boys are interested in Moth sailing too. I would love to see them have as much fun and get as much personal reward from the Class as I have, but the best race I ever did this year was the ‘Round the Island’ race in my yacht ‘Callisto’, where we came 47th out of 1,750. That said, the Moth class is in me, and it’s where my friends hang out too.

Q. Do you think there is still room for improvement, or are you now at the top of your game?

A.  Yeah sure I know I can go faster, I could actually practice and also do some boat work to improve the speed. Physically I am in good shape, although I lost a lot of weight in Switzerland. I’m not sure right now though that the motivation is there, If I race I want to be at my best, the Worlds come up so quickly these days, Belmont will be our third Worlds in  19 months and even for me that feels a bit much. I seem to have done nothing apart from sail a Moth since March and there are other things in life than sailing.  It’s easy to become a one trick pony and I’ve been promising to take my boys on holiday. I’m really looking forward to that.

Simon Battling it out at the silvaplana euros with Scott Babbage copyright Loris Von Siebenthal

Q. As the current World Champion, who do you see as an inspiration to you and why?

A. I almost always regard all the top guys as in theory better than me. I look up to them all and try to see what they do better. I know my weaknesses and I’m willingly to learn from guys who do it well, like Nathan Outteridge and Bora Gulari. With so much talent and technical excellence in the fleet now, I feel like a bit like a street fighter in a ring of outstanding technical boxers. I guess I’ve won largely because my will to win is strong and I love the fight! No other reason really.  My inspiration came from a guy who is the Godfather of my youngest son, Roger Angell. 2 x World Champion 4 x European Champion 7 x National Champion back in the low riding days. He helped me build my first boat. These days though it’s ‘Amac’ (Andrew McDougall) who inspires me on a daily basis. And generally after a chat with him, I sail better and go faster.

Q. At the Europeans the likes of Nathan and Bora appeared to have the edge downwind. Is this an area that you will be focusing on in the future?

A.  I started the event going pretty slow downwind in comparison. But by the end, I was fast. I’m now using the new Mach 2 medium mast which seems to work well with both the KA 10b and 13.1 sails that most people are using. I’m sure that if I actually spent more time on the foils that might help too.  I’m not really sure that the Europeans at Silvaplana was a boat speed event though.

Q. One year later how do you see the UK fleet shaping up and are there any names in there to look out for?

A. The UK fleet is in really good shape! I see really capable sailors on accelerated learning curves, doing well with a strong Class Committee in place. People new to the class are tacking on the foils already!  I’m impressed with people like Tim Penfold, Ben Paton and Tom Offer – and, can see them being up at the top soon. Yet it’s an all consuming process and it depends how much people want it. I see lots of guys in the UK fleet capable of doing well, but many are just not serious enough. That’s their personal choice of course, as opposed to a criticism.

Q. It’s apparent that the Mach 2 design of Moth and KA Sails are dominating the racing at the moment. Do you think this is likely to continue?

A. Yes, I think it will. We are immersed in the sport, we race the boats and we know the sailors and we are passionate about Moths. That’s a pretty strong combination. With regard to the boat, people don’t realize how hard it is to bring a Mach 2 equaling product to market until they try. Everyone involved in Mach 2 process has put in massive amounts of work, to beat it you have to go further still. It’s rare to see organizations capable of that effort. That said, we are a just another Moth design, and as we come up to our 150th Mach 2 sold, we know of course that the class only survives as a result of development.

Q. What are your plans between now and the 2011 World Championships in Australia?

A. Lots of work and a few days off. Some PR stuff for Abarth, and the Tide Ride at Hayling Island. I need to think hard about Australia. Despite saying that, I’m actually going out in my Moth this afternoon!!

Q. The Moth Class has changed considerably in the last few years. Do you think this will continue and if so in what way?

A. Yes, and its exciting! Look at the stir Adam’s wing caused. In many ways its kind of good that it didn’t obsolete all other rigs first time out. I’m sure he will do some more work to make it go faster.

Q. So where do you see the next technological breakthrough? Foils or rig or a combination of the two?

A. I just don’t know. It’s not really a strength of mine. But if is going to come anywhere in the Dinghy classes, it is bound to come through the Moth. And no doubt that will be soon enough!

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