In quieter moments, winter usually, I ponder just how sailing will look in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time. I opine freely but idiotically that the next generation aren’t engaged, don’t seem quite as keen or haven’t done the hard yards. It’s all too easy today. Choices are aplenty. Too many perhaps. Modern life won’t, can’t and isn’t conducive to applied science like sailing. I’m wrong. Oh so very wrong.
But where will the next Bruce Farr, Ed Dubois, Bill Green, Jason Carrington or Rob Humphreys come from? Where are the next-generation engineers, designers and builders hiding? What’s coming down the stream that will take our sport and push its boundaries higher into the stratosphere and drive the design envelope, sustainably, ever further beyond the edge of reason and accepted norms? I just don’t know where to look.
And then I get my eyes opened to what’s really happening and I have to say I’m more excited now about the future than at any other time. I have recently had the enormous privilege to be brought into the inner sanctum, under strict non-disclosure terms, of a young team doing the extraordinary and I have to say I am absolutely blown away by not only their dedication but by their sheer engineering, materials skills, boatbuilding and technical brilliance. The team in question is from the University of Southampton and the challenge is to build a ‘Sustainable Moth’ – a SuMoth – and it’s one heck of a task.
You may well have seen the SuMoth Challenge nominated at the World Sailing Awards back in December and wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. Well, it’s a global challenge that pits university and higher education student teams against one another within strict sustainability guidelines and within the boundaries chalked by ‘SuMoth Dollars’ with the express aim of encouraging out-of-the-box engineering thinking and innovative materials use to produce a Moth capable of time trialling and slalom course racing at Foiling Week in Lake Garda this summer.
And no, carbon is not allowed. Use that and your SuMoth Dollars get eaten faster than a pig with its nose in the trough. This is about really looking at the design requirements and coming up with alternatives to what the builders of today are doing. We’re talking flax-infused hessian sacks, bio resins and working through multiple design processes, logistics headaches, materials analysis, stress testing and huge learning on-the-job. It’s off-the-scale stuff. Our sport is in safe hands.
Speaking to the University of Southampton team, with four from the famous ship science course, one from aeronautics and another from the mechanicals course, this is a challenge that they are full-square into, burning the midnight oil and fitting this amazing project in around final-year studies and exams. The team have made it an element of their compulsory ‘Group Design Project’ and the inter-play of skills, knowledge and practical foiling experience – they have Britain’s top female foiling athlete and new Zhik ambassador Hattie Rogers on the team – is just remarkable. I interrupted them last night, working away in a freezing shed as the bulkheads were going in and it was just electric energy all round.
Make no mistake, the future of our sport is in the hands of young people like this. For all the fancy words and hearty proclamations by many in our sport, it’s the people who are actually practically doing something that really matter and make a difference. The SuMoth Teams around the world – they stretch from the UK to Italy and Canada – are on the ragged edge of design and sustainability and it is an endlessly fascinating project to witness.
But here’s the thing. This isn’t easy to do. Alongside the brain and practical skills required and the huge time they are committing, materials cost real money plus getting the team and boat to Lake Garda for Foiling Week is an expense that students are always going to struggle with.
Some of the rival teams in the SuMoth Challenge have rich benefactors who will write a blank cheque on a whim but for the University of Southampton team they started by drawing in support from first-class local sponsors like Sanders Sails, Matrix Composite Materials, Shock Technical Sports Equipment and Maguire Boats who have assisted with foils, tramps, fittings and some top-level advice on modern day Moth dynamics and thinking. Famous sailors have been extremely generous with their time too. Now the team needs to crowd-fund to fill in the difference and it’s here where the sailing community (that’s you!) can really help.
They’ve started a funding page THAT YOU CAN VIEW HERE and all donations, big or small, are massively appreciated and desperately needed. Perhaps you, like myself, look at the challenge of sustainability with one eye on the future of our sport and wonder how on earth you can help. It’s such a huge topic, covering so many bases that you just don’t know where to start and you’re not sure how you can contribute in a way that will make a difference.
Well with the University of Southampton SuMoth Challenge, it’s here on a plate. Every penny will count. Every penny will make a massive difference as well as encouraging the next generation to achieve and exceed their potential.
I think it’s a brilliant project. I’m backing it. And I know that there are people that read this blog with more money than Croesus, alongside many just scraping by. A few hundred pounds or a few pennies makes all the difference and it’s a wonderful thing to follow as we go into the summer months. The University of Southampton team will be on that start line come hell or high water – to be a part of it as a sponsor and to have contributed is something very special.
Let’s make it happen. Donate today if you can. And let’s herald the new generation of sailors, engineers, designers and aero geniuses as they make their way through the sport.
This is the future, right here, right now. And it’s brilliant.