I have come to the conclusion that a northerly airflow is the Almighty’s signal to middle aged men to do DIY. It’s a pretty useless breeze when you’re on a southerly island looking back up at Britain as it fills and chills but never quite gets going. Bob Fisher used to always write the line in his copy about sailing in the Solent: ‘when the wind’s in the north, go north’ – and he was right.
It’s cold but to hell with it, the brilliant Duncan Hepplewhite from Sailing Fast UK had rushed out an Ovington Boats carbon composite lower section for my Laser Radial in the week after a really encouraging and helpful email to me (thanks Duncan) and I was going, cold air or not, come what may.
The only slight mis-step – and you’ll all recognise this – was that I was out when it arrived so the CFO of this household had to sign for it…ooops. Tricky thing to hide and even trickier to pass off an eight foot length of bubble wrapped carbon as: “it’s a Christmas present…” As subtle as a carbon pole…I was officially rumbled of Cowes.
Never mind such details, back to the sport and I seriously believe that winter sailing (is it winter yet?) is 99% mental. You arrive at the dinghy park in your warm car and everything seems against you. Ooh it looks breezy on the north shore. Why didn’t I buy a drysuit when they were freely available? That cloud looks ominous. Are those seagulls just hanging in the breeze because they can’t actually get against it? Looks chilly.
Get over the mental torture of the ridiculous DIY demon sitting on your shoulder going: ‘those shelves need putting up’, rig the boat then get out there and within 20 seconds the world is a different place. Rudder down, blimey the water really is cold, sheet on, sit out and go with the tide. Magnificent.
I sailed off from Gurnard determined to get some miles in and decided that a beat/shy reach down the coast against the ebbing tide towards Cowes was preferable. Let’s see how far I could get. The Green along the Cowes beach was looking just fine and approaching the Squadron, the wind was starting to free and play ball. The Squadron’s front balcony was all shuttered off – almost as if there was an announcement this week or something. Who knows? I ploughed on.
After skilfully playing dodgems with the Red Funnel and the Red Jet across the busy Cowes entrance with its ubiquitous chop and it’s onto the shallows of the Shrape before heading down to the Norris point and into Osborne Bay. It’s a glorious part of the world – a beautiful playground to jill up and down in flat water before deciding to head out into the tide, round the red Norris Point navigational marker and fast blast back. Not quite enough breeze to get screaming but fast enough to get wet and with the wind clocking to the east bang on cue, it was a lovely broad reach followed by a dead run down the central Solent with the tide and back home on a building waveform, perfect for the Laser to surf and tilt. It was like being 15 again. Just fantastic.
Now about that carbon lower section. G-A-M-E C-H-A-N-G-E-R…If you are a Laser Radial sailor, do yourself a favour, phone up Duncan at Sailing Fast on Monday morning and buy one. The Laser association or council or whoever approves these things have played a blinder. They are fantastic. Light as feather to rig – anyone who’s put up a Laser mast in a breeze knows what a struggle it can be – and it transforms the feel of the rig.
The bend feels right, paired with the carbon top section and the gooseneck feels ever so slightly lower – John Emmett (Olympic coach to the stars) warned me about the low boom and advised that I master the art of tacking facing forward.
Three roll tacks and I nailed it. Thanks John. But crucially, and this is a thing, it looks right. I remember being on the media boat in the 2003 America’s Cup when the late, great Olin Stephens was onboard opining about Alinghi’s hull shape and he said the words: ‘when a boat looks right, it usually is.’ Well the Laser Radial with a carbon lower section looks fantastic and it’s a pleasure to sail – many thanks to Duncan and the team at Sailing Fast for delivering fast. Happy Sunday.
The other thing that a northerly breeze brings is news filtering across from Southampton Water, more specifically from Southampton Docks. Look closely amidst the cars and cargo being unloaded and there’s two rather nice pieces of carbon in the form of AC75’s sitting dockside at the Associated British Ports Terminal. Yes, the Ineos boats – both of them – are back in Britain having been shipped from New Zealand. I must have missed the press announcement, but curious timing heh? And what signal does this send? Are they en route somewhere or can we assume that they are a clue as to the next venue being in the northern hemisphere – and don’t even start me on thoughts about AC37 being in the Solent…
One thing’s for sure, they are not going back to the old Portsmouth base. I was in there a few weeks ago and the main hangar is being used to build submarines whilst upstairs, just past Ben’s old office you’ll find a financial services firm and on the top floor there’s the BAR Technology boys buried in computers attempting to solve all sorts of conundrums with engineering wizardry. Outside there’s the biggest RIB stack you ever did see so I wonder where Rita and Britannia are headed? Jason Carrington’s yard perhaps? Brackley? A new facility? The knacker’s yard? Who knows…but they’re out of New Zealand now and that’s gotta tell you something.
The relentless game of Cluedo that has lasted now for six months is nearly over. The Protocol will be announced on Wednesday and we can all either breathe a sigh of relief at the visionary brilliance (which is what I expect) of Ineos and Team New Zealand or some mucky lawyers will be rubbing their greasy hands with glee at the thought of a couple of years of wordsmithery and debating the price of peas in the highest global courts. I hope it doesn’t come to that. The Cup needs to be back flourishing, good people need to be back at work on the cutting edge and, by jingo, we need to see new AC75’s sailing again.
The sooner they’re back, the faster the trickle down. Does the America’s Cup trickle down to us club sailors? Well after a thoroughly entertaining sail today with a full carbon mast on a Laser, I have to argue that yes it does. If you’ve ever sailed a Laser Radial of old, you’d never imagine that one day the rig would be so darned cool. That’s the trickle…I liken it to a flood.
I just wish the delivery driver could have been a bit more subtle…