Bill Symes – World Champion

I turned 70 this year.

My doctor congratulated me on this milestone at a check-up shortly after my birthday and shared this cheery thought, “One good thing about being 70 is that now you know you are not going to die young.”

Really? Surely here has to be more to life after 70 than that? And, anyway, why do doctors have such a dark sense of humor?

I am still actively racing my RS Aero, but it seems like these days almost everyone I race against is younger than me. It doesn’t get any easier as I get older to keep up with (not to mention occasionally beat) the youngsters, but I live in hope. I am always trying to figure out ways to sail faster and smarter, and from that perspective it is a real pleasure to sail in the RS Aero class where we are all still learning things about how to sail this amazing little boat and and everyone is willing to share their “go faster” tips.

At times it can be hard to convince myself that in my seventies I can continue  to improve as  a sailboat racer, so I was pleased to come across this inspiring article on the International Sailing Academy website – an interview with Bill Symes the 2018 Laser Radial Great Grand Master World Champion. And by the way he also won this title in 2017 and was second in 2015 and 2016. That’s Bill Symes, not me, in the photo at the top of this post, in case you were wondering.

Bill is about a year older than me and I first met him at the Laser Masters Worlds in Cadiz in 2003. I ran into him from time to time at other major Laser Masters events and I was pleasantly surprised to discover when I sailed in the RS Aero North Americans at the Columbia River Gorge in 2015 that he was, like me, an early adopter of the RS Aero.

It was clear to me from chatting to Bill at the Gorge that just because he had bought an RS Aero he was not going to give up on his serious commitment to competing in major Laser Masters events like the Masters Worlds. And why would he? He is one of the top Laser sailors in his age group in the world as he proved convincingly once again this year. You can’t get much better than World Champion!

I, on the other hand, am not in Bill’s league. My dream goal when competing at Laser Master Worlds was to maybe… just once… achieve the giddy heights of finishing in the top half of my age group. And I did achieve that… just once… at Roses in Spain in 2007.  I wrote about it on my old blog at Semi-respectable Medicocrity. In the final results I was a place or two above mid-fleet in the 75 boat Grandmaster fleet. (Bill was 5th.)

I also differ from Bill in that the more I sailed my RS Aero the less I wanted to sail my Laser, and I haven’t sailed my Laser now for over two years.

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes, the article about Bill Symes on the ISA website. It’s inspiring for sure and he’s a way better sailor than me and he sails a different boat from me now, but maybe I can learn a few things from a fellow septuagenarian singlehanded sailor, especially as he says that he feels like he is still getting better at the grand old age of 71.

It is clear that Bill is very fit – or at least a lot fitter than most of his competition. He said he felt good throughout the week long windy regatta and even had a speed advantage over the rest of the fleet. He credits this to his training program.

This is what he does…

  1. He trained at ISA in Mexico for two or three weeks in the spring, and again for a shorter session in June. Sounds like he got some great insights into how to improve his techniques from the coaches there.
  2. He trained for more than twenty days this summer with a younger, fitter training partner (and a few others) in heavy winds in the Columbia River Gorge doing focused drills like upwind line-ups. (Bill lives in nearby Portland, Oregon.)
  3. He only travels to a few regattas each year
  4. He doesn’t do much fitness training other than some bike riding. Mainly he just sails a lot. He sailed eighty days this year before going to the Worlds – much of it in big breeze.

Apart from not living near a heavy wind venue like the Gorge, I guess I could copy a lot of that. Certainly I could make my practice sessions more focused by doing speed training with other sailors. And I am currently on track to sail about sixty days this year, so pushing it to over eighty next year should be doable.

But one thing currently missing from the RS Aero scene in North America is the option to do week or multi-week long clinics with expert coaching.  There is some talk in our Facebook group of doing something like that in Bermuda and/or California, but nothing specific yet.

Maybe I should add some Laser sailing to my training program and start going back to places like Cabarete and Sailfit, or perhaps even venturing to the International Sailing Academy in Mexico. Would that make me a better RS Aero sailor?


Any other suggestions?



  • Congrats!

    Having just come from the Oceania exhibition, sailing somewhere amongst those Pacific islands sounds great. Not sure if it would help the Aero sailing but there’s only one way to find out!

    Plus get a drone to film yourself and then you can see if you’re doing what you should be doing. Or just have fun with the drone (don’t crash it though)

  • Thanks for the comment JP.

    Sailing an Aero in the Pacific islands might be a bit difficult to arrange in the short term. But sailing an Aero in the Caribbean or maybe Bermuda is something that might be more realistic. Watch this space.

    I like the idea of filming myself while sailing. I think that’s one thing I should do next year to help identify my many faults. I was thinking a GoPro mounted onboard but my son has a drone so maybe we could film each other sailing Aeros with that.

    • Suggest you consider a GARMIN Virb action camera. It captures GPS data which can be very helpful with interpretation of sail & boat tuning etc., when boat speed etc. is viewable in the video, via the customizable display tools for the GPS data.

      • Thanks for the suggestion Leszek. I have been thinking of using a camera and/or a GPS device to help in my training and post-race analysis. The GARMIN Virb sounds like the perfect solution to both needs. Plus it will give me more material for blog posts!

  • Hej Tillerman,
    it is almost 3 month ago but nevertheless Happy 70! Happy Birthday to you and wishing you lot s of fun with the Aero.

    Haven’t looked into Blogger for long, didn´ t count the years but I am happy that you are still doing fine and hitting the keyboard regularly. I hope to be able to pull myself out of doing things “non sailing related” and maybe will blog one or two things about it.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Hey Manfred. Good to hear from you.

      Thanks for the birthday wishes. My birthday was actually a bit more than 3 months ago. I turned “seventy and a half” yesterday!

      Now that I am officially old I think it’s important to count half birthdays. Or perhaps I will do what a lot of old people do and tell people about their next birthday. At this age my Dad would be saying he was “pushing 71” if not “pushing 75.”

      Look forward to reading about your sailing activities on your blog.

  • We have found many clients reporting that the skills and theoretical knowledge learned during our clinics have transferred over into other classes they sail, including RS Aero.

    • That’s what I was hoping Colin. Since I gave up Laser sailing I am missing the sailing clinics I attended in the winter at various locations (but not yet at ISA.) I think I need to add back some Laser sailing to my summer training so that I am not a total klutz in the Laser if I go to some clinics in Lasers next winter.

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