What Next With My Sailing Part III

My last little excursion into where I am at with sailing can be summed up pretty much as understanding your fears, appreciating where you are on the learning curve and then sailing races as if you are only competing against yourself, with other boats just being obstacles if you like.                                                          

Where am I personally in reality, actually if I was to sail tommorrow?

Mental preparation is key to over coming my nerves on the start especially, and that means indeed race my own race, use burn time plus a couple of seconds and some caution on boat speed and ‘lane’ management to get out on time or luff and let the first rack go anyway. The race is going to be then a test of my skills with the hardest part being first. It is therefore also a learning experience from 5 minutes out.
Boat and Rig Prep
Reeling back the tape a little here- boat prep is king in fact for the conditions you see in front of you, and this is often something which either I don’t have time to do, or to be honest with myself, nerves and wondering about the burn time calculation, mean that I just forget about getting anywhere near perfect. Crewing Melges I am often on the shrouds with spanners and helping with the adjustable forestay (not fitted to all boats, some have a clip on and play forestay, others have a bottle screw under the deck with a quick release handle which will remove digits if not take off gingerly!) Rig settings are something to get right on the dock or mooring. Some boats, like the Beneteau 25 Platu, can have a kind of mid to soft rig which can then be made up on the running rigging if the wind blows more. Next is to maybe set out with a reef or a smaller headsail than your compatriots are doing. I can judge wind to within a few knots, good Beaufort training plus just years of looking at dials versus signs and feel of the wind. Are we actually at a reef ? Are we light crewed? DO we want to have a very controlled race where we are powered up in the squalls and a little dull in the lulls?
Boat Handling

I then have the two big issues to look at in terms of boat handling. Firstly getting up to ‘foil’ speed and then pointing. Secondly, coming out of tacks.

The first is not just learning a new boat, it is also learning the style and protocol for the conditions. So for example in our local classic 12.5m sq, (mini 12 meter trainers at 21 feet long) These boats seem very much to suit a fairly freed off mainsail nowhere near the centre line, in order to keep them powering to windward. Certainly we had much better boat speed and good pointing once up to speed in force 4 last week with adults in the sail school. The kicker usually bends the wooden boom alarmingly so it isnt a boat to blade out, it is more to twist off and back and even flogg when the wind is really up pergaps. Or maybe to just feather with a centred boom in more wind ? You see, there are two or three little experiments to be done off the start line with mainsail setting versus pointing and boat speed.

Tacks are another thing to just learn for the boat. I have practiced and practiced in Lasers, the Tasar, the RS400 and the Impala and they do get better with reptition and trial and error. I do feel that it is a leap of faith once we are head to wind to how we will carry way and come out at the right angle and have not perfected ‘sighting’ as a means to do good tacks yet. I do like to use the top tell tale on the mainsail, which is a very good proxy if you are running a genoa and the crew are a little slow, or if it is light winds and the top of the main is in much more wind than the luff of the jib. I slip the main sail out a little once at head to wind, cleat it and then fall off until the top tell tale breaks round the back, I then choose to either steer up to get a flying tell tale if the boat feels lively, or to let out some sheet and allow the boat to power on that generally quite low angle.

Getting into the ‘groove’ after this point means pointing at max VMG for the conditions. This means that the keel must be flying and on weather helm tuned hulls, the rudder should start lifting. I can then learn to work up on the wind and take a final trim. Grooving necessitates an understanding of the boat in the given conditions of the day. More chop and slop, a lower angle with a deeper sail setting for example.

My other manoevres just need more finesse and coordination with the crew. My weakest has been the leeward rounding in years gone by, but once again this is about preparation and knowing your route, and patience if you are in a rack of boats rounding. Wide in means just that, being careful to call other port rounders and watch the hell out for starboard bargers even if they are right, they are annoying!

Crew Management

This is an area I am pretty good at, and like training a dog it is actually about 50-50 changing your own attittudes and behaviour as much as training up a crew. Firstly manage your own expectations, and perhaps yes, do a late hoist yourself once you round letting the crew steer. Go do foredeck with the new guy there, A good hoist or gybe or take down even if it is terribly slow, is better than an hour glass or going fishing with all the crew on the leeward rail as you harden up at the mark.

I like also the idea of taking crew out on some little tours billed as booze cruises, where we consider maybe passage racing and take the spinnaker up for a laugh. Lull them into a false sense of security! And then also letting each and every crew helm round a triangle on white sails early season, and under kite once the team is gelled more. This will inform them of how the boat feels it wants to be manoerved and what expectations the helm actually may have.

Going at the pace of the slowest but also whipping them a bit and being prepared to step up, or get a teacher on board especially for foredeck, or relegate someone to rail meat. Personally I was very lucky to be second foredeck and mast man to Steve Taylor when we sailed on Defiance II because I had a good teacher, very experienced offshore too, who would talk me through everything at the front of the 37 footer, nicely out of earshot to the board of directors at the stern.

Ego Management

This is the last little thing I need to address as do many sailors indeed, Little horns that grow out of your forehead as someone once said to me when I was trying to sail around a few boats at a sailing school 20 years ago!

Ego runs to emotions in the peri conscious which lead to mistakes. Eagerness, frustration, anger and tripping out on a good tactic. All lead to mistakes. The stiff upper lip is needed more on the race course than in the echelons of city investment firms.

I think this is just a small personal battle which can be cured by just getting round the course as the first goal, and then being able to sit infront of dog boats while clearning my air from those better sailors ahead of me. You see , ego management, know your place.

But also manage other egos and that means calling people, holding your course to near collision as you dare and protesting the chancers and big egos who intimidate their lessers on the course, A couple of non discardable DSQs in a series and they will keep well clear of you, Ideally team up with some similar placing boats to have witnesses and double protest mark infringements especially,

What Next WIth Sailing Prt II

A lot of what I need is about feelings and about time invested versus expectations. Emotions need to be conquered more often and the fist stage of that process is to understand race course gut feelings. Time is about boat and conditions preparation and training with crew, as per the expectations return on that investment being right sized to the input.

Feel the Fear

For an experienced racer the main fear is actually that you get the start wrong or that other boats cause you dammage or impede you enough to make your blood boil. Further down the list of fearful things are topics which can be eliminated. Firstly, gear failure. This shouldn’t be an issue for a well prepared boat where the skipper has been through all the gear, and sails and everything works. One fear then in this topic is the fear of ripping or flogging sails, and this is just a factor of reading the true wind and not following the gung-ho over canvassed brigade. It is easier to flake out a reef and take up a bigger foresail if the wind dies than vice versa in rising conditions. 

Crew should not be a fear factor for you either. If you are worried about their skills or potential to stretch themselves then reflect on perhaps more training sessions or damping expectations for the race ahead. Usually the real tests of the relationship twixt skipper and crew is at the take down and leeward mark rounding. Manage expectations and start a good number of boat lengths out. As soon as you think ‘ early drop to avoid hassle’ bear away and do it! The next most pressurised situation is the previous two manoevres – the bear away hoist and the first gybe. Here it is the same principle, yes there are more places to lose but that the crew get a positive learning experience in ‘slow motion’ through these two points. The spoils of the day were most liklely not going to be a podium placing, rather another solid block laid in the team building foundations.

That is kind of near to what my own fear is – I am afraid of making a fool of myself in a new type of boat, or not having prepared enough, or being distracted and stressed by factors in the sport and around job and family. Perhaps I will have communication problems with the crew and internalise too much.Maybe my crew have had a bad day? 

Sail The Course 

A very good bit of advice relates to Uffa Fox’s philosophy of ‘ three mistakes offer you a third place, two a second and only one mistake and you earn a first place’. A race is a test of sailing skills around a prescribed course which the RO and committee have decided is suitable and varied enough to offer such a challenge. Then the other boats are there to get in your bloody way! 

There are some pursuit races at most clubs, often just one a year, and these are fun to race and you learn quickly about the stregnths and weaknesses of your boat speed and course navigation with the competition at an arms length. I sailed with a well known ‘also ran’ OD boat some time ago who were in the habit of being late for starts. Now the owner-driver hated starts and was most often down in the last two or three off the line when on time. He was nervous about collisions and wanted an easy life, and therefore never really won many races at all. When we were late though, he would often sail the boat up to a mid fleet placing having started perhaps two minutes after the gun! This seeming amazing ability was based on a few simple things. Good boat speed with only slight bad-wind from the fleet ahead, starting at the right end of the line on a beat, and lastly, being able to read the right way to go by seeing the fleet ahead and not being tempted there by, to take too many tacks in trying to gain position or avoid conflicts.

There in lies the lesson. Sail round the course as if there are no other boats there until you reach a rules based situation or a boat sits on  your wind.  As Nick Stratton, a stalwart of yacht racing on the clyde, said to a pal of mine on getting a good result ” Get off the start line and tack into space on the first shift” . Getting off the start line means being no later than a few seconds onto it and having a lane with free air to track out of, and no larger boats above you to sit on your wind and hold you back in the first two minutes of full boat speed (when HC racing that is) A really big boat nearing you pre -start in a wide HC field can be a god send because it will escape you quickly and tend to push rivals to windward out the way . It can be  worth following her transom out if she is really trucking and taking that pain to then have a nice lane, if there is a bias on the line and they start nice and sweetly near the biased end. 

Now back to my old ‘dog boat’ OD and the helm’s terrible start behaviour. The start is by my own words and many others the sprint of the race, after which there is usually only a few boat on boat tactics under way. In fact the sprint mentality is a bit wrong. Booking a lane and being confident of your ‘burn time’ before you power up and go is more important than stressing about luffing other boats and wondering about when to power on. ‘Burn Time’ means booking your lane or finding space, and then understanding the distance to the line and how long it will take to sail to it. You then declare the burn time up, usually about 30 seconds out, but it could be a minute with a long, slow beat to the line with tide against you. Your gun is then effect the end of burn time, not the start signal. If you get this wrong and have the odd OCS so be it, you will hone your timing. It necessitates taking runs at the line from different lanes. If you know then you want to start boat end on a bias, and that the fleet is going to bunch then it is a case of using a long burn time in the 5 minute sequence., and getting a lane early. You then need to decide to control the raft around you, edging it up or forward, or if you have space to lee to bear away into which is crucial to not undertake too early or with boats piling in under you. The focus here is on getting up to maximum boat speed from the point burn time is up and to-line time is ticking down. In a start as above, it may be that burn is only 15 seconds and you will not have boat speed until 30 seconds ie well over the line, but you will be in the same muck as everyone on the top quarter of the line, and gain the same benefit being long to windward of less daring boats further along the line. 

So that is where I am at, sailing my own race and picking lanes which are safe with the correct burn time, plus a few seconds perhaps The next thing is keeping cool and ensuring we are sailing the shortest course to the next mark (Locally these are round the nav’ marks and rarely true , unbiased starts. 

Where from Here With Sailing Skills?

It is just over two decades ago since I really immersed myself in sailing as a sport, and concentrated on regattas with the odd offshore once in a while. Cruising was really just a matter of deliveries or returns, while I did some more dinghy sailing with the full intention of honing my skills for bigger yachts. I wonder now how I should develop my sailing on a meagre budget it has to be said. Crewing in bigger boats or sailing my own small day boat or dinghy?

The latter is something I have wanted to get back to but locally here there are only a few kids racing dinghies and it would be over an hour to get somewhere with dinghy racing. I find that one hour in a dinghy is worth eight hours helming a forty footer. The experience is just so much more immediate and you are more aware of the wind and the ‘gear’ the boat is in all the time. I went forward from my 1995 RYA level II stint at Tighnabruiach sailing school ( the old one in the toon, before Derrick went onto run the school down the sound) and bought my own Tasar and got the role as rep for Scotland, which helped a couple of folk get interested in the boat, and despite my absence, there arose even a travellers series for the first time in over a decade. I crowned my experience off with the then rare RYA Level 4 racing dinghy out at Menorca sailing, racing an RS 400 most days and trying out the B14 and 29er. After winning a race by a country mile with an instructor on board as crew, I learnt that getting ahead of the pack was a matter of focus and determination, having had an ok start in a close fleet of sailors experienced in lots of other boats even like Dragons. 

At that point I should have probably invested in an RS400 and sailed near edinburgh, but my mum’s health and the implosion of the internet bubble left me a carer for in fact about a year and set me back years financially. I then got  involved in the ’39er’ focus group formed by Frank Bethwaite, which culminated in the test sailings of the 59er as it became. Alas I emmigrated and the boat was not priced right nor marketed correctly, and was roundly seen as a threat by the consolidated B14 fleets who did their best to slag it on line and in the dinghy park apparently. It is a boat which requires a good deal of finesse to sail, but in fact you can sail it well with a fairly inexperienced crew and it goes like stink, being very rewarding for any dinghy sailor to hop into and blast around in, and of course it has light wind performance par excellence, beating the old 49er in sub trapeze light airs.

Going back to small boats is not just a matter of budget but also all about that hour by hour pay off in terms of learning. Our local classics then are looking more like an option and my last sail in them made me feel that they are not all that slow, being somewhere between a Piper and a Flying Fifteen in feel and handling. They are very pedestrian in light winds, but at the top of force 3 they are interesting enough and a tight enough fleet to practice my tactical skills in. I kind of was twice bitten four times shy with some look warm experiences with the fleet before, having last turned up and paid for a regatta when my supposed  crew didnt turn up and the boom was split on the track of the boat I was offered. I did a nationals and we only did any good when I raced up a nice cone and ignored the tide. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after some visiting boats made real idiots of themselves on the start line when I did have a really good position. 

Now I have a pal who is interested in the boat type so I think I wil maybe roll out for the ‘home alone’ series and the autumn regattas. Next blog will be on what I expect or need to learn in general 

SNP Should Bide Their Time

No doubt Nicloa Strugeon is seeking PR spin to try and come out shining from either backing a hard indryref2 or backing down from it – for now. Both are kind of wrong in their own ways – the mandate is reduced by the first past the post system, and there is less than half support for a new referendum, with some of that being from No voters wanting to bury the SNP once and for all time.

The SNP and others who are keen on independence, would be better to bide their time. They need to make a far better case for an economically successful Scotland back in the EU. Time should be on their side, and they need to reflect on why this is so.

Firstly we do not know much about the shape of Brexit, and secondly, it means on ecomnomic policy that there will be some very arrogant decisions made if Theresa May manages to hang onto power. There will be headline disruptive media policy making, while behind the scenes more power will be taken away from workers and more money taken away from the weakest in society, while on the other hand, more public money will be going to profits in privatised sectors. That is the Neo (liberalist) Conservative way – feed the rich first and well, trickle down is a nice theory isn’t it?

Given that ‘trade deals’ are the great white hope and pretty much an empty policy in fact, then that should be a good number of remain voters north of the border, who had a larger majority than No, who will be prepared to vote YES. But that will take time for the deals to show how ‘assymetric’ they are or how little effect they will have on business growth, contra the inflationary pressures of being outside the EU.

The trouble is that the EU is our largest and nearest trading partner, and disruption to supply in both directions threatens businesses with inflation and reduced productivity from slower supply chains. Also if the UK think they are getting out of lots of ‘silly straight banana legislation’ then they are about to find out that the global market doesn’t care for also ran standards. Due to economies of scale, the UK will have to accept that the vast majority of products and many services will be ISO EN compliant. Only this time the UK will have little or no influence over the content of these standards. Jam makers rejoice, but in fact if they want to expand and export their high quality wares they will need to CE label and conform to EN. Or the US standards.

China is the sunrise hope for many conservatives who have been making overtures to them for years, ignoring not only their human rights- record but also their economic philosophy which is straight out of printing money, controlling prices, controlling supply keynsianism of the 1940s and 50s. The Chinese deal with Switzerland is illustratory – China gets access to Switzerland now, but cuckoo clocks, swatch watches and emental cheese must wait almost two decades to have tairff and quote free access to China. It is a market size thing. We big, you wait long time. UK schools are hardly geared up for Mandarin lessons either.  It will offer the supermarket chains access to cheap produce and despite all the talk of food security, China actually has plans and the force to be self sufficient.

So come the actual time of Brexit and year or so after, the gloss of trade-deals and kicking foriegners out so youth can pick fruit and work on building sites, will have worn off. Also the little elephant in the living room is that immigration is fuelling the housing market on which so much of the English economy depends. UK ethnic women are not having kids, they are having careers and divorces. It is not only adult immigrants who boost demand in the housing market, the east europeans still have a culture for having more than one kid and starting a decade before educated UK women do.

So biding time for the real shape of Brexit will be good, and while the Labour party continues to hate its self, split between power hungry blairite Neo Conservative appeasers and ground swell from the actual left of centre behind Corbyn in the rank and file membership. You know the people who haven’t had a pay rise for a decade and have to have top up benefits and tax credits to try and make ends meet.

The other worthwhile factor in this is to see if EU nationals get the vote or not post Brexit. It is unlikely, in which case at least 100,000 Yes and Back-In voters north of the border are lost to Brexit. On the other hand if they retain their vote by residency or dual nationality say, then this is a powerful force given that BrexPolicy treats them as disposable and deportable if they for example, lose their jobs.

On time then too, the SNP would do well to let the war time generation and national service ‘in this together’ generation slowly die away. They are solid No voters. Baby boomers will start to see that all is not so shiny with the threat of inflation and possibly falling house prices post Brexit. So those in their 60s now will be looking at a retiral with less certainty offered by the union. We then have more youth becoming old enough to vote and having their naive hopes of course for something better than UK employment legislation in front of them.

For the SNP it is really a case of letting these factors run their course and being opportunistic only when there is an opporuntiy and a sea-change towards a solid Yes vote. Also that will give them time to address their bug-bear of education, and re-route investment into education. This is currently the stick all the pro unionists want to beat the SNP MSP base up with, and they are willing to ignore any positives and dig out any negatives on education to try and make it all stick. Would Labour have done a better job in managing the cuts in central funding and appeasing the teaching unions if they ran Holyrood? Or the conservatives, with their £7bn for purchasing new grounds for ‘free schools’ – a subsidy to tiger mummies and cricket snob daddies. Underfund public services and then replace them with over-funded private or independent solutions which look all shiny and attract the aspirant voters who managed to get their kids in or want to. What happened to good comprehensive education for all? Did it not quadruple the number of university graduates, and render Scotland (not that the BBC will say anything) the highest educated country in the EU ?

There will be a very clear choice for voters in future, between a weak and divided labour party and a bunch of charlatans in the conservatives looking to make a name for themselves by making it easier for landlords to exploit their tennants, or businesses to avoid health and safety or over time.

The choice isclear, between a society which is hell bent on following the neo conservative American model, which does so little for half of society, or the continuing success of the European / Scandinavian social democratic route to a meritocrical society rather than a silver-spoon baby wins society. Scotland has continued to diverge from this true-blue, sod-the-poor centre of gravity south of the border and will continue to so because of the egalitarian nature of life. England is a society in the throws of re-stratification, and where you are born and into how much wealth will increasingly determine your prospects in life due to differential access to qaulity education along class and geographical lines, the cost of higher and even further education and then the social circles in which you have grown up being more closed to “lower” classes.  For thirty years they Tories have been selling snobbery and one up man ship to a sector of society and it has been a success, only that other sectors of society see the result as negative for them.

Unfortunately for the Leavers and Conservatives in power, the EU is doing rather well with even the basket case economies turned round and growing more than the UK. Wages have kept up and outstripped inflation, and employers and the state have invested in productivity which goes hand in hand with higher wages. The UK has a productivity ‘puzzle’ to many, but there should be no surprise – so much of the English economy and that of Wales and Ulster are tied up with consumer services and consumer financial products that it is easy to see why productivity is in a long term hole.

Independence can offer a different route which also reflects the fact that Scotland has a highly diversified primary and secondary economy which outperforms the rUK economy when London is taken out of the picture it can be argued.

For now people are bored with politics and likely to punish the SNP as they did Theresa May for bringing more blah blah to their TV screens. Nicola would be best to think up a good PR strategy for now which is a step down not a climb down, and eat some humble pie in the face of the Tory revival north of the Border which has been fuelled by No /Leave voters.

A Sunny Day In An Argyll Sound or Loch……

Oh for a sunny day like this only in my home land, on a quiet loch or a tranquil sound with the grand vistas of Jura, Mull and the Western Highlands as company. Sunlight making the diamonds dance on the water and an easy breeze blowing us along to nowhere in particular perhaps.

I am warming to the idea of cruising after almost three decades of racing. Being however amongst the lucky ones to have raced in the majesty of western Argyll, I have of course done not only four west west highland weeks, but also a Tobermory race and been honoured to have helmed under spinnaker through the Cuan sound in the Round-Shuna delivery race. However very much of the scenery and of course nearly all the nooks, crannies, hook-holes, beaches and not least bars are just just whizzed past at 7 knts with an eye on the luff of the sails. 

If i do miss Scotland then in fact I miss inexorably bachelor life and had I stayed on there is a chance I may have worked hard and played a little less hard in the cities, and been more out in boats. Where I doubt very much I would have met a lady love to be honest, not going into details, perhaps things have changed. A self made, educated Gentlemen of yore could affrord a thirty five footer and have two weeks away with the family each season plus some racing holidays. Not now. Especially not for employeess. None of my well paid pals own boats even. But however there is not that much holding them back, especially when the average foreign holiday costs well over two grand for a family of four. 

I  think most of them are spoiled with OPB (other people’s boats) over 40ft with full head room and new carbon sails, and of course immaculate and untouchable IRC certificates! In the 70s these folk would have been Sonata owners, maybe the odd one upgrading to an Impala. These days they buy new hooses and BMWs and holidays in Gran Canaria or Corfu and wonder why they never have cash spare for a boat. Sonatas seem to be being snaffled up by the younger generation even! Those who are determined to do some sailing, rather than putting quality demands on interior and high profile sponsorship and parties perhaps? 

I never have quite liked sonatas. It is a snob thing I will admit. They popped up in the 70s all over the Clyde and have never looked very elegant with their chopped transom. They were always to be a bit kind of looked down on, as racing caravans, for the hoi palloi some would say. However they are an extremely attractive package for the money, then and now. They feel like a bigger boat once on board, because they are chopped off by at least four feet of transom where you are not often looking and a relatively deep proportioned cockpit and companion way. 

Accomodation is of course Tardis like on a Sonata,  rivalled only the great Scandinavian ‘people’s boat’ the Maxi 77. It really is a racer cruiser which fullfills both very admirably if you are looking for that kind of one design racing and compact, four up cruising. Some of the best sailors on the Clyde have owned or helmed Sonatas and the fleet is friendly and a good place to hone skills and get your head around owning and campaigning a boat which features in class or HC starts in all the main events of the Clyde. 

As I said I am a bit of a snob in terms of aesthetics and the other draw backs for me in the Sonata are the outboard which can spend half its time out of the water in a following chop, and their roly-poly DDW antics which really do not suit any crew members who are a bit ‘feart’ .They even seem to make better VMG in those violent antics sometimes! 

For that sunny morning heading off from anchor or berth up the Lorne, what boat for me then? Given I would be modest of budget or running a racing boat / dinghy in the la’lands, what fir the Heelan’s? Well there are a few boats that stand out and which are incredibly affordable. 

Firstly there is the Maxi 77, and despite being a little long in the tooth, well rennovated examples are to be found around the UK and ireland with good itineries, and importantly for family cruising, roller furling headsails. They seem to be fairly bombproof so a sub 5000 pound example as a rennovation project may be worth a survey and consideration if you can do glass work and redo gel coat. My brother had one with an inboard, which looked quite prof’ so I wonder if they were offered with this as more or less standard for the British Isles, being more open to serious seas that the shelter of the Swedish coast. The outboard sits a bit nicer than on a Sonata though and the boat sits better in the waveform, having a hull form really much more like boats which came 10 years after when tonne designs had gone out of favour. That tumble home gunwhale gives a nice window, often in need of sealing !, but also of course a good headroom inside, and a nice flush deck with only that stupid little gaurd rail near the mast on some models to trip over. 

The Maxi 77 sailing wise is quite a surprise. Despite its’ rather puny mainsail, the boat trucks along to windward driven by its generous genoa, which is about 160% it seems! I have sailed with full genoa in abour 13knts true and it starts getting a bit hairy, but boy, when you crack off just a bit from a beat the easily driven and very stable hull form is doing 7 knots!  Another surprise , which may be a bit too much of one for families who are eager sailors, is that the Spinnaker is pretty huge, being masthead. Unlike a Sonata or many old, thin ended designs, the 77 trucks dead down wind in the sea train when racing, and sits very comfortably on a broad reach with the kite dare i say cleated while No.2 makes a cuppa down below. 

Another wee peach of a boat  is the Contessa 26. This was quite a popular boat around the western highland lochs in its day, with I guess many folk upgrading the the 32 version and into other bigger boats. They do look quite small, having quite a low freeboard, but they have four berths, galley and heads and their owners love them for their practicality, affordability and most of all seaworthyness. I do not know if they have the same ‘bench mark’ stability of the Contessa 28, but they certainly look the job for crossings to Colonsay and Tiree. For racing, well you would need to look at the CYCA and Portsmouth on them, there are very few raced which kind of suggests they are either very sort after by cruiser sailors, or avoided by racers. There was a very well sailed example out of Ardfern in the 2000s, but I dont remember it winning anything.

Boat chosen then, for some elegance and seaworthyness, I chose the Contessa 26. There I be exiting one of the western anchorages into the sound of Islay in my 26 with Girl Friday, a good book, camera at the ready, and a big glass of malt! 


Election Night Surprises

Two big risks have blow up in the faces of two major party leaders in Scotland and rUK tonight. Firstly Theresa May is shockingly denied a majority, and will only have a majority by appeasing the DUP in ulster. The gains in Scotland are a hollow victory, because Scottish MPs cannot vote on England only laws and policy,  much of it key to the mannifesto in terms of Schools, Transport and Policing. Nicola Sturgeon was handed a major blow losing at time of writing 21 seats, but retaining a large majority of seats.

We await postal votes, which have been Tory biased in the past, but now many UK expats will be worried as hell about their EU and EEA residency ( it mildly concerns me too of course) But Corbyn will not get an SNP supported government. He will though get a huge amount of credibility both in rUK and Scotland at beating the Tories down with their £11m estimated spend, using a paltry £3m.

It looks like voters are a little tired of Leaders in their respective countries calling referendii and elections for their own ends and opportunistic advantage. True 62% of voters in Scotland on Brexit said no thanks, but not in the seats which are a surprising shade of blue today. Also IndyRef was a very high turn out, as it has also been in these seats, with all parties but the SNP gaining in some. There is a clear vote against indyref 2 so soon and as I have said before rightly so.

The SNP knew they had demographics on their side in the longer term, and even without EU citizen votes (which may or may not be withdrawn from residents we do not know) , but they decided there was a concrete connection between Remain and Indy. There wasn’t.

The SNP have for years done a terrible job on actually painting an economic picture that is anything else than a wish-list and speculation. They bind themselves to the GERS figures whcih show a ScoGDP at around 145-162Bn pounds, which is only in line with a per capita proportion of the UK.  Why is Scotland so much Smaller an Economy than Denmark? It is placed around the same size as New Zealand, which has fewer people but a larger country. Living in Norway, I do not beleive the Scottish economy is around the £320bn GDP for Norway (2015) because although Scottish Waters have delivered the same amount of oil in total since 1969, Norway now produces far more per annum from investment and exploration down within it’s larger continental shelf. Denmark is around £244bn depending on the year and exhcange rate, but this is perhaps even as far as I would say Scotland could be.

With a centre left Corbyn revival, it could be that the Blairites buckle down to their new surprise success story, a modest gentleman, so smeared by the right wing media, yet able to come through with huge credibility from grass roots, town to town campaigning. Also Theresa May and hence the Tories will face ‘LibyaGate’ regarding the manchester bomber and one of the London suspects who were able to travel to fight in Libya to fight as Jihadists against Gidafi, and return. The allegation is that MI5 were involved with them in order to gather or intercept intelligence on the ground in Libya. The story in the news is their passports were confiscated by their Father, but is that really true?

Another general election means that a left wing coalition can arise, given the SNP and Labour agree to cooperate. Even without English Only Legislatory power, such a government would have a majority on the shape of Brexit and macro economic policy, including the much demonised Dept. Work and Pensions.  It may push the credibility up further and allow for a labour majority. That is a little unlikely because it looks like libdem voters and their politicians are not interested in working with labour, so it would just be the SNP. They could reppeal the act though, but it is seen as a natural progression towards autonomy by the SNP. Alternatively a majority like this could introduce a Scottish and Continental style semi Proportional Representation with a regional and city wide ‘list’ of extra candidates reflecting general voting patterns. That would of course lock the UK potentially into years of coalition governance, which would upset the ‘city’ at first, but they like many other EU countries would settle down to the idea of a centre politic, with minor swings right and left.

Now the SNP and Labour have to rally around what they should do, because despite 71% of Scots not voting for them, they got 13 seats (so far at time of writing) which is rather the boot on the other foot when Thatcher ruled supreme on only 37% of the vote, but had a majority, they manage 22% of seats on 28% of the vote.

I would bet on either a fragile, ‘weak and feeble’ DUP back alliance without Thresa May and with compromise on the ‘No Deal’ bravado, which has lost its shine since Le Pen lost and the Euro Zone is growing faster than the UK, even Greece.


Sailing into the Blue Yonder

Tommorrow is the final day’s racing at Tarbert in the Scottish Series, a regatta which evolved out of the ‘Tomatin Race’ of the early 70s. I have done five series and made damn well sure I was booked on for the final overnight, on a good ol’ clyde stalwart of days gone by – a hunter Impala, Llamergaya I think she was called.

I am really rather lucky to have not only sailed on the upper and lower clyde, but also on the Forth, the Tay and out of Oban. Of  course I have also sailed in Bergen, Oslo and the South Coast here , but my formative years were sailed on the East Patch.

Apprenticeship Duly Served at the Auld School

I served a rather late apprenticeship in sailing, being an adult new comer to the less subtle arts of racing. Firstly a season and a half on the infamous bene FC Europe ‘ Defiance II’ and then a rather more easy going pace on the Sigma 33 ‘Rajah’ with Roy Summers and Co, who are still going strong and competing this week I see over in Tarbert Loch Fyne.

In between the two boats I actually did the old school RYA course in dinghy sailing at the original Tighnabruaich sailing school ,where Derek who now has his own school down the sound, was senior instructor. It was a good grounding in seamanship as much as helming skills in there hotch potch of different dinghies.It blew old boots most of the time and we had an eclecitc bunch of folk, with Manchester school for girls in attendance and the Kirk’s minister from the isle of Barra.

My visit to the famous school was actually the same time as Scottish Series, I wasnt on the short list or the long list for Defiance (luckily, they had a bit of a mutiny I heard) and I was darn well going sailing that holiday weekend to make the most of the bank holiday. I think it was five days saturday to thursday or the like. Anyway I learned a lot of really good techniques, knots and so on. Derek was a hard task master and was looking after other sailors on the last couple of days so passed me only to RYA 2, which was a dissappointment, and there were mumbles back home that this was part of their marketing strategy! I got the rarer level 4 (surpassing three) over at Minorca sailing five years later.  I still teach some of the wee tricks and general attitude to seamanship in my own instructing, which begins tommorrow night incidentally with adults this time in day sailer keel boats. I put May 1995 as a big milestone in my sailing logbook though. An hour in a dinghy is worth eight in a racing yacht has been my motto ever since!

I signed up with Rajah a month later and was thrown into the deep end so to speak with the classic Tobermory race, a Port Bannatyne start line to Ardrishaig, with Ivanhoe leading our flottila with the scurl o’ the pipes from her foredeck through the Crinan Canal. A 5 am breakfast at Crinan to catch the tidal gate at the Doris Mor was followed by some hard spinnaker work, and a long day up towards the Lorne as the wind died south of Oban. Eventually a sea breeze to the top of 4 came in and we were all in by 4pm at Tob’. As a racing chap, I do sometimes think of how we are rushing past places of my family folklore likePuilladobhrain,. meaning Pool of the Otter, and in later years places which had mythical status to me as a nipper, far away holiday snaps and log book recitals, and reminicing between the crew and my father. Small keep sakes like tiles from abandoned buildings on the Treshnish islands, and much talk of Tinkers hole with the rings in the cliff faces to tie up to.  However coming up Fyne or the Sound of Mull in a fleet eager to hold their time or win their one design, with a full crew and three sheets to the wind,  just beats crusing around on white sails hands down every time. What a privelidge to have raced here often!

I was starting to feel I really had some skills under the belt, afer the baptism of fire on Defiance, the old school basics at Tigh’ and now one of the longest running events in the calender behind me. A delivery cruise through both Easdale and Cuan in blustery, Scotch mist conditions cemented my feeling of having waters past my own keel.

Rajah was a very good apprenticeship with some good sailors on board, and we had the luck of Neil McGregor coaching us for Cork Week 96 when we lighted the boat to class legal minimum, and she lifted her skirts with some whipping of us all by big Neil! 96 was a great year with warm weather and wind most days, and the whole event was a spectalce. Clyde boats dominated the sigma 33 class, with St Joan winning and Vendeval, Phoenix and Pepsi all being in the top ten. We scored a firth and a tenth I believe, having been third boat around the first mark one day when we punched through on the start line and got away with clean air up the beat. That was quite astonishing, a mid fleet gentleman’s boat often accused of being ‘social sailors’ down the Northern, showing a clean pair of heels to over seventy other sigmas!

Moving On Up the Ranks

Now Rajah didn’t sail wednesday nights, so I got the chance to sail with Harold Hood on Odyssey, and that was an eye opener because Harold was a former GP14 champion and veteran of several nationals. He came new into the fleet, having sailed Etchells and some other boats, but managed to be in the top three upper clyde Sigmas within a few outings. It was interesting to sail with them, and fun to win races, and I learned just how much of any regatta is decided on the start line, where Harold was a deamon with no fear what-so-ever, which got him in trouble with Charlie Frize on more than one occaision when the sig’s were thrown into class 1.

Work took me to Manchester for almost three years, and I of course met some sailors in the most likely setting of the Church Inn at Uppermill, about as inland as you can possibly get wothout being up Scafell Pike in England. Dave Cummaford was a regulat and invited me to do some irish sea racing, ISORA, and being young free and single I could spend my late youth bashing around all weekend in the Irish Sea, and then doing half of Celtic Week out of Pwhelli. That was interesting again, because they were a bunch of glamour-pusses in matching jackets on a Corby 35 with a deamon CHS rating. It was a fast, cleanly laid out boat with some really good sailors on board, but nearly all the time was spent sailing in our own wind, quite far from the faster Sigma 400s, and then sitting over a hot laptop waiting to see how we might place. Not that it put me off handicap racing, nor offshore. It was very good experience.

I was ‘booked’ for Converting Machine again for Scottish Series 1998 but got on board another boat who needed me all week, and kind of ignored Dave’s protestations later and got flicked from the crew list no dounbt for this misdemeanor. We were able to stay at someone’s hoose, Uncle Willy, who was an old retired fisherman with a big front room to his house with extra beds for about five of us. John from Ardershier was in two with Rob Inglis and some others, and we had a rather jolly time, us being commandeered onto the Irish IMX 38 ‘Braveheart’. I remember meeting them in the pub on the friday night after the delivery, and they were looking dejected, after a poor result and a lack of crew for the event. Me and john and perhaps another punter were as delighted to offer our services as they were to welcome us to the team.They were all called Brian if I remember rightly. Brian Matthews, a veritable legionnaire of Scottish Series and the Irish cicuit, was their coach and gave mes some of the best advice and tips on trimming I have ever had. I kind of forgot to sail with conveting machine which was running an odd mainsail in dacron to go trophy hunting in  a CYCA class of all places, I mean Tarbert was the annual shake down for IRC craft and their new sets of sails!

I think I will have to blog again from this point forward, but basically with this and then 2000 at Minorca Sailing in performance dinghies for a week, cemented my skills and knowledge and made me a useful guy on any boat, be that front, back or the middle bit where the boxing matches happen. I am far from a master dinghy sailor, nor I am Sir Ben on the stick of bigger boats, but i feel a certain road to mastery was taken by my route and Minorca honed my skills for boats of all sizes.

Coasts Apart

I moved to Edinburgh from my stint in Manchester and ended up working for what was then quite a high profile internet design and programming agency as a project manager. The pay was mediocre but it came with wheels, so I was able to shoot around the place. This meant I could sail at Port Edgar and Dalgety bay, keel boats and my own Tasar and other dinghies respectively. Also I decided to do some more west highland weeks, on my own terms, with a share of the helm.

Oban replaced Rhu as my ‘home port’ for two very enjoyable seasons sailing with Twig Olsen and Peter Duggan, with various crew including Gill Reavley, one of the Thomas brothers, Sandy Loynd from Tob’ and Alistair Olsen. It was a rather illustrious time for the boat ‘Fly’  and my helming too with wins at West Highland Week and Round Mull, and Peter and Sandy won of course the Scottish Two Handed on the clyde.

Like my father before me, I felt that the ‘real stuff’ begins once you’re over the top of the Crinan canal summit and venturing westward, so this move was cutting out the middle man. Also I got to sail on one of my favourite designs of all time, the Hunter Impala, called Fly. Much nicer than the Sonata to live in and far more sporty in feel and response than the Smeg when you consider David Thomas’s other two big UK successes.

Round Mull must surely be one of the best stage races in the world as far as scenery and craic goes, and I see it has grown in popularity and hull length ever since, with a move I believe to a week later in the calender coming more into holiday sweet spot. It is done by quite a select band of sailors who commit to having their boat up there for the season.

We were also lucky in competing in feeder races to both WHW and Round Shuna, the latter necessatating sailing under spinnaker through the Cuan sound, although we avoided Easdale. Round Shuna is another wee peach of a race and social, which anyone who happens to have sailed WHW should consider keepng their boat on God’s side of Kintyre just to do this event, once in a lifetime at least.

WHW 2000 was wonderful weather by in large, with the Hunts winning the event overall having eaked a fine tune out of their laser 28 ( relatively it didnt have a bandit handicap like say a comfort 30, and they could have won on IRC I dare say!) We had a support boat , Twig’s Nelson and we did Ken Grant’s after party at the light house at Corran ferry, with a final, peaceful late evening cruise back to N. Ballachuilish.

After WHW 2001 we also enjoyed some interesting crusiing in some bloody aweful weather. Jackie Stewart of motor racing fame was celebrating his 60th or 70th birthday and had hired I beleive the entire Hebridean Princess, with Sir Sscchean on board. We saw her steaming north as we made it to either Arisaig or Coll. We were ‘storm bound’ in both ports, with a dash in better weather made from Arisaig to Coll with a really big beam sea on the go, great mountains of green would suddenly rise and I had to turn the bow up on more than one occaision to bob over rather than risk being rolled (that extra lead on the keel is only a wee bitty bit on an Impala actually!!)

We had two nights on the tourist moorings there, each time walking the rubber dinghy the half mile up to the hotel, and then drifiting on the strong north westerly down the creek of a loch, aiming the dinghy as best we could at the impala and hope to hell we did not overshoot or loose grip on Fly ! It would be a long trip to Bunessan or Staffa in that wind with a half skinful in you.

Finally it came time to travel back home and we did a fairly ambitious Coll to Ballachullish three up wi’ the then wee man, Alistair Olsen. On the way up the firth of Lorne, there lay the Hebridean princess in that sandy bay on the Morvern side, we had heard there were a good few sea sick from the tour and I can remember why – force 8 two days and top of 6 several other days, with temperatures as low as 8 ‘c at night!  The temperature picked up too that evening, and we slept off a long day on the mooring at the little pool there which I cant remember the bloody name of, but is a kind of cosey little Caladh type place. With itinerant midges of course, but we slept pretty well in the dead calm of the bay.

That actually marked the end of my love affair with sailing the west coast at that point in time. I knew you cannot really go back and expect things to be the same, and Fly was due an inboard and so on. In truth I wanted to do more helming as i felt that I had come as far as I possibly could with crewing, and Pete was of course most interested in helming most of the time, especially when I pulled out Fly’s first and rather illustrious win on the Oban-Tob leg of WHW in 2001, in the old sea dogs class 5 as it was then, against all the bandit handicappers and all the local back eddy knowledge, and three other impalas in class!

I regret losing touch for a few years with Pete and Twig but hope we can get a sail together next year.

East is East

At the same point in time I was also sailing on a 707 over in the east coast, and got my company to sponsor East Coast Week. This was run at Dundee out of the Royal Tay, and I was able to sail a few times with the once infamous west coast boat Rhett Butler, then passing to the sober hands it has to be said of Dave Suttie. The DB2 was a proper old race boat, a little tired but still able to impress up wind. I got to sail a couple of days at the ‘week’ and was on runners when we hit the shelf at Broughty castle. Bump. It was a falling tide and we did not really know about the shelf. The boat developed a slow leak and needed repairs, Silvers taking on the job that winter.

The 707 was a good experience too, because before I had done a winter series on a lone FC 8m, whcih was fun but often a little hairy. We had the sail maker Simon Jackson on boat ‘ Activ8or’ and I learned a good few more tricks it has to be said, plus more fine details on use of the rules from a fantastic sailor. The 707 was also hairy, we often sailed just three up which made upwind a struggle and off wind a blast. However after a decent broach at 12 knts I got used to the feeling of not quite trusting the helm, another Dave IIRC, and enjoyed the wee machine. Once we were going so fast under the forth bridges that the displacement boats literally looked like they were sailing backwards!

Never Quite Fitting In

It was really high time to concentrate on my own boat, but a year of part time work and a mediocre salary in my new job at Inchinnan meant that Ididnt have budget. I tried sailing with a couple of other boats on the clyde but I was  a bit of a spent force if truth be told in terms of social network there.

On the Clyde I never felt I quite fitted in, or was accepted into the core of crew around my own age. They had all been dinghy and day boat sailors in their teens, most had crewed on Drum in her day, and really I was an outsider who also got labelled as pretty rubbish from my early days out as a virtual novice to keel boat racing, and then sailing with the rather unfarily branded ‘ social sailor’ boat Rajah. The trouble there was that they were all older on board and the usual crew bonding and beer swilling in the throbbing crowd in the beer and bands tent was lacking. Being with other crew was ok, but it would have been better to be in a team and bond with folk around my own age then I can see that in retrospect.

I don’t regret a god-darned minute though, and my social awkwardness is something I just have to live with.
Mera Norvegicus
The  east coast followed including East Coast Week out of Royal Tay, on the now no longer infamous ‘Rhett Butler’ and planing under the Forth bridges on a 707. Three more Tarberts and a total of four West Highland Weeks and I had my spurs and some scars to show.

Where now though?
Well it has to be a new blog that one too I am afraid! I need my kip and my berth awaits.