Rutland Training 2005

Seventeen boat crews from ten different clubs turned up at Rutland Sailing Club (RSC), for the annual three day intensive race training event, in near perfect sailing conditions. Most people arrived by 9.00pm on Thursday 28th April for a late supper at the Wheatsheaf pub. Quite a few, including myself, opted for the bunk beds available at the club, more about which I will reveal later.

All crews had to be ready to go afloat by 10am on Friday morning. At an initial briefing in the classroom, we were introduced to our instructors. The tuition was lead by Judith Massey who regularly collects the top prize for first lady helm at every event she enters. More to the point, she also beats most men finishing regularly in the top ten! Her assistants were Mike Calvert and Graham Williamson, both of whom have won the Nationals, while Liam Dempsey provided valuable support as one of the foremost leading crews, leaping from boat to boat, and last but by no means least, Peter Simpson from Tamesis Club manned the Committee Boat and arranged all of our race starts and finishes.

Most of Friday was spent in practising starts and in particular, control of boat speed and position on the line, together with roll tacking techniques. How many people have used their crew to push the boom out to backwind the main to slow the boat down at starts? Once mastered this procedure afforded the crew with a very effective brake. Following a rescue boat, which stops its engine without warning, certainly sharpens the reaction of boat crews. Short races naturally got the old adrenaline pumping.

In the afternoon we practised rudderless sailing out to the start lines. This exercise illustrated handsomely that one can control boat movement simply by heeling the boat to windward to bear away, and allowing it to heel to leeward to bring it into the wind. I would recommend this exercise to everyone who can find some open water. This also helps with rolling the boat effortlessly through a roll tack, of which we did plenty! Tacking on the whistle got the adrenalin pumping!

All of the aforementioned was recorded on video for debriefings at lunchtime, mid afternoon and again after supper. There is nothing quite like seeing yourself perform a task inadequately, to want to correct it for the future. Our cameraman, Mike Calvert could easily become a director with his amusing running commentaries. Sadly he missed my backward flip into the lake - having your dry suit only half on with the arms tied round the waist, does not protect you when taking a swim...and particularly when walking up the slipway like a “Michelin man”, with the suit full of water! All participants looked forward to the debriefings. The debates, which took place during each session, inspired many of the more experienced sailors to share their own ideas and advice on how to improve boat handling.

Saturday was another good day on the water concentrating on roles and responsibilities of helm and crew. I (like a lot of other participants) discovered that I have been doing spinnaker hoists wrongly and for how many years! The whole exercise reminded me of having a lesson with a golf pro, having hacked around various courses for a number of years, only to be told that my grip was entirely wrong! Hey - it is not easy to break away from bad habits after so many years! If only I had realised how much easier it is to let the crew pull the spinnaker guy out of the chute in advance, when laying the windward mark, fix the guy in the right cleat position, then place the pole on the mast and allow him to pull the spinnaker up and set it. This drill allowed for a much smoother spinnaker hoist and more importantly afforded the helms (who are usually heavier) to concentrate on a wide mark rounding and above all else, provide a stable platform for the crew to operate from.

I can recollect many situations, where I have come close to taking an early bath during last season, through not using this procedure. How often do you practise thirty-six spinnaker hoists and drops in an afternoon? We then had to practise spinnaker gybes on the whistle, if you please! Now the video does not lie and I am afraid to say there were more than a couple of red faces at the debriefing. By the end of the day we were all taking it in our stride. Of particular note is planning procedures with your crew in advance of taking the boat through the gybe. It helps enormously if you can, whenever possible, keep the kite filling and alter course by no more than 20%. On a reach to reach, the process needs to be slowed down, otherwise (as some unfortunate people found out to their cost) the spinnaker can become wrapped round the forestay and jib which in strong sea conditions can lead to a swim!

On Saturday evening we had a most enjoyable supper at the Wheatsheaf and were back in the classroom by 8pm for further debriefing. The video of the afternoon sailing was very entertaining as always. The vast amount of sailing tips which were shared never ceased to amaze me. Simple things, like how you must avoid hanging onto a rudder during a capsize, since it will be nearly impossible to put it back onto the transom if the boat is full of water. Shortly after 9 we adjourned to the bar in the sailing club, were the bonding continued over a lemonade or two. Alas the old saying of “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” never works, since on Sunday morning we had all survived, and with more than a few bleary eyes between us!

Now staying in a cabin at Rutland is not for the faint hearted, as my crew and I discovered. The smallest cabin, which four of us were sharing, had two lots of bunk beds in a room measuring 13 by 4.5 feet, with a tiny shower and WC ensuite. On the first night I was lucky enough to nod off before any train engines started puffing! On the second night both my crew and I were awoken by almighty snoring from the lower berth next to ours. Then the gentleman in the upper berth let out a ten second fart that must have woken the dead, whereupon, there was total silence. Now I assumed that everyone had been gassed and gone to heaven. We were lucky there were no naked lights in the room or the windows might have been blown out! Some of the cabins are for sick, sorry six people. I hate to contemplate what their conditions might be like. On weighing up the cost of staying in the cabin together with the cost of breakfast at the Club, I think that staying at a bed and breakfast for an extra £5 a night would be money well spent to ensure a good nights sleep. One of our trainers slept in his van each night and I was envious at the thought of his peaceful environment!

Sunday was divided into racing rules on mark roundings, where it was felt that Liam’s helm might benefit. To be fair, he stood up for his helm by saying that it was unfair that he could not be present to defend himself. The two boat length rule is categorical, in that it states that if anyone should tack within that circle, in front of you, or beside you, then if you should require to alter course the other boat must complete a 720 degree turn at the earliest opportunity to exonerate themselves, without obstructing any other competitors. Of particular note was the pre-planning to ensure that by starting the mark rounding wide you should ideally be able to pass the mark laying the precise course to the next mark. If you try to turn more than ninety degrees at the pin, then the use of rudder and heeling movement could slow the boat down dramatically. A smooth rounding maintains boat speed and can often lead to overtaking the less well-managed boats. It was very noticeable on the video that anyone helming at the back of their boat during the downwind roundings, usually dragged their transom and created a brake for themselves. Keep the weight forward!

The afternoon was spent having three races during which Peter and Nicki Smith walked off with the chocolates, with three bullets. It was evident to the trainers, that in the same way as it is easier at the driving range compared with the actual golf course, as soon as we all knew that we were in a competitive race, the wheels fell off our performance, myself included. However, I believe that everyone who took part, learned enormously from the three days and I for one was itching to put some of it into practise. I raced at my home club on the Bank Holiday Monday and am pleased to say that I won even with a novice crew.

On behalf of all those people who came to learn more, many thanks again to Judith, Graham, Mike, Liam and Peter. How lucky we are to be part of a class that offers “In House Training” from people who are regularly at the front of the fleet. Did you know that for RYA training you could be expected to pay £300 per person for the same amount of time as at Rutland. Our £100 per boat compared with £600 through the RYA has to be the best value around. Don’t miss next year’s training! You would be mad not to attend. If any of these really good people offer to come and spend a day coaching at a club near you, make sure you don’t miss out. During the past six months I managed to attend training at Tamesis, Parkstone, Cookham and Rutland and have, I believe, benefited from each one. I look forward to seeing everyone again at Salcombe and the Nationals if not before. Have a great season.

Report: Mike Stephens (Helm of Aloha 3635)