Meet Land Rover BAR's Bleddyn Môn
Bleddyn Môn has made a remarkable transition from keen dinghy sailor to America’s Cup campaigner, racing alongside his childhood hero, Sir Ben Ainslie. The young Welshman explains how he got there and why he is grateful to his parents for making sure he went to university.
Sail Racing Magazine: Talk us through your career path from young dinghy sailor in North Wales to becoming a member of Ben Ainslie’s challenge for the America’s Cup.
Bleddyn Môn: I first started sailing competitively at the age of eight in a Mirror; initially it was with my dad and then my brother. At the age of 10, I followed in the footsteps of my two older brothers and moved into a Topper. After a year in the Welsh squad I was selected for the British squad.
I won two national championships, one European championship and finished second at the worlds by the time I came to the end of my junior sailing. At that point I was 15 and I veered away from my brothers’ path of Laser sailing and switched into the 29er. The main reason for this was that at 55kg I was far too light for a Laser Radial!
Sailing the 29er was great fun and massively enhanced my skill set. In my three years of 29er sailing I won two national championships, finished third at the Europeans and was second youth at the Worlds.
After that I did a short stint in the Radial before moving into a 49er and at the same time started at the University of Southampton. Whilst I was a student I helmed the 49er for two years, training alongside the Olympic Development Squad and competing on the European circuit, before spending six months crewing a 470.
Alongside the Olympic class sailing, I received a call from British sailor Leigh McMillan - who was then skipper of the Extreme Sailing Series team ‘The Wave Muscat’ - inviting me to sail with them. I snapped up the offer and competed with them for three events on the circuit in 2012.
The following year I sailed at two further Extreme Sailing Series events with local invitational teams whilst also competing in Etchells and several other IRC boats in the Solent.
In the summer of 2014 I took a year out of University and started a 12-month internship with Red Bull F1 as part of their Aerodynamic Development group. I also bought a Moth which I sailed throughout the year on Grafham Water while I was based in Milton Keynes.
Towards the end of my internship I was approached by the JP Morgan BAR Extreme 40 team - skippered by Ben Ainslie - and completed the second half of the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series with them. Sailing with the team in the 40, along with my experience at Red Bull and my degree put me in a strong position to join Land Rover BAR in July 2015, once I graduated.
SRM: As well as being part of the BAR sailing squad, you have another role as a member of the Performance and Instrumentation team. Describe to us what that involves.
BM: My P&I team role involves defining, planning and running the on-the-water tests that we do and analysing the data afterwards. I am also involved with the development and specification of our on-boat software tools, as well as acting as a link between the sailing and design teams.
SRM: What percentage of your time is split between your sailing and your P&I work?
BM: At the moment my time is split roughly 50/50 between both. However, as the sailing schedule ramps up this year and leading into the Cup it is likely to be more like 75/25 (sailing/performance).
SRM: Talk us through a typical work day from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed?
BM: An average sailing day looks like this:
064 -- Wake up and drink pre-gym shake
0700 -- Cycle to work
0730 -- Morning gym session
0900 -- Breakfast with the sailing team
0930 -- Sailing briefing
1000 -- Rig boat
1100 -- Training session on the Solent
1500 -- Pack boat up
1600 -- Sailing debrief
1630 -- Prepare and publish daily sailing report and plan tests for next day
1730 -- Evening gym session
1900 -- Cycle home
1930 -- Dinner
2100 -- Bed!
On a non-sailing day, my time in between gym sessions would be spent on P&I work like data analysis, on-water test planning, performance meetings, development and specification of on-boat software tools etc.
SRM: When you chose to study Mechanical Engineering Aerospace at university, was that strategic thinking given the convergence of the America’s Cup and aerospace technology, or were you heading for a job in the aerospace industry?
BM: I actually started my degree just studying Mechanical Engineering as I wasn't sure exactly what route I wanted to go down. However, after the first two years, I had the option to specialise and I chose Aerospace.
This choice wasn't necessarily because of the Cup, although I did have an interest in aerodynamics through sailing. I think the main reason for choosing aerospace engineering - and particularly aerodynamics - was because it is relevant to so many different industries from elite sports like Cycling and Skeleton, to the design of cars, planes and now, more so than ever, America’s Cup boats.
SRM: What did you learn on your 12-month industrial placement as part of the Aerodynamic Development Group with the Red Bull Formula 1 motor racing team that you have been able to apply within Land Rover BAR?
BM: The main thing I learnt from my time at Red Bull was an enhanced understanding of aerodynamics; since working there I have never looked at an F1 car in the same way. There are so many intricate details to it that are just not seen on TV.
This knowledge is very useful as a wing trimmer as well as when discussing foil and platform aero concepts with our designers.
SRM: You have cited Ben Ainslie as your sailing hero growing up. What was it you admired about him then and how has he lived up to your childhood image of him?
BM: As a youngster moving up through the junior and youth ranks, Ben's dominance in the Laser and then Finn at the Olympics made him an athlete that many – including me – greatly admired. I remember clearly watching Ben on TV at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when he match-raced Robert Scheidt in the Laser Class to win his first gold.
Back then I thought Ben was super human – but it turns out he's not! He is just an extremely driven, motivated and highly competitive guy.
SRM: What advice do you have for young dinghy sailors around the world who might want to follow in your footsteps?
BM: My advice would be to have fun and try to gain as much experience as possible by sailing a wide variety of boats when you’re young.
Also, risking sounding like a parent, I would also emphasise the importance of having a back up. My parents were always adamant that I continued with my studies even though I knew that I wanted sailing to be my career. I think it’s fair to say my degree has certainly helped me get to where I am now.
This year, with the support of Land Rover, the team launched a new initiative called the Land Rover BAR Academy to help find and support young British sailors (between 19 and 24 years old by December 2017), and create a pathway into the America’s Cup.
The Academy’s programme for 2016 is to take part in the Extreme Sailing Series, racing on foiling GC32 catamarans and I will join the team for the first few events, helping to mentor the recruits.
It will be a baptism of fire, but a fantastic opportunity for any young sailor!