Book review by Hugh Brazier

Clive Eplett, Club Sailor: from back to front

“Some of the books Liz has asked me to review for recent issues of Mainsail have proved pretty heavy-going, so this time I went and found one for myself at the Dinghy Show. And I found a book that is a real breath of fresh air – just what we need, in more ways than one! What’s more, it has a nice (?) photo of a GP14 on its front cover. How could I not write a review of it?

Clive Eplett is based at Frensham Pond SC. He is an experienced RYA coach and has a particular interest in training club sailors once they have gone beyond the beginner stage but are not yet (or perhaps will never be) ready to make a bid for hotshot national champion status. His book, like his website at, is aimed squarely at improving the racing skills of those club sailors, and he neatly illustrates the need for such a book with a graph:

There is probably some truth in this. Books for beginners rarely cover racing at all, and once an author gets started on the racing business, it almost invariably gets too complicated too quickly. This book makes a good stab at occupying the middle ground. It is a book for sailors who do most of their racing in a club fleet, typically on a small pond with idiosyncratic courses and quirky wind shifts, rather than on a championship course of triangles and sausages on the open sea in nice predictable wind. In other words, this book is firmly anchored in the real world that most of us sail in, where your boat is not always the latest model with the best kit, where the sailors you are competing against may not be much good and are liable to do silly things, where an avoidable capsize is a distinct possibility, and above all where the sailing is for fun.

This book is also fun. It is divided into seven sections, starting with a ‘preparatory signal’ and ending with some ‘wise words’ and ‘final thoughts’. Along the way there is one on mental attitude (‘head faster’), a very good review of strategies for negotiating the various stages of a race (‘around the course’), and sections on tuning the boat and tuning the sailor (‘making it faster’ and ‘speed’).

The text is light-hearted and chatty (it looks as if it might have originated in a series of half-hour talks – and that’s no bad thing). There are frequent headings to help you navigate through the text, nice short chunks of text, a couple of dozen good clear diagrams. The author relies heavily on bulleted and numbered lists, ranging from ‘ten ways to spot a heading shift’ to ‘a dozen favourite schoolboy errors’ and an all-encompassing ‘ten commandments’ (which includes ‘join in at the start’ – good advice, that). And there is lots of good advice throughout, all dished up with a healthy (and only occasionally overcooked) dash of humour. In case you think I’m straying off-metaphor here, I take my cue from the author, who, after describing a manoeuvre for overtaking at the leeward mark, comments ‘So guess which boat is Toast and which is Butter, smooth, slippery and soon all over them? Tasty.’ I also liked his (non-food-related) description of the windward mark: ‘The main problems at the windward mark come from unrealistic optimism combined with apparent ignorance of Murphy’s Law.’

This is a stylish and useful book, with a design and layout that is surprisingly good for a self-published production, and an error count that is no higher than what you’d expect in many a professionally published book.

Club Sailor does have some things in common with classics such as Eric Twiname’s Start to Win (extensive discussion of what goes on inside the sailor’s head) and Frank Bethwaite’s High Performance Sailing (good technical information about wind and waves). But it is all so much more readable than either of those classic texts, and it really does look as if it could do a great job for the average club sailor, helping him or her to get ‘from back to front’. ”

Hugh Brazier