Coming to the end of my first year in this role I am impressed by the level of activity in our clubs, in open meetings, national and international events. During the year they were many discussion points, improvements to HMS, trial of SHRS, rules obeyance, more weekend racing, acquiring latest designs, lack of volunteers, rise in the cost of living, training, weed control, rule proposals, raising the standard for international competition, club training to name a few.
The Championship role of Honour
This year, championship racing was dominated by Craig Richards and Chris Harris. Craig started the year by winning the DF95 Global regatta and then followed that up with the DF95, IOM and Marblehead nationals. Chris took the A Class free sailing centenary championship with Graham Bantock, the Vane M nationals with Robert Bell the A class nationals and the Radio 36 Nationals and Vane 36 nationals with Sam Dicks. These are truly outstanding performances, and you have to go back a very long time to see similar. Congratulations to both of you for your dedication to the sport and also, your contribution in the time you give to others.
Graham Bantock collected the 10r nationals and the 6m nationals, Graham Elliott won the RG65 nationals and John Tushingham won the DF65 nationals.
All the competitions were fiercely competitive with consistency ensuring success.
Numbers at our National Championships
New race scoring systems - Simple Heat Racing System
The Simple Heat Racing system (SHRS) was trialled at the Europeans as a way to increase the number of races in a multi-day event. In essence, the system offers a period of qualifying races where competitors are shuffled through the different heats, so everybody gets to race against everybody else. After set time or number of races, the fleet is divided into Gold Silver, Bronze or Copper Fleets. Once allocated into a fleet according to your position, there is no escape. It would not work for 1- 3 day events as there is not the time for proper qualification. At the Europeans the qualifying period for 80 boats, finished on Wednesday (3 days) after 15 races with 2 discards. There were only prizes for those in gold fleet so those skippers outside that were racing for pride. It should be noted that there was an average of 1.5 to 3.5 minutes between the finish of one race and the starting sequence of the next which ensured the maximum number of races. There are pros and cons to this format, but it seems to favoured by some groups in Europe who are looking for a scoring system that avoids delays as a result of protests affecting promoted boats.
How does this compare to the HMS. If getting the maximum number of races into an event is the goal, then the SHRS is a good system, however for many, the event is effectively over after the qualifying period and during qualifying you do not get to race against people of similar experience. Also, if a competitor started the regatta badly and began to move up the fleet towards the end, that competitor is trapped in their fleet determined through qualification. A way round this would be to delay the fleet separation until the last day.
HMS starts with a single seeding race after which there is an opportunity to be promoted or demoted through the whole regatta and competitors are racing again those with similar abilities. To me it is a fairer system, the only downside is it can extend the time between races as the heat board is amended, and any protests are resolved. There are a couple of schools of thought on the seeding race. On the one hand you get one chance to get into your heat of choice but if you are unlucky, you may have a bad race and end up in say D fleet when you should be in A. With that level of skill, it should be easy to progress back to A heat. Another option might be to have 3 or 4 seeding races where any bad luck could be levelled out and if a discard was applied would be nullified altogether. If you have 4 seeding races, you can get all the heats completed quickly and on day one as long as the weather holds. This way the regatta gets off to a fast start.
As well as looking at scoring systems, we are also looking at the software to run them. There are several on the market but all rely on a single individual to keep them up to date.
The above is up for review both on a National and International basis.
We are used to Windward leeward courses with a windward mark usually rounded to port with a spreader to separate the fleet. At the Europeans they trialled using both upwind marks as a gate where you rounded from out to in. This led to a closer pack of boats on the downwind leg as boats could round the gate at least 2 at a time. It had the effect of reducing the number of boats trying to come in on port tack. I think this is something worth considering in the UK, again subject to review.
Proposed Rules Changes
The sharper eyed amongst you may have seen some proposed rule changes from our Croatian friends submitted for the next rules update in November. They want appendix E (Radio Sailing rules) to be amended to remove references to observers and only to refer to umpires as they do not consider competitors to be impartial observers. It turns out that umpires are readily available in Croatia but as I pointed out to them at the Europeans, most places where we sail radio yachts do not have easy access to umpires and hence race management rely on observers. The MYA submitted the view that the Appendix E should focus on rules and not race management. In fact, there is a test rule referenced in the preamble to the Appendix E that sets out the use of umpires and observers at an event. We have confirmation that our views are in the mix and have also been raised by other parties. Whichever way the rules are amended it will still be possible to set out use of observers in the sailing instructions.
Every event I go to, we are challenged with rule obeyance, even at the Europeans where there were 4 International judges, not all contacts were followed up with a penalty. We have a duty to ourselves to acknowledge any rule in-discretion. If there is a contact between boats, one of the parties must make a turn or protest. This is about our culture. Are we looking to race fairly or cheat the rules. It is down to each of us as individuals to abide by the rules. Enough said.
Numbers at Events
As I travelled this year, I was seeing a small reduction in attendance at certain events with several cancelled. Too busy a calendar, cost of accommodation and travel, cost of living pressures were some of the reasons I heard. Having said that we saw some of our most successful events, the A class free sailing centenary at Gosport, The A nationals at Gosport and good numbers at the latest IOM ranking and DF TT event. Numbers were down a bit in the DF95 world early in the year but I guess that was the hangover from the Global event, last year. We will watch the numbers but there is little we can do other than maybe organise events with a more district focus so people have less distance to travel. Having said all that, it looks like we have strength in numbers at our clubs.
One of the barriers we have to the development of our sport is a lack of weekend racing. Many of us are retired so mid-week racing is fine but for those working and most important clubs with the ability to attract junior members, we need more weekend racing. This is something that can only be done at a club level and I ask all clubs to think about how weekend racing can be put in the calendar and what impact it might have to attract new members especially from the dinghy world and the younger generation where sailing an RC yacht is a safe low cost option to get started in sailing and will teach all the principles needed for dinghy sailing
My observations from the Europeans is that the British team is not as collaborative as it could be and not as well prepared as the French, Italian, Spanish and Croatians teams. I am reminded of my Olympic days in the 70’s, when we all behaved in an independent way. It wasn’t until Jim Saltenstall came on the scene and set up the squad system for the youth teams with proper training, that the culture changed and with collaboration, we started to see that top talent develop and come through to be a successful generation of Olympians. Of course lottery funding helped enormously.
Racing at the top level has changed. Most of the leading hull designs in all the classes are of equal speed so the focus has to be on rig setup, skill development, and race craft and that only comes from time on the water, sharing ideas and high quality racing and tuning.
I am not saying that we need a squad system but we do need to identify ways to help our top sailors work up to international events and help and coach each other to be more successful. Scheduling ranking events near a championship is a start. Setting up a centre of excellence in open water venues could be a big help but given the geographic spread of our top sailors, it is unlikely.
We are only talking about 8-10 sailors who are prepared to attend these international events but their success is good to maintain the UK’s reputation as a top RC sailing nation.
Of course, advanced techniques can be fed back into club sailing and I know that all our top sailors are approachable and willing to help you sail faster. All you need to do, is ask.
We have some very strong clubs. Currently I am a member of four and they are all well run. One is so popular, they have racing 7 days a week. I was approached by a member of Chew Valley for a training day which will be open to the South West district. Here we can discuss rig setup, racing tactics, stating technique rules etc. The idea is to have a class-room session and then some racing on the water with follow up video analysis. The event would be open to a number of classes and available to the district to swell the numbers. If any club would like to do something similar, I for one would be happy to come along and help/present, take video of the racing on the day and provide feedback.
One of our challenges across the country is a lack of volunteers to run clubs or to host an open meeting. If you have the time and are willing to help, please volunteer to support your club. It was a joy to be at Woodspring recently to hear some of the volunteers enjoy being involved in the race organisation having dedicated a full weekend to the event.
The diary is nearly complete and available for all to view. Just click on the next year button on the event page on the web site. Whilst we have a complete diary, I have learnt some lessons on how to improve the population for 2025. The main lesson is to start setting out the framework now for 2025 so that key national and ranking events are evenly distributed through the year. We already have a location and date for the IOM Nationals and will chase for dates other MYA classes this winter. Once these are in place, it will be easy for other clubs to fit their events in, so clashes are hopefully avoided. That’s the plan. We will see how it works.
We are starting a project to pull together all the information we have on weed control to source solutions that clubs maybe be able to use at their water. There are no golden bullets on this, as the types of weed are wide and varied and clubs have restrictions on what chemicals and dyes they can use. More on this as the project develops. My thanks to Graham Bantock for suggesting this excellent project.
There was a time when success in racing depended on having the latest boat design. This was great if you were a naval architect or quality builder with access to the latest designs. It is not a problem in the UK in the DF, 10r, A class where the class is either one design or the number of boats is relatively static.
In the One Metre class, we are seeing a very limited supply of the top designs, e.g, Britpop, Venti, Sedici, V11 where orders can take up to 1-2 years to fulfill. Thankfully now we are seeing the maturing of the 3d printed design Alioth, which is achieving success in several countries and was placed 9th in the Europeans and 2nd and 3rd in a recent ranking event albeit with top skippers at the control. Whatever you think about 3d printing, the concept is getting boats on the water. They are looking good and strong as the build methods develop. We have the Croatians Sailboat RC, who can fulfill orders in under 6 months although there are delivery costs to get boats sails and spares into this country. There is demand for new boats and I have heard some potential skippers put off the sport through the lack of ability to acquire a decent design. Whilst it is good to say people should learn their craft in a used older design, there is nothing like the attraction of a shiny new boat whatever you level of skill is. There are also RC sailors who want to come into our sport through the DF class and then show an interest in the IOM. We need to encourage them.
We have a similar but lessor issue in the Marblehead fleet. We all know the key design and the limitations of supply and newbies would love to get their hands on them, however the F6 is beginning to deliver some interesting results and a new owners can get their hands on one in 3 months.
If you thought the Radio A class was a historic relic, you may be interested to hear that there are several new builds underway this winter which suggest healthy growth in this class considering the boats are sailed in so few clubs.
My Plans for Next Year
I hope to do as many DF, IOM and Marblehead events next year as possible and if qualified head to the IOM Worlds in Australia. Whilst on the circuit, please come and talk to me or any of the Council to feedback how we can do better or just say thanks for being volunteers. Over the winter I would like to participate in club/District training if any clubs wish to organise such an event.
2023 was a good year for racing and I see no reason why 2024 will be better. For me, the club sailor is at the heart of what we do. Strong clubs develop top sailors, new ideas and thriving communities. For those that travel there is an abundance of opens, ranking events, nationals at home and abroad and international events. Travelling to different clubs however close to home will make you a better sailor and I encourage everyone to participate in at least 1 Open meeting. We are all here to help and encourage you, all you have to do is turn up and race and feel free to ask any questions of our leading skippers.
Have a great time winter sailing and I hope to see you on the circuit.