Nick Craig beat some tough opposition to win the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year award in January. Hats off to the Awards panel for giving the nod to Nick ahead of none other than Dee Caffari and Ben Ainslie. Awarding it to Ben would have been controversial after that diving incident in Perth last December, although as Nick pointed out to me, the voting was done and dusted before then anyway. It was nice to see the best amateur sailor in the country recognised for his achievements ahead of the big name professionals for a change.  

Nick was crowned Yachtsman of the Year due to winning the OK World Championships for a record-equalling fourth time and the Endeavour Trophy for the fifth time, also drawing level with the existing record. Actually Nick reckons he cashed in his lucky chips to win both of these trophies last year, the OK Worlds in Largs in particular. “It was a very difficult week, the wind was very light, very fickle. We only got six of the 10 races in and three of those were in sub-5 knots, which isn’t my favourite. So I was just sort of hanging on in there, and then going into the last day I was fourth overall. There was no wind all morning, not a breath, and within 5 minutes of it being canned, the race officer sent us out and everyone was, ‘What’s going on?’ because there wasn’t any wind as far as the eye could see.  

“We all got towed about two, three miles out and there was a sliver of a 5-knot breeze. So all credit to the race officer, he got us off and then I had two big bits of luck. The first beat, there was a big shift of extra pressure out left and I was just in the right place at the right time, and all my rivals were on the other side of the course. And the overnight leader had missed the start, he’d gone through a practice beat and completely missed the start. So it was kind of won on that first beat. When I look back on it, that was the luckiest thing I’ve ever won.”  

After the first day of the Endeavour Trophy, Nick and crew Toby Lewis were trailing overnight leaders James Peters and Alan Roberts by a few points. But the next day was windier and the current was against the fleet upwind, making for long, hard beats that favoured Nick and Toby’s heavier crew weight compared with the lighter RS200 boys. So, in the sense that the wind played to Nick’s strengths, I suppose he was lucky. But when you’ve won four times before, I think you’re entitled to believe that you deserve it a fifth time too!  

Nick, a member of Frensham Pond in Surrey, tends to play down his talents. He’s a couple of years older than Ben Ainslie and slightly taller - perfect Finn size - but Nick doesn’t believe he would ever have cut it at Olympic level. Does he ever have any regrets about not having a proper go at an Olympic campaign? “No I don’t, really. My boat of choice would have been a Finn and there’s no way I’d ever beat Ben, let alone the likes of Ed Wright or Giles Scott. Ben’s in a different league to the whole of the Olympic scene, which in itself is a different league. It’s just way out there and I think doing three years of Finn sailing - that was good because it put that [the notion of an Olympic campaign] to bed in my mind. I could see how far I’d got, how far I had to go and even if I’d been doing it every day, I’d never have got there. So no I don’t regret it. I was kind of a late developer. When I was 19 I wasn’t that good, I kind of got better through time, but Ben had already won a silver when he was 19 which is unbelievable. I was still messing about at university and trying to work out how to fleet race properly at that age.”  

What is impressive about Nick, though, is how he continues to win even now he’s the father of two twins, Adam and Kate, two and a half years old, whilst also holding down a full-time job at a pharmaceutical company. Full credit to his wife Emma for keeping things going at home on the weekends while Nick is still racing at the top level. “Emma was the main person I thanked at the Awards,” says Nick, who will be relying on his wife just as much in 2012, by the sounds of his ever-busy schedule. “I’m probably a bit busier than usual this year. I’m doing a bit in the OK, a bit in the Merlin, and a bit in the RS400, so mainly those three and then hoping to do the Ents for a little bit and the D-1 as well if I can. So, lots of variety which is what I like.”  

Nick tried a B14 for a while, and owned a Musto Skiff for six months, and although he enjoyed sailing both of them, found them too far out of his base of experience, which is racing slower, tactical classes rather than fast skiffs. “I realised that to sail the Musto Skiff properly I was going to have to sell everything else,” he says. “The only reason I get away with it in the classes I do race, is that I’ve been doing this kind of thing for the best part of 20 years, so I’ve got all that experience to fall back on.”