Commitee Focus – Will Whittaker

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This week we’re focusing on Will Whittaker, who has been on the committee for 8 years and holds ths post of Rear Commodore Sail.

How did you get into sailing? My Dad sailed a Lark as a member of Barnt Green Sailing Club. As the youngest of three boys, I watched my brothers sail and was desperate to join them. When I finally started sailing, I was nine or ten and crewed for my older brother Daniel in a Cadet called “left over wine”.  First Picture – Dan and I at the Cadet Nationals Plymouth 1990.

1990 – Sailing in the Cadet Nationals with my brother

How did you join DWSC? I had a friend who was a member and it gave me the impetus to get a Laser and join him over 15 years ago. Sadly, Dan was in the army so quickly moved away to Salisbury. I then started joining in with Sunday racing, Chris Dickinson and Robert Browett were the only other Laser boats at that time regularly racing. The fleet, then started to gain other new members and quickly grew in popularity, particularly on Wednesday evenings, where single handed fleet racing is the obvious choice when typically running late, trying to get to racing after work!

Why did you go on the Committee? I spent a lot of time encouraging others to join the Laser fleet and had little help or support from the committee. With my fellow Solo fleet captain (Jeremy) we could not understand why fleet captains were not consulted for racing input or encouragement. This coupled with the seemingly perilous position of the club, I joined with Jeremy to try and bring some expertise as a business owner.

What do you do on the Committee? This has changed significantly since I joined in 2012. Initially Phil, Rodger, Jeremy and I were very hands on, working with Dave to set up processes to move the club forward. Huge time was spent making the club self-sufficient. My predecessor Richard Botting was extremely burdened by the day to day running, dealing with details such as timesheets, shift rotas, etc. Dave picked this up in his role initially as Water Manager. As Dave has grown into the role as Club Manager, my role has become far more strategic, where the committee provide guidance, resource and support to what is an excellent club team which Dave has built.  My role has continued with the successful extension of our existing lease until 2045 and more recently the unprecedented situation where the club has had to close and furlough staff. Dave, Jeremy and I have a daily conference call manage the constant moving goalposts from government and are now looking to how we will run without a commercial income for an unknown amount of time, as well as how we start up again when social distancing restrictions are lifted.

What’s your best sailing experience? The easy answer would be to say in a dinghy, but the best experience has to be sailing to the Scilly Islands with my parents in the mid 1990’s. We often sailed along the south coast with friends but decided one summer in fine weather to head off passed the Lizard and onto what was the unexpected magical Scilly Islands. We enjoyed island hopping the white sandy beaches, swimming in clear seas and evening drinks in the local pubs. I hope to take my boys by boat there at some point so they too can have such memories.

And at Draycote? I cannot remember how we faired as a teenager visiting as a crew in Cadets then Larks – not well! However, these days it’s more about enjoying sailing on a windy day on a reach across the lake and racing the excellent Laser fleet sailors we have at the Club. The standard is high across the board and something that should be experienced by everyone. Due to family commitments and the time spent supporting the club, the one thing I have not managed is compete again on the Laser circuit.

Laser sailing at Draycote

What is your most embarrassing sailing experience? When I finished crewing for my brother, I sailed for female helm called Jo. She was very good, and we were always near the front of the fleet. This meant I would often return home on a Sunday evening from an open meeting to show my older brothers my new trophy which said; “first girl crew”. This regularly gave my older brothers huge entertainment. Luckily after a while the trophies turned into gloves and hats as clubs took pity on me. I remember my first Musto hat from West Kirby SC!

Who inspires you? I am going to presume this is in sailing not in life, because they would be very different. Mike Golding and Alex Thompson, both of whom have huge motivation and focus to compete but also podium in the Vendee Globe. These campaigns take huge commitment and if you are ever feeling a little bored, watching YouTube videos of an IMOCA 60 in the Southern Ocean makes you focus your mind! However, for sailing I cannot look past Ben Ainslie for drive, single minded focus and determination to win. A quiet man off the water, but when on it, quite simply the best in terms of Olympic medals but also tactical racing. Who can ever forget the influence he had on team Oracle when he came onto the boat as tactician to drive what was the greatest ever sport comeback of all time. A true sporting great, that we hope can finally bring home the Americas Cup!

Meeting Ben Ainslie at the 2012 Olympics.

Who would you like to swap places with for a day? This is really hard, because it depends what you want to do for the day; sail, relax or go to a back tie ball!! I think given my answers should be sailing focused, I would take swapping with Alex Thompson when his foiling IMOCA 60, Hugo Boss, in the Southern Ocean crashing through the waves at 25-35 knots. This would be an eye opener, physically and mentally and one I would not want to do for any longer than a day!! In fact, a day would be a great experience but allows for me to be back in the bar early evening, showered and dry, ready to relax with a pint of beer!

Which 4 individuals (living or dead) would you love to have dinner with? Well for dinner it would have to have good conversation, unique stories and involve wine! Whilst I would be good to consider the likes of Margret Thatcher who is my economic and political hero, I feel it would be rather heavy conversation for a dinner date. Therefore, I would have to choose 4 people who would make it more light hearted, enjoy a drink or two, have conversation I would enjoy and involve unheard stories.

My first choice therefore would be Richard Branson. He was the first person I recognised with as having the same learning difficulties as me, Dyslexia. For those who don’t have it, it’s hard to understand how you cannot spell, hear or remember words; even words you could spell five minutes before! As a young teenager, knowing someone else (who was cool as he owned planes, record stores and went to parties!) had been through the same struggles and seemingly had not been held back, suddenly made the academic world far more bearable! For this I would like to understand his struggles with Dyslexia and how he managed to overcome them in adult life.

My second choice would be Jenson Button. While Nigel Mansell was my boyhood hero and arguably a better racer, he did not have the lifestyle, party boy characteristics of Jenson. Who in his younger years, along with the likes of Eddie Irvine, were the last of the party racers, that go back throughout Formula One history. I am sure there would be plenty of stories to be shared!

My third choice would be Lawrie Smith, the blonde haired, big earning sailing icon from the 1990’s. His tales from the Olympic, American Cup and Whitbread campaigns would be many and packed with controversy, from onshore team building to high profile football like transfers between teams in the late 1990’s. He would certainly add atmosphere and would not hold back opinion!

Finally, my fourth choice for dinner would be Chris Evans. He has experienced the extreme highs and lows of life, both privately and commercially, interviewed the vast majority of the rich and famous and is a car nut! He’s seemingly done it all and will have the stories to match!