It’s a busy weekend on the sailing calendar. Cowes is hosting the IRC Nationals so the marinas and yards are full of polished weaponry and identikit crews with nonchalant, seen-it-all before demeanours awaiting the arrival of the money men and the rockstars. It’s a good scene. The place is buzzing and my goodness, the whispers have started. “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…the Cup is coming home!” was the purloined football chant being hummed quietly by all and sundry after yesterday’s news. You have to pinch yourself to believe it.
But aside from the Cup mania engulfing the town, the event that I will be watching closer than others this weekend is happening a fair few miles down the coast at the national sailing centre in Weymouth, the perfect sailing venue that held the Olympic regatta in 2012. And it’s a million miles from the Cup and all its nuances – to be honest it’s a relief to report. A welcome distraction that’s been building steadily all year.
The Europe class has been constructing a highly engaged following on social media throughout the year with encouragement to all to hike their boats out of the dinghy parks and seek them out again from the back of the garage. It’s a mini-revolution happening. They’ve attracted over 50 boats to their National Championships and are an astonishing 500% up on entries in 2016. How did that happen?
Well it doesn’t take too much to get enthusiasm back and breathe life into classes with such pedigree so when seven time national champion and all-round dinghy supremo, Steve Cockerill decided to buy two – one for his wife Sarah – and start posting brilliant onboard videos from training sessions at Lee-on-Solent, well it just took off. Steve is also the importer of the Spanish Winner dinghies through his company, Rooster, and my goodness they are beautiful pieces of art in themselves. Almost too beautiful to be bothered with salty water, they could easily be museum pieces – indeed Shirley Robertson’s winning Winner from Athens is rightly in the Cowes Classic Boat Museum as a permanent piece. Forget the price tag, tell yourself they are an investment in your health and well-being, hide the credit card statement and when it arrives in its freight box you will feel the warm fuzzy glow of making the best decision of your life.
With Winner being the default in the class for aeons, there hasn’t been much competition in the builders but famed British dinghy builder Synergy Marine who make world-beating OK’s, Cadets, Larks and Merlins Rockets is gatecrashing the Europe market with a design building on years of small-boat experience and excellence. It will be interesting to see how they go as they ride the wave of resurgence in the class. Personally I’d buy British to support the economy and British workers and I would think that I wouldn’t be alone. Good timing from Synergy and I wish them every success with the new boat.
But having good builders and class cryers is one thing but getting 51 boats on the start-line indicates something more and it’s here where the Class Association comes in. They’ve done a first class job structurally in encouraging participation. A buddy system connects up sailors into groups of three across the fleet, traversing all abilities to share knowledge and tips – and in the Europe Class it’s such a conundrum of matching masts to weight to cord depth and rake (and that’s before you even get to technique) that all help is welcome to those either starting out or bowling back into the fray. Quite frankly the Google algorithm is easier to de-code. They’ve also arranged training sessions with the likes of ex-Olympian Laura Baldwin and three-times Ladies champion Lucy Boreham so that everyone will come back from the Nationals with enhanced knowledge, skills and ideas to take away and practice.
Who will win? Well judging by the videos on YouTube I think Steve Cockerill’s the man to beat if the wind stays in…if it goes light then it’s anyone’s guess and in a week of revolutions, this quiet one will not go amiss on my sailing radar. It’s fantastic that sailors are getting back out on the water, staying in campsites, firing up the camper-van or cadging a sofa on a mate’s floor. This is proper sailing. It’s the camaraderie, the friendships made that will last for years, the drinks in the bar after racing, the barbecue, the chats, the delight and disappointment, the effort, the tiredness of long days on the water and the family atmosphere that the Europe Class, and many others, are getting so right as the UK limps through extended lockdown. Dinghy sailing is back. Europe’s are in fashion and I wish every competitor from the front to the back, a cracking weekend at the national sailing centre.
Everywhere I look there’s sailing happening – the Waszps have been up in Rutland making that daunting puddle a breeze, the Fireballs (beautiful boats) have just done a traveller series event and Scotland is buzzing with regattas from Musto Skiffs to RS400s and others. A local Solent club – Keyhaven SC – held a successful Laser 2000 regatta in perfect conditions last weekend and by all accounts, the place was rocking. And the bigger boats are out in force at a myriad of JOG, RORC and championship yachting (And I’ve just been reminded by my friend Bob Gatehouse that the 6 Metres are revving up for a Squadron regatta this weekend too!). Cups are being won and it’s all happening. Brilliant stuff.
Sailing in the UK is booming. Call it a Covid bounce, call it a result of the America’s Cup, call it whatever you will but it’s thriving and it’s great to see. Participation from the juniors upwards is building – bring the Auld Mug to the Solent and it will explode. The Solent is ready and willing to put on the greatest show on earth…now who’s going to call ‘starboard’ on Te Rehutai or Rita at 53 knots? You know it’s going to happen…