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The Nationals 2021 - What did I learn

Brilliantly run by the Fleetwood team on a lake 800 by 70 feet lying in an approximate East west direction right on the NW coast of England. Tough conditions were expected but we enjoyed sunny weather, sea breezes and mid A Rig conditions all weekend.

Our PRO and quiz show host Derek Priestley kept things moving all weekend and made this such a fun event to attend. Supported by a hard working team of mark movers, course consultants, chief observer, finish scoring team, heat board controllers, the ladies who ran the kitchen (and I never got to taste their whisky cake), let alone the individuals who sorted the admin of entries, social venue etc. With minimal resources they all made the event such fun despite the competitiveness of the racing. Of course we also had our captain Malcolm Appleton running the media centre keeping our website up to date with live scores and pictures. My thanks to them all for an awesome weekend.

I have heard some people say they will not attend this type of event because there is too much shouting and aggressive use of the rules. To them I say you are missing out. Yes if you get in someone's way, you might get some valid abuse but it is short and sharp and soon forgotten. Just do your turn and move on. I was a victim, coming into a windward mark on starboard in second place and a port tack boat caught my mast as it crossed behind moving me back to 5th position. He apologised profusely, did his turn and we moved on. Stuff will happen in these events which will work for you and against you. Take it on the chin and remember, there were some people out there like me doing this for the first time and struggling with boat control on the start lines. At no time did I feel out of place and have come away from the event a better sailor.

The next Nationals are near Glasgow. Sign up, test yourself and have a great time. Remember there are the ranking events coming up in September and October.

There was every sort of boat in the Fleet from beautiful woodies, Chienz, BritPOPS, a POP, Sedici, Kantun, Alternatives and more you can see on the entry lists. They were all competitive and all well sailed. The outstanding looker for me apart from the woodies was a Swedish owned Kantun. Black hull, black shiny sails which when the sun was shining, the ripples on the water reflected off the sails to make a spectacular site with an ever changing pattern of light. Its owner was also a brilliant sailor.

There were nearly 80 boats split into 4 heats which made for very crowded starts. I sailed in 3 of the 4 heats and I have to say if I was not at my best, it was so easy to slip into the bottom six and get demoted. I got lucky on the last day because I kept getting promoted from C to B and then dropping back into C so I sailed double the number of races during the day which was great for the experience.

One last general comment to make. The top sailors are all incredibly helpful. On the first day I was fixing a winch drum issue when a pair of feet appeared and when I looked up there was Brad Gibson introducing himself and offering to look at the setup of the boat. Not only that he allowed me to closely examine his boat setup for racing and answer any questions I had. I saw the same behaviour with Graham Bantock, Graham Elliot and several of the other top sailors quizzed for help. If your setup is not working they are all available to cast their eye over your boat or just have a general chat.

So how would I describe my first nationals. A mid fleet result seemed fair. I could escape the C heat but struggled for some reason in the B heat. My particular issue was starting. First with boat control, keeping stationary on the start line, and then keeping sight of the boat on the starting gun. Twice I lost sight of the boat in the crowd at the start and when it reappeared I was behind or had hit someone and had to do a turn. Boat speed was great both upwind and downwind but having started so badly, I had no chance of getting through the B fleet.

So what did I learn?

Most of the sailors have been sailing the boats for years if not decades but they are not unbeatable.

The winner Brad Gibson is a brilliant sailor. He sailed the 2014 Worlds winning boat (BG won that too) with the same sails that had been used for a season or more. The boat always looked in immaculate trim and his control before the start and ability to get off the line fast or escape a bad start is mesmerising. His style is to drive the boat fast upwind, sailing deeper than the average sailor but faster. Tactically he has that 6th sense and is normally the first to pick up on a new shift. His manoeuvres are so smooth and efficient.

Practice, practice, practice handling a stationary boat on a start line in a chop, ideally when there are other boats around and then work out how to best pull the trigger when the starting gun goes. Seek out venues where you can get crowded starts.

Sometimes on the start line it is better to look from behind so you see the stern of all the boats and can judge the exact position of yours. When you are ahead of the line your view of the boat can be blocked.

You can have all the speed in the world but if you cannot start and sail the first 30 yards fast you are dead and buried. Something I have to work on.

90% of the time it pays to dip a starboard boat if they are going to take you away from the favoured side or to the left side of a windward mark. Your aim is to keep control of where you want to be on the beat and not be pushed to one side.

Drive the boat fast upwind. Pinching is slow.

When on the water, forget about your boat setup and focus on the racing. If the setup is wrong there is nothing you can do so put it out of your mind.

Practice tacking in a chop when the wind strength is at the top end of the A rig. Work out how little reverse helm to apply after the tack. If you apply full lock then your boat will stall. This was something I struggled with.

Rig setup - Something I was unaware of with the mast set up until shown by BG, is that as you tighten the shrouds you induce prebend in the bottom half of the mast. Provided your shrouds enter the mast at the front when your boat is rigged, try squeezing the shrouds towards each other, increasing their tension and see the effect on the mast bend. Perhaps I should have observed this before, but until now I never noticed. According to the winner you want just enough tension to keep the leeward shroud tight and for the mast to pant slightly in a gust so the boat does not screw up into wind.

Stick to the settings indicated by your sailmaker and boat builder. We are so lucky that all the hard work has been done for us and we can replicate tried and tested settings.

It pays to have more than 3 sail ties. I saw several boats with up to 6 ties and the theory is you get less scalloping of the sail luff and can therefore use less jackstay tension which reduces compressing in the mast, increasing your ability to control the mast bend

Look for results, videos, pictures and reports on IOMGBR and more videos on facebook International One metre page. I saw one of the videos of my start. It should be called nightmare at Fleetwood. An absolute shocker. Embarrassing to watch. No wonder I could not establish myself in B fleet. As they say the only way from here is up although I have to say my starting ability did improve as the weekend went on.

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