Rutland Race Training Report

Rutland Race Training Weekend - By The Mills

Ellie and I went to this for the second time round this year, with the new boat, Heaven Sent, 3511. I had swapped the rig from my last Merlin, Elusive 3347, so there was a bit of sorting out to do. Despite the traffic and other hold-ups on the journey we got to the club on the Thursday night at dusk and picked up the keys to the accommodation from the bar – would have ordered food and drink but we were told that the Merlin people were at the Wheatsheaf, so off we went. Dan Alsop and Mike Calvert were already in training mode in front of plates of steak and chips with Andy Dalby hanging on their every word. This was a pretty quiet evening just to get into the swing of things. In the morning we got going rigging boats and then onto the water for some mini-races in a gentle breeze. With 8 boats out the start lines were kept very short. If you have never done this before it has to be one of the most testing bits of race training you can do – a crowded start line then a beat of about 200 yards; either 2 reaches round a gybe mark for the triangle or a run for the sausage, all the legs being really short. If you don’t get off the start line quickly or don’t get the spinnaker up and filling first time basically there is no way back. But then as soon as that race is over the next starts, so if you blow it you just have another go. Then some work ashore sorting out what we all hoped to gain from the weekend before getting out on the water to practice tacks and gybes. You can’t, I found, slam a wide flat Merlin into a quick tack in light to moderate wind in the same way as an NSM2. You just stop. I had Tobi Watson in the boat for a bit to sort my tacking out and learned a new way to do it without swapping hands on the mainsheet till the boat was up and running on the new tack. This felt completely wrong for the first 20 times I tried it but I’m now converted! A couple more drills followed with gybing practice and hoists and drops before more mini-races rounded off the day. 

The evening was at a hotel a couple of miles down the road, which was dead posh but served really pretty reasonable food. Bar service was a bit too slow for Merlin sailors I reckon. A convivial evening was had by all with Dan providing a Rules Quiz and then spending about half an hour arguing with Mike C about the answers before marking it! On return to Rutland S.C. all was shut, so the party animals had to celebrate Lizzie Page’s birthday in the Gents changing room. Style, eh? More people and boats arrived in the morning along with slightly more wind and cold. Starting exercises this time along with a fiendish exercise where a box of 4 marks is laid with one of the long edges being a start line. For the minute before the start you have to keep in the box, which is pretty small, whilst avoiding all the other 13 boats and then getting a good start out of it. More one to one training as well, with Mike taking Ellie out for some training and Graham Williamson going off with me for a bit. At the end of this we had a list of things that needed doing to the boat to get all the systems working faultlessly. One thing that was painfully obvious was that our spinny poles didn’t work properly: sometimes Ellie couldn’t get the pole on and sometimes it was awkward to get off. If you just pootle round a river course in light winds you don’t worry too much about this but it really slows you down if you need a quick hoist to sail over the top of the boat ahead – see “mini-races” above. I think Mike must have liked the boat as he and Ellie were very much last off the water with 3 minutes to go before the 19:30 “curfew”.

The course dinner followed after a bit of video analysis of what we had been up to on the day. I have one observation to make on this. Dan Alsop seems to be able to stay up into the early hours knocking back alcohol with people 1/3 his age, then get up at dawn or shortly after, cycle 20 miles and turn up at breakfast looking as though he’s just had a really refreshing sleep and is ready for anything. How is it done? Tips on this were not actually given during the event, but clearly are part of the training for anyone intending to go to the Champs. The venue again was the Gents after we had been (politely) thrown out from upstairs. I have almost total recall of what we got up to, which is a shame.

Sunday was windy and got more so. The instructions from Jennie were to get out and practice spinnaker gybing on a windward-leeward sausage. The windward mark was close to the shore and fairly sheltered but the leeward end was definitely not. We went in twice with the kite up, so were able to skip the capsize drill later. After the 2nd capsize Jennie came round in a RIB and told us we could stop gybing now! After lunch the wind had got up even more for the final event, a race with handicaps. The slowest boats set off first with the quickest 4 mins later, others strung out between. There were meant to be 3 other boats starting with us but Tom Perkins was in the water and Rob Heath and Louise Johnson were reaching about at speed nowhere near the line. This was our best start of the week – it’s so easy when you have the line to yourself! We had a good battle in the vigorous conditions with John Donague. He’s started before us, we nipped inside him at the windward mark but then he hoisted his spinny and powered past us on the 2nd reach. Still neck and neck at the windward mark the next time round there was an almighty bang from behind me. As conditions were still a bit vigorous I didn’t look straight away, but when I did there were John and Geraldine with the mast over the side. The end of the run was enlivened by a windsurfer who was sat within a few feet of the leeward mark. Planing flat out dead downwind I was not inclined to bear away round him and just threaded the 8 ft gap between him and the mark. One final beat and then the finish, and we must have learnt things because WE WON!!

Final thoughts? Firstly that this is a great event to attend whatever level you are sailing at. If you want to learn how to sail quicker and better then if you can learn new things you will. If you want to get your boat sorted out and understand how to power up and depower the rig then you will. But the main thing I took away was enthusiasm – the class is on a roll at the minute. This isn’t just because Winder boats have produced a glassfibre CT. I very much doubt there is another dinghy class around where the top crews and helms in the class take 3 days off to teach ordinary club sailors how to sail their boats better. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I will certainly be fiddling with Heaven Sent over the next weeks to get all the tweaks incorporated and then I will be off to do some open meetings with Ellie. We may still not win anything – this is a pretty competitive class – but we hope to beat people we haven’t got past till now and we will be more in control and enjoying our sailing more, so thanks to everyone including Steve W, who spent all weekend in a RIB laying marks and fishing people in and out of Merlins.


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