Pathways is a Great Britain SailGP Team guest blog series looking at the routes individual team members took into the sport. For the previous first blog in the series from grinder Matt Gotrel, click here.
Written by Matt Haslam, Great Britain SailGP Team Shore Team Manager
It makes most sense for me to begin with describing my role as Shore Team Manager of the team as it’s quite a broad one. In short, it’s split over the course of a SailGP regatta. For the first four or five days, we are on shore unpacking containers, assembling the boat and ensuring everything is ready to go racing. Then we move into sailing days where my role shifts to be split between a shore role and an on-the-water role.
On sailing days, the first thing we do, pre-roll outs, is to run through our checks and make sure everything is operational on the boat. Then we roll the boat out and launch it. Whilst we are sailing my role on the water is to ensure everything is running smoothly and resolving any issues that may arise with the boat.
Then finally, at the end of the day, we pack up, run through our jobs list again, do all our full checks of the boat and ensure it is ready for the next day of sailing. My most important role, as far as I see it, is to work with the team to make sure the boat is always on the start line in race condition and functioning at its best for the sailors to push as hard as they can to win races. It’s a full-on role, but the highs of working within a professional sports team, with inspirational athletes like Ben Ainslie and Hannah Mills, are very rewarding and make the long hours and late nights worth it.
My love of sailing began at a young age. As far as I can remember I’ve always loved being around water. Growing up in Bristol we often went down to Cornwall where I would spend all my time at the beach whether that be surfing, dinghy sailing or anything else I could do. That kickstarted a passion and led me to find the local sailing club at Chew Valley Lake in the Bristol area where I grew up sailing in Toppers and 29ers.
From that age I always knew I wanted a career in the marine industry. At first, I aimed at pursuing a career into professional sailing and used to do a lot of match racing, Since then I have moved into this role which I love doing.
The great thing about our industry is there are so many routes you can take into it. I took A-Levels in subjects including maths and physics and was lucky enough to find a great course at Plymouth University studying Naval Architecture and Composite Engineering, which combined design and theoretical knowledge with practical boat building skills. That was a huge learning point for me and put me in good stead moving forward. I by no means profess to be a specialist in any area such as hydraulics, electronics, rigging, but it’s important in my role to have a broad understanding of each part of the boat.
Whilst I went the university route, I don’t think that’s 100% necessary in this industry. What’s more important than good exam results is having the right mentality and attitude towards your work. Having the tenacity to stick to a job, learn as you go and not being afraid to ask questions of people around you. My advice would always be to do things you enjoy, and if you try hard enough at the things you enjoy, then more often than not there’s a way to make a job out of it.
From Plymouth I moved to the Hamble area where I was presented with a great opportunity to join Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team ahead of their 35th America’s Cup campaign as a boat builder in the shore team. That really kickstarted my move towards where I am now, via other sailing teams in the GC32, Extreme Sailing Series and more. Of course, along the way I have made mistakes, but I always say if you go through your life succeeding at everything then you are probably not pushing yourself hard enough. Without failure you will not learn.
Within our team here, we have a great ethos of picking ourselves back up from bad days on the water or on shore. Bermuda earlier in SailGP Season 2 was a great example of that. The first day of racing wasn’t the best day for us, but we found some issues on the boat, some we were able to resolve, others we weren’t, we adapted the way we operated, and the sailing team adapted their playbook. In the end, we came out fighting and won the regatta. That was a clear-cut case of the strong teamwork and mentality within this team.
I am very lucky to be part of a great shore team working with me to make that possible and make everything easier for me. I have a huge amount of trust in the team, knowing that when they are doing their checks they will be done properly and diligently. That way I can have peace of mind that the boat is going to leave the shed ready to race and ready for the sailing team to push it as hard as they can. We are surrounded by, not only within our team, but also within the shared SailGP tech team, a massive wealth of knowledge from all levels of sailing and motorsport and I’m still learning huge amounts from the people I work with.
Finally, I would say I am hugely proud to be working within SailGP. SailGP’s Inspire programme is doing an amazing job embracing local kids all over the world and giving them a path into sailing and our industry. It’s great to see they are really opening the eyes of the kids to the vast numbers of careers possible in our industry.
On the sustainability side, SailGP are a leading force too. The oceans are our playground, most of the things I do, whether it be a walk with the dog on the beach, kitesurfing for fun, or my job, revolve around the sea and if we don’t look after it now, who knows where we will end up. At every level from the SailGP League down to our team we are pushing to clean up our act and then influence other sports teams and organisations to improve their impact. That goes right down to the small things people can do at their homes individually. Whether that's reducing single use plastics or thinking about the energy you are using at home, it is all a small part of a big thing when it comes to protecting our environment.