Rob Weiland: Some people say they race only to have fun, but that's not true

Rob Weiland is a dutch sailor, who has a long story in racing and working on yachts production. Since 2007 he is not only the TP52 Class Manager but also TP52 Chief Measurer. Everyone has their opinion about future. Rob shared with us his view and expectations about sailing and how it will change.

What are the tendencies in yacht racing right now, what do you think?

Well, these are very age related questions you know. The people who are now older than 50… For any kind of sailing boat, you need money. So either your parents buy you a boat when you are young, you get into sailing but stop it quickly because you need to study, get your first job, fall in love, get kids and buy a house…and then you are done with sailing. People who love this sport will continue to sail, on other people’s boats etc… There are many people who sail 2-3 times per year, maybe a practice little bit, but to really determine the choice of boat you want, you need have the money to buy one. By the time you’ve made enough money, most people are 50-60 years old and then you don’t look for boats that are dangerous or need a highly trained body. So the most traditional boats, in the end, will be the boats for the old. Young people will love the dangerous boats that give you a thrill. Surely the current hype for young people is to be fast colorful, a bit crazy. That’s also why surfing attracts people, you know.  Something your parents don’t like, with a bit of hippie hint. That’s what you love doing, as a kid. There are also these groups of professional sailors who love extreme boats, which make them stand out and compared to mainstream boats, it’s easier to find sponsors for these exciting boats.

You mentioned some people stop doing sailing when they grow up, but also are there any other obstacles for sailing and yacht racing?

I think there are two obstacles for sailing: money and time. It’s very time consuming, it’s not like going playing squash for half an hour and then taking a shower and hop in your car. It easily takes a day. If you live near the water you can go out at 4 o’clock in the afternoon sail a little bit, but then you are already lucky to live next to your boat. For most people, it’s very time consuming, and to be invited to sail you have to be pretty good, you have to have some knowledge. Sometimes it is more difficult to find people than a boat. If you are ambitious and you want to sail on TP 52 or something similar, it quickly becomes very difficult, because this class has only professional sailors. Some of them might not be very good, but if they are available and have special skills such as maintenance or sail repairing, they quickly become attractive. And that’s why they are in a team; pure sailing skills are not the only ability required in a team. Like in any sport anywhere, it’s necessary to have 2 skills, whether you are a lawyer or you good in making sails. One skill will get you in the team and the other one will let you grow. You will always learn; there are so many great people around you all the time.

What do you think will be happening to sail racing in 10 or 20 years? Will it change? Or the boats just become lighter?

Well, everything changes. The industry will try to provide a better price for boats, it will more become like the car industry. Boats will look unique but will be made like cars. When we started, in 60-70s, every boat was handmade. That’s a very expensive way of doing it. It also created lots of mistakes and lots of problems. You will see more old boats that have a certain charm like old cars. And people will love old boats; they will spend money to keep those afloat and looking good. But it will be just like old cars; a rich men hobby.

What about the racing itself?

Boats will become so expensive so there probably will be a lower need to have handicap rules. Now a lot of boats are not one-of-a-kind and unique, they are but built and sold by dozens. There is a great variety of one-design boats, so you can race in a fleet of those boats. You don’t need handicap rules there, maybe for small circles. In the old days, every boat was different; we had to have this handicap system, there was no other way. And now there are so many different boats and you can race with the whole fleet. And they are so different that it doesn’t encourage people to race together anymore. To race TP52 against RC44 is not very exciting. One boat can win but you can’t race it against each other. To race in a fleet of same boats, same speed is what is more appealing to most people. Except when it get really big.. then they want to race their floating palace.

The problem is that everyone takes it too seriously. You have boats that are very different from one another; you can’t be honest or fair anymore. Most of the sailing is just luck: with the rating, or with the weather. If you are an owner of a boat and you take it too seriously it becomes less fun. You will spend a lot of money and time, try to win, but in a way your money doesn’t have much of an influence. And then it rapidly becomes rather disappointing. Because yeah, you spent a lot of money but you’re still doing not very well.

So you would say sailing is about fun?

Yes. And winning is always fun. Sometimes even if you say ‘I’m only here to have fun’ it’s not true. Most people are competitive.

That makes sense. Last question: will we ever see foiling monohulls? Will they be popular?

Well, they will be popular for long distance racing. So you need a bit of space for those. I don’t think you will see good use of that in harbors. To get up to foil you have to be able to choose your angle of sail, not be directed by other boats. It will make it only more complicated. So you will say ‘okay yeah, with this angle the boat is at maximum speed’ and you just let it sail with that angle…I don’t think it is the ideal boat to be in a fleet of boats. But the foiling catamarans, like in the America’s Cup, are made for close-range racing. And at the speeds they do it, it will certainly feel very close for them, that’s for sure. Foiling as a catamaran is different from what you see in Vendee Globe. I think the current Globe boats still need quite some space to come to the optimum VMG. It really directs your angle to the wind, and the boats in America’s Cup can already take and jibe very quickly like monohulls.

Right now, there is Melges 40, that is in a way, the first boat with canting keel designed for close racing. We have had canting keel boats for a long time, but this is probably the first boat which will sail that close to the islands. We will learn a lot from that boat.

How is it to sail foiling monohulls in close competition? If it will be a success, we will see different sizes, mostly bigger ones. The boats are surely going to be fast. Potentially a smaller boat could be faster, but any boat with a canting keel is faster. It makes it suitable for a lot of people. You have the feel of a Melges 40 class boat and you can go with the speed of a TP 52, and that can be appealing for races in roughly two years time. Though you can imagine that the boats with foils like a Vendee Globe in 10 years time, maybe that kind of foil will be used for short distance races as well, but then you need a system to turn the boat very quickly; you can imagine if two of those boats hit each other. It won’t be pretty.

That will take a lot of development. It doesn’t look very manageable at the moment but it doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. It is very interesting and very exciting to see the monohulls and how they race.

There are a few 65-year-olds in the fleet but that’s not really the age for this type of boat. As you become older, you are less agile and those boats create a lot of noise and chaos. Communication will be difficult. When you sail alone that is much less the case, naturally, and in a way, I suit that kind of concept. But when you are with 10 guys you need to have helmets, speak through microphones, and there is quite a lot of noise. I think I wouldn’t like to do it, even if you wear all this body armor.

I think there are a lot of expensive sailing boats and there are always elderly people on the boat. Fully sponsored sailing is a dream. In France they realized the dream on a small scale: there are a couple of hundred boats that are fully sponsored. In total 2000 people sail on them. The rest are all paying their own boats. At the top of the pyramid, there are the professional sailing boats, and we are at the bottom, and the bottom is big.

Development never stops. You cannot imagine where we will be in 30 years, and you cannot imagine now how the boats will look. I used to have a motorbike when I was 18, and you could sit on your bike and drive it like I’m sitting here now. And there is no way now you can drive without a helmet and you have all that expensive gear. You lose a little contact with the environment because of all that electronic equipment. You also don’t drive your own car anymore, yeah you sit at the wheel, you push pedals, but the car has all the chips and computers, when you brake it puts more power on one break than another one and it helps you to steer, so when you’re driving, you’re not actually moving the machine by yourself, but rather, you press buttons. With boats, it’s going to happen as well, and then you will have people that say ‘we want to get back to nature, we want to have these old fashioned boats again’. But you can’t stop the development. Planes will fly without pilots; you will sit on the back of your car while it drives itself. It’s going to be very different.

The boats will not be first ones to change, but the car industry will create all kind of tool that we will use on boats. The same counts for the plane industry. We will not have petrol engines anymore already in 20 years. So there might be solar panels in the sails, or in your suit, but you won’t see it. Electricity transmission will not go with wires anymore. Everyone wants to see the future, but you just want to have a look and then go back quickly. You have to be curious; otherwise, you won't improve the boats, or the world for that matter.


Interview by: Anna Pankrashova

Photos from Rob Weiland