Rutland Race Training 2008

An amazing 28 boats from a variety of clubs made the journey this year to Rutland Sailing Club for the annual Merlin Rocket race training event. A host of experts, including class training officer and organiser Dan Alsop, Jenny King, and Mike and Jane Calvert, were on hand to guide participants through the theory and practice of racing a Merlin Rocket more competitively.

Friday 2nd May

Arriving at the beautiful and scenic location of Rutland Water at about 9am, there was no time to waste as we rigged the boat, got changed and attended the briefing session. With not everyone able to make it for the Friday, introductions were postponed until the next day and we went out onto the water for a series of mini-races over sausage and triangle/sausage courses in order for the trainers to gauge our ability. With a fixed rudder and a beach launching, we soon realised we were going to have to get to grips with rudderless sailing, and so it was in at the shallow end so to speak.

The mini-races were exciting and fun, as they were short and sharp and also concentrated the mind on tactical positioning at the start line. With any form of learning, repetition is very effective.

After a break for lunch of lasagne and salad, we all re-grouped in the wet bar to run through the afternoon schedule. On the water activities involved two groups of odd and even sail numbers tacking and spinnaker gybing on the whistle. This really concentrated the mind not only on what you were doing but also on listening out for signals. Back on shore, we had a debrief with Dan Alsop and video analysis care of Mike Calvert, the latter being very revealing and a bit of a horror show, as my crew Joe put it. Then it was time for boat MOTs before eventually packing the boat away and looking forward to the club’s curry night.

Saturday 3rd May

Having been woken at dawn in my tent to the sound of birds and the bleating of sheep (this being preferred to the sound of snoring and farting) we eventually made our way to breakfast. With a full contingent now everybody was invited to introduce themselves and set out their expectations and requirements of the weekend’s training. Suffice to say, ours was pretty much everything on offer.

This done, we launched our boats to cover a series of exercises that morning – holding station, follow my leader, hitting the line, normal practice starts and surprise starts.

Holding station involved jib off, easing the main and pushing the boom out gently, adjusting this to hold the boat just off-wind by pulling the tiller towards you. If we did go head to wind and into irons, it was a case of backing jib to push the bow around. Having eventually found your station, we tried placing the tiller either away or toward you at its furthest point and waggling it quickly in small movements in order to hold the position.

Next was follow my leader which involves sailing in a single convoy on a close reach, speeding up and slowing down in response to the RIB at the front in order to stay about two boat lengths from the boat in front. To slow down, it was a case of letting the jib off and easing the main, letting the boom out gently if necessary, and keeping the boat flat.

The normal practice starts involved a 3/2/1 start sequence with a short windward leg, windward mark to port and a run back over the start line. Surprise starts were the same approach but this time the start could be at any time after the one minute signal. According to Mike Calvert, a key to a well timed start is for the crew to count down every second from 25 seconds.

After a break for lunch, we ran through twin-pole spinnaker drill with Liam Dempsey on shore using Andy Dalby’s boat General Lee to demonstrate. Back out on the water, it was more spinnaker gybing to hone those skills. The day was rounded off after debriefing with an excellent clubhouse dinner.

Sunday 4th May

Sunday was referred to as a break with no orders for trainees to take part in the Silver Tiller. However, the full 28 boat fleet took part bumping the entries to 51. Having gone out at about 10.30am, we didn’t return till about 3.30pm, and had experienced a range of wind conditions and somewhat delayed starts due to the shifting wind.

That night, we made our way to the local pub only to find out they’d run out of food so ventured into Oakham for a ruby murray.

Monday 5th May

The final day was all about consolidating your learning and was a little less intensive than the previous three days. As the wind was virtually zero, we spent the morning in a briefing session covering what you thought you had learnt, what you need to practice, what you still need to learn and what you can do much better now, before venturing to our boats on shore to cover rig set-up. Mike Calvert dealt with the deck-stepped rigs whilst Dan Alsop ran through the detail on hog stepped rigs. The latter covered mast rake using jib tension and shroud tension, strut positioning, running downwind, positioning of jib sheet blocks on the car track, kicker and outhaul.

After lunch and with the wind starting to pick up, we headed onto the water for some river racing, which involved a windward start with two RIBs on either side of the course. Drawing a diagonal line from both RIBs to the windward mark, which lay roughly in the middle of your path from the start line, the mark and two RIBs formed an ever diminishing equilateral triangle. With the idea being for boats to race towards the mark but within this triangle, it was a great test of anticipation, judgement and, most importantly, tacking.

The final exercise involved zigzagging around the two RIBs on a reach, with the lead boat having to do a 360 after they rounded the RIB, allowing the boat behind to take the lead. Again, this focused on your gybing and ability to handle the boat in windy conditions.

After coming ashore, de-rigging the boat and packing everything away, it really felt like we had learnt a lot and could sail much better. Having spent something like 15 hours on the water over the three days of training, the £150 training fee for one boat, helm and crew (including lunch on the Friday, Saturday and Monday) seemed like a real bargain. We’ll be back next year for more, as it was a brilliant four days.

Report: Richard Mourant
See also:
    Race Training