Thursday, 3 December 2009

Laser SB3

I was lucky to get a spot on a Laser SB3 in the recent Garmin Hamble Winter Series. The good ship Trio was looking for someone to trim main and asymmetric and call tactics. I cannot think of a better way of spending a Sunday, even if the weather was horrible once or twice.

After four years of watching these boats blast around the Solent, it was my first time racing one. They are very popular here, as any one who has been to Cowes week in recent years will know, and with good reason: They are simple (no winches, running backstays and one person can roll the sails), easy to transport and so, so fast downwind with 15 knots plus. They remind me of the Melges 24 for their fun and simplicity...without being quite as ridiculously expensive.

Sacrilege, some of you will say. Probably. SA slated the SB3 in 2007, citing build quality and calling it step backwards in design. Sure enough, the owner of Trio had his original hull replaced after he discovered that it was far and away the heaviest in the fleet. And, despite much adjustment, he still does not believe that the keel is straight. Nevertheless, the class is strong in the Solent and that's what good racing is all about: good competition, good turnout and equal boats. I realised how much I missed crowded starts, ducking transoms and crossing bows, knowing instantly whether your strategy paid off or not. So much better than handicap racing.

It was also my first proper experience trimming an asymmetric. I am hooked! All those years I wasted, worrying about topping lifts, tweakers and the "break"; trying to coordinate a foredeck, pitman, sheet and guy trimmers. As for jibing, it has become as simple as tacking (OK, the boat is only 6M long). The asym is such a different animal to its aged cousin that I had to learn almost from scratch...but it's not difficult. The only thing we need to master is keeping it filled all the way through the jibe, which probably requires the cooperation of all three of us.

In any case, I may never go back to a symmetric again.

Photos Paul Wyeth.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hand of Frog

Bloody Nora! Martin Hansson didn't half cause a controversy last week when he failed to spot Thierry Henry handling the ball (not to mention being offside) in the World Cup qualifier against Ireland. Henry initially responded by saying "I’m not the ref". Quite. We gathered that, based on the fact that he didn't have a headset taped to his face.

The response in France was mixed: it has widely been referred to as a "Referee error". Perhaps they don't have a word for "blatant, desperate cheating". Nevertheless, the public seems outraged, though this may be more due to the fact that the team, and the manager, are unpopular. Few there are calling for a rematch. Across the Channel the Irish are less restrained, calling for the game to be replayed and a boycott of French bread, French wine (yeah, right) and French kissing!

The case against Henry may be overstated: perhaps he did try to tell the referee what really happened. Unfortunately his post-goal celebration is what everyone saw. And his hand. Initial reactions are what count: the things we say before our agents or publicists have had a chance to coach us reveal what we really think. And it sounds as though Henry thinks that a crime not punished is a crime not committed.

This type of thinking seems to be endemic in nearly every professional sport and is a real problem. It sends the wrong signals to our children. It drives away disgusted viewers (though one can argue that the only people left watching football are the hardcores anyway). It drags acceptable levels for sportsmanship down to the lowest common denominator, from where only disaster is possible.

In sailing, there are a fraction of the number of officials at, say, a tennis match or football game. On the water judges are there mainly to facilitate instant decisions, which makes racing formats such as match racing and team racing more exciting. The onus is on the competitor to take a penalty where a rule has been infringed (other competitors have the right to protest any yacht they believe is guilty of an infringement). The Racing Rules of Sailing have a Basic Principle, which states that "A fundamental principle of sportsmanship is that when competitors break a rule they will promptly take a penalty, which may be to retire." Rule 2 (Fair Sailing) states quite clearly that "A boat and her owner shall compete in compliance with recognized principles of sportsmanship and fair play." A violation of such principles can result in disqualification from a race and this result being included in a series score, which can effectively ruin a regatta for the offending boat.

In other words, Thierry Henry would have been required to leave the field and ask that the goal be scratched and possession be surrendered. Or something like that. Do these seemingly draconian rules result in sailors competing like monks? No, of course not. Humans will be humans and we will push the rules to the max, an example being Rule 42. However, I would humbly suggest that Henry's offence was the same as using a paddle in a boat race: a hand on the ball in a game called football is such a blatant infraction that one cannot blame the the referee or, for that matter, the protest committee.

It's like a murderer saying that their victim died as a result of a "policing error".

Is the answer for football less officials? No, it is more technology. Can football learn from sailing? Maybe. Sailing is a much more complex sport, with myriad more possible scenarios. Every other sport has a rule, written or unwritten, that fair play shall govern competition. We have chosen to write this down and make its infringement so heavily punished that it is almost not worth trying. In football, where the rewards of winning seem to far outweigh the punishment of cheating, this is food for thought.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Flying a hull...

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Three vs Two

BMW Oracle trimaran re-launch
9o ft (27.5M) long x 90 ft wide


Alinghi catamaran unveiled
90 ft long


Friday, 12 June 2009

RORC IRC Nationals 2009

My face bears the evidence of the glorious weather that greeted us on two out of the three race days last weekend in the Solent. As this picture will attest, the sun was out in full force on day 1 of the IRC Nationals, so much so that by the afternoon I was racing in just shorts and a T-shirt - a first in this country.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Royal Southern Yacht Club May Regatta - Day 1

"Blowing monkeys out of trees." It's a stupid saying, but today there were certainly not many monkeys aloft. As the WindGURU extract shows, it was howling on the Solent today. As a result, probably 10 out of the 17 boats entered in IRC Class 1 made it out to the race course.

On Cajou, we were a little early for the start. The idea is normally to do some spinnaker sets and tacks before racing, as there is almost always a new face on board. But today none of us wanted to put any sails up until absolutely necessary. So we motored around for an hour or so, watching the windex register 30+ knots.

For the first time ever, I raced with a reef in the main. Cajou spins out at 15 knots, so we would never have made it through the race with a full main. Unfortunately, racing sails are not really designed to be reefed (apart from having the reefing points), so the shape was less than optimal, despite the 6:1 cunningham.

Also a first, we didn't use the spinnaker for the whole day. Although the downwind legs were mostly quite broad, we were hitting the target speeds with just the jib. More importantly, of those boats that flew kites, nearly all broached and a more than one ended up destroying the sail. After the first downwind leg boats were dropping like flies. In the end, only four boats finished in our class, out of 17 entries. Race two was cancelled.

Day 2

When we came down on the next morning, the weather was not a lot better. Mark (the owner) was tempted to send us back home: there is no point risking breaking something, or someone, unless the race is important. His thinking may have been influenced by the fact that we tore the leech on the mainsail while taking it down the day before. We all backed him, knowing that the IRC Nationals were coming up. Despite not taking part in the second race, we ended up fourth overall. Result.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

R.I.P. Andrew

Andrew Owen Burke died this morning in Bayview Clinic after a long fight with cancer, losing his left arm and shoulder to the disease several years ago and fighting on as the cancer reappeared in different parts of his body.

Andrew was an extremely talented sailor and boat builder, but the results that he clocked up after losing his arm would be impressive for any of us: 1st in class at Heineken, 1st in class at Tobago, 1st in class at Mount Gay. Last year he sailed around Barbados – literally single handed – to raise money for the Barbados Cancer Society.

Andrew received a Silver Crown of Merit in last year's Independence Honours List (picture above). He celebrated his 60th birthday last week, entertaining a number of sailing friends at his home.

We all will miss him.