Tag Archives: sailing

Pointing to Problems With Pointing

There is one common topic which the followers down the fleet will most often bemoan. Pointing a sailing boat, or rather not being able to point as high as others. In handicap fleets it can get outright nasty this pointing at problems as if they were purely down to fortuiry of boat design and how much lard one helm attracts as his rail ballast.        

                                       In one design fleets it tends to be an issue for all and sundry, especially on the start line or coming off the leeward mark to the subsequent beat. Why  do you not get your boat sailing as high on the wind as a competitor?                                            
           We can divide the answer or rather ‘point you in the right directions’ to coin a pun, into several routes to understanding a shortcoming. Firstly there is rig set up and then there is boat trim and sheeting, finally there is technique. I will touch very briefly on the alternative mentioned above, that some boats do indeed point very much higher by virtue of design.                  

          All boats have a pivot point when their wetted areas are fully immersed to their maximum for each point of sail. In keel boats we find that on the beat, the heeled boat usually has a longer water line and the centre of longditundinal resistance or pivot point moves a little forward. Usually this point on the beat is somewhere between the base of the mast and the trailing tip of the keel. In some boats like the j24, it probably moves too far aft, because the keel is too far back in the design, but because this is quite a high pointing racing boat often sailed in OD fleets, no one really cared that much!

 A boat whose pivot point moves forward will tend to be pushed more by the leverage power of the mainsail along the boom and through the mast. In many 1960 and 70 RORC ‘ton’ designs the boats were built to fit the rule with a large genoa and a relatively small main, and many designs followed this, for example the Contessa 32 and her sister designs. The big genoa becomes an awkward factor as it reaches beyond its optimal wind and starts to fight with the optimal centre of resistance while also heeling the boat and making the waterline even longer and thus more prone to weather helm. This can be very pronounced with over canvassed ton designs fighting themselves out of the ‘groove’ upwind in a cycle of CLR displacement and rounding upon heeling. The answer is to strip down sail early so as to avoid this in gusts, because you cannot depower a genoa very much at all underway.                                          

        Here then we go right out of boat design and into what you do with the boat and how you react to different conditions of both wind and it has to be raised now, sea.  Lets face it, most boat designers know what they are up to and have to comply to safety rules and guidelines when developing a new boat. Ton designs and their Sadler and  David Thomas deriviatives do screw up into the wind when overpowered, but on the beat that is a bit of a safety factor. Impalas were known to tack themselves though after an upwind ‘broach’ so they had to have extra weight on the end of their keels. Even in this example, David Thomas had probably intended that folk should be on a number three and a reef, when in fact they were sailing with full sail in 20 knts wind. Modern designs with rounded hulls and ‘spade’ or bulb  keels and wide transoms tend to hold their waterline better upwind so within reason they are easier to sail however the high volume, flat stern can promote broaching in a boat which is overcanvassed on any point of sail. So correct canvassing is the first step in ‘getting into the groove’ and staying there.               

                       Then we come to rig tune. We happened upon a similar effect with poor pointing on our first trip out in the Melges this year in fact, just last week, and that is what inspired me to write tonight. Way back when about 1998 I sailed a Cumbraes regatta on the very tasty detuned Figaro I, T’jig II owned by the Dryborough brothers. This was a machine with planing potential under its mast head spinnaker,. but on the second start I think it was, we just could not point and ended  up sitting ducks squeezed in by the fleet near the IDM end. We actually won a subsequent race and the overall result gave us a class win or a second place, we collected silverware. They said then the boat just did not really point but in fact later on they had the rig tuned, quite possibly professionally, and the boat could point a lot better. What their issue quite likely was, and very likely what our issue was last wednesday was forestay length and tension.          

   The forestay is really a key measurement on any  standard, bermudan rigged sailing vessel. It controls the mast rake first and foremost, and then how much sag and power there is in the genoa or jib. Too long and you will find the boat develops lee helm, because the mast is going backwards too far and the mainn sails centre of effort goes back, pushing the boat round its pivot point to windward. Very often too long will also mean you are breaking a class measurement or agreed IRC one.  Too short and you will pull the mast too far forward and the boat will loose some ability to point as the centre of effort of the mainsail moves forward. This is a big deal even over the course of two inches on the Melges for example, because it can move the centre of effort far more than just a couple of inches. It messes up the balance. 

However  it is not as simple as that. In a boat like the M24 with swept back spreaders, the cap shrouds are also a major control over rake as they sweep the mast backwards with them as tension is applied through their bottle screws. The mast step limits the amount the mast can pivot as does the maxium bend and compression. Now as the cap shrouds come on even harder the mast compresses and bows forward. We can take some of that out with the inner lower diagonal shrouds,. but not all of it when we are set for mid to heavy weather. Then the forestay is suddenly lieing on a chord now to fixture point which has become shorter, hence the forestay and sail can sag in a leeward curve when close hauled. The net effect is that you cannot actually point as high, because the jib is powering the boat a lot up wind in 12 knots plus with the main being depowered after about 14 knts wind. Your telltales fly early. Now you can on our M24 adjust the forestay on a bottle screw down under the mast, because  it is lead over an axel or wheel in the mast and down to the keel of the boat. This means you can take out this sag and obtain optimal rake. In theory,. However this gets complicated and it is easy to end up either with an out of class illegal mast head to transom measurement, or a mainsail which is hard to trim correctly, or both of course. So later boats were fitted with a fixed legnth forestay, meaning you adjust only the shrouds and you maintain a good balance as the wind builds, while also keeping within your class rules measurement mast top to transom.

                  In many boats though, you can though experiment with legnthening the forestay by a few inches on the bottle screw or pin and rack adjuster. You want to maintain enough tread to have good holding on a bottle screw it has to be said!! 

As in the Melges example, you will need in fact to adjust your shrouds as well because their tension will be altered by slackening the forestay and you want to maintain a tight forestay for poinint high. Your mainsail should still be easy to trim and not start maxing out in how far you can practically sheet in before it or the boom interfere with things, nor do you want too much weather helm. Note your settings in terms of thread screws left on the bottle screws or pin positions on the racks for both forestay and shrouds, and if the backstay has a wheel note there too, or even mark the point at which you tighten it with the rope purchase system if that is fitted. If it is a bad setting with weather helm, note it all the same so that you avoid that failed experiment again.     An example of a boat where experiment showed that an extreme mast rake was best for pointing is the Soling, where the boom meets the deck, very unusual for a boat with a jib and a mainsail and relating to the overall design of the keel and balance of the sails.         
   Getting this rake and sag balance  right before a race or fast passage in a known forecast is just as important for optimal performance as the better known final wee few inches in on the sheets when you want to point high as possible. In some boats you can get away with an average to soft rig setting, and then let the sheeting,kicker, jib track, halyards and cunningham. The modest little Farr Platu 25 could  be sailed like this, using the back stay to first stabilise the rig by tigthening the forestay, and thus achieving good pointing, like a runner in effect, before it and the kicker could be used to depower the sail in the gusts by bending the mast quickly. However given a more definiative blowy forecast, it was better to set things harder on, and reduce rake.              
            The Platu is a good place to move on from righ tuning for rake and discuss balance from sheeting the sails in order to achieve good pointing. Due to a very shord chord keel (fore aft distance) the boat pivots very easily so like in a sailing dinghy, you notice any imbalance between main and jib more than on a spade or long keel.  Too much weather helm and you need to sheet in on the jib a little if you can, or drop the main down the traveller. The Platu can though develop mild lee helm too, when the jib is oversheeted, which is destructive to pointing. Here more main should usually be applied, or the jib sheeted out or opened at the top by moving the cars back and the barber haulers out. A good balance and correct slot angle is key to not only helping pointing by controlling pivoting once the rig is tuned for the race from the above rake techniques, but also main and jib is 2+2=5 . It is more than the sum of its sail area and power alone due to various effects beyond the scope of this essay, just trust me! This nice amount of power leads to speed and that is the next point to raise.                      
             You will hear it said at some point from knowledgeable  sailors that you need speed before pointing, and in a general, non tactical beat this is absolutely critical indeed. There are two things to not here. We are talking about maximal overall boat speed, and the speed at which the keel and rudder, the foils, ‘fly’. A beneteau 25 Platu as mentioned has a very short chord keel of less than  2 feet, so it  flies ie attaches flow and creates lift, at a very low boat speed. That sounds good, you are resisting leeway very soon and able to sail the boat forward, and take the next piece of advice, work the boat smoothly up to close hauled. The trouble with such a short keel is that it  also shakes off attached flow very easily and has eventually quite a narrow groove when the boat is close hauled ie if you point too high or fall off too abruptly it will loose its ‘bite’ in the water, it will stall due  to turbulance. The converse is true of say sailing a Piper or a Loch Long or a 12mR rater. Here you have a need to get up to a higher speed before your keel is flying, because it is so much longer a chord and arc legnth. However  once  flying the flow remains attached as you manoevre up and down from optimal close hauled. In either case below foil flying speed or if the keel or rudder is stalled due  to abrupt movement, you will drift sideways, even if your bow points up towards the wind  more – you will pivot but not gain forward travel.          
           In modern short chord keels though, the flow detaches quickly in abrupt movement of the helm or boat, but reattaches very quickly, whereas if you do shake the flow off a long keel boat, it can take time for it to reattach and you are left with not only leeway, but an ineffective  rudder.      
            Given this foil fly speed and time to reattach if stalled too high on the wind or by abrupt rotational movement in heeling or pivoting towards or away from the wind direction, you can do some simple calculations to build  confidence that you have the keel flying and can  work the boat up to close hauled  in a smooth fashion, maintaining that attached flow and keeping above speed X ie the foil fly speed.                                 Now we can talk about the final luff to close  hauled and sailing the boat  ‘in the groove’. After we get the boat moving on say a beam reach, we understand from the log or the feel that the keel is  flying and the  rudder is  nice and responsive. Then we can work the tiller and sheet the sails in a smooth fashion such that we come up on the wind. *(alternatively you may want to stall the boat to buy time in approaching a start line by abruptly screwing up towards the eye of the wind and thus stalling forward progress)  Your foils are flying but you have now hull speed to think about. This can be roughly calculated by a long standing equation  based on the square root of the water line length but very often there are a sett of ‘target’ polar diagram or table figures available  for popular racing boats. Here we see what boat speed is ptimal for a given wind speed. So when you are close hauled in a modern 35 foot regatta machine your figure maybe between 6.9 and 7.9 knots. In most boats going slower than this is a sign that you are actually sailing too high from optimal close hauled, or of course your boat is not trimmed or rig tuned quite right. In small fast sports boats and dinghies you can actually start to sail a little quicker than hull speed as your boat is light enough to climb its own bow wave in a very early planing mode, even on the beat. However this is actually a sign that you are pointing too low to achieve optimal upwind velocity made good  -VMG , how beneficial the zig zag angle is relative to the  progress right into the  wind direction – until in a dinghy you can actually plane  upwind. The tell tale sign on this is that your stern wave detaches from the aft quarter of your boat. If you point a little higher, you can often see that it reattaches to the hull, and the bow and stern wave stream off in at a parallell angle.These boats tend to be best sailed with a neutral helm ie no weather and no lee, little pressure, just flow over the  rudder and adjustments made by steering to keep the  angle to the wind optimal. Hence this is one way of keeping a boat in the groove if it is a light weight performer.    
    Many of the ton designs and their deriviative mass produced boats have a very prominent weather helm when they are in the groove, this showing that the powerbalance is keeping the boat driving up to wind, and that the lift created  on the rudder itself is helping coutner act leeway. A major element of being in the groove  on what ever boat  is that in fact the boat feels quite settled, still and sometimes it feels slow because it ceases to accelerate and deccerleate. Very often experienced helms rely on the heel and the sensation of water past the leeward gunwhale more than their log and polar diagram as a good  handle as to them being in the groove. Being out of the groove or not maintaining it is the opposite. The boat heels too much, the helm gets imbalanced and loads up or loses influence, the speed is up and down.                 
       So we have learned so far that we need to get the rig set for the expected conditions, we need to balance our sail sheeting, we need to get our foils flying and we want to feel we are in the groove. Now  we are pointing. However we have  those  variable conditions to consider, with the wind being a fickle mistress and waves hindering peachy progress on the beat. Here we come to how we also trim the boat fore aft, to help maintain hull immersion and thus waterline related optimal speed while reducing drag from impact and exit of waves we sail against.
 As the wind builds too we need to discuss a sail change or reef, or try and use the running rigging to depower or power up. In rougher seas with nasty chop many light boats start to be a handful to keep in a high groove and tend to stall up. We need to foot off and steer around the waves, but this also means we never quite sail in the groove – our optimal VMG theory is out the window and we have to sail actively on helm and mainsheet to stop the waves hindering our progress and knocking our keel flow off.  Other heavier boats thrive as the wind builds and once fully powered up can even be pinched up on the wind to depower while still punching through a heavy chop, for example the Bashford Howison 36 and 40 designs.and many older ton and meter designs.
 So now you start to understand perhaps why old sea dogs and medal winners like Dennis Connor still talk about ‘we learned a lot out there today’ after decades of sailing. 

Sailing Once More …Challenges ? 

I feel enthused, lucky and even a bit pampered to beyond the point of priveleged. Last week sailing a 9mR against HRH and this week out in near perfect conditions for the Melges 24 fleet in Kristiansand.

Torridon is now restored to full glory and wonderful sailing ability by Gustav Mortensen


Not only that of course, but three weeks ago it was photo-opportunity deluxe as the M32 Scandinavian road show hit town and did some modern high speed action right alongside the steam-boat-quay. Perhaps something is telling me not to attempt my two year project back in Scotland after all….

Despite feeling in my full glory, roaring forties an’ all, and a class ‘ win’ in the 9mR – sole entry vs the 8mRs – our performance on the Kristiansand ‘estuary’ left something to be desired. Our heavy weight all up with 4 men was admittedly a little handicap on the long reaching leg across the bay on the ’round the rocks’ format, but helped with our boatspeed up wind no end. We just went the wrong way a couple of times.

I was a bit surprised to hear the helm , a physicist by trade, refer to the misfortune as lady-lucks bad cards, and the wind pattern a little random out there, while in the middle of a conversation with some boys who suspected a lift in towards ‘Bragdoy’ followed by a spritely tack to fall short of the wind shadow. It seems wind over land meeting sea is something which has escaped our chap otherwise so learn-ned in fluid dynamics.

I felt a little irritated at this attitude and also that he is a busy chap and sometimes doesnt quite bend an ear to suggestion. Taking the good in and not throwing the baby out with the salty bath water of last nights annual baptism, we did have a quite good start, slowing much all of the fleet up on the reaching start by being bloody minded enough to come in pointing high at the pin end! Tally Ho, hunt on! A  mediocre first hoist put us back in our place – three rusty melges sailor and a man with jeans on first time out in the wee white blighter. 

We didnt cover ourselves in glory on our gybe angles, but up wind we went quite well, gaining on the first beat back to the western side round another ‘not that close!’ rock as mark of the course. Second reach was deeper and longer this time, crossing our first path back to the same smelly old rock with a nasty ledge on the Dvergsnes side. We lost out a little on speed to our three manned lighter competition and a little more on gybe angles before then picking up on a good last gybe and angle into the mark. We were within spitting distance of two of the other three melges. 

On the last  beat they elected to use the hefty river Otra current to lee bow them up, while we took our chances with more wind further out, which had paid a little on the previous beat. However this beat was a lot longer and with the wind dropping a bit far more critical to get the shifts and lifts right. The leebow effect or lack of us tacking on a header meant the other boats had taken a big chunk ahead and only had a small pain of that lee of Bragdoy I mentioned, to take as they churned back to the finish line on the clubhouse side. We took in again on a couple of short tacks, but were about 4 minutes behind the best melges and five boat lengths behind the next last to us as tail end charlie. 

Finish Line using obvious geography here! Boats head home after a sausage and a beer


Our only take out then, or rather mine, is that the helm needs to learn more about wind angles and effects like land -turns left *N.Hemisphere, to then go right again as the wind leaves, and convergence/divergence with a parallel wind to coast.  We can train up on manoevres of course, but getting the game plan right up and down ‘hill’ in a boat like the Melges in paricular is a must learn, which we seem to not quite have got over to the helm. 

One puzzeling issue was our lack of height on the beat. We had speed and could eat into the dirt of other melges, but so much lower that it became a windshadow not worth sailing through. Melges have a very sensitive rig which needs to be adjusted for every 4 knts or so change in wind from the last race. During a typical evening race you can expect that type of fall, so we went from low and fast setting to just low and poor VMG as it died off with the sun’s inexorable path. The tell tales on the jib flew and told us only that the car needed to go forward? Or did we have luff sag from an over tension mast Cap shrouds? We had too much backstay on too, but when let loose it did little it did very little. We are left then most likely with a need to take in on the forestay, being an old bottle screw at the foot of the mast installation, That in turn will bring the mast forward and entail that heavy Cap Shroud loading will induce sag once again. Alternatively we render ourselves out of class

We tend to do better on short courses on average because we are good at getting off the start line and covering the fleet tactically. With little chance to stretch your legs and find a favoured side, we are then soon on the windward mark on the typical short WL courses they set for us in OD competitions here. However we have seen the best boats find a pace really up a gear, and this is now I think of it, on either extreme of the course, or 60 degree sensible cone on the beat, where they are finding either less current or a region of convergence. Sometimes a divergent zone can get the boat back down to perfectly powered up and not flogging or bubbling her main. A newer boat will go a bit faster but it looked like Party Girl just clicked up a gear and sailed away from us on a few beats, once we had good speed they just found better. 

The foils on the boat ‘fly’ in virtually no time at all once you are moving so I wonder if you need to achieve full hull speed before you can take the final little pinch to best VMG on final close hauled trim?  I would expect a new boat like Party Girl to creep ahead nicely due to her stiffness, but to lift her wee skirt and fly off on the beat ?

One of several ergonomic problems with the boat is that the crew all hike, and the helm is left sheeting the main and doing most of the leeside tactics and tell tale watchin themselves. We have to lean round to call lee side boats or telltales on the jib and it is awkward to see what the main is up to. That seems to suit some helmspersons of course I dont want to mention, but in reality it limits the flow of useful, most salient information back to a chap or chapette who may be a tinsy bit overloaded and come out with some office politics in the back of their minds. 

We take the positives- first day out and we were by in large nearly on the pace! A lovely night with some planing and a spurt of maybe 12 or 14 knts boat speed. 

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.