“This is how it ends,” I thought to myself as the boom pushed down hard on my buoyancy aid, pinning me to the centreboard casing as the boat, slowly, ever so slowly, capsized. The relationship with a new boat is always a difficult one. The 49er certainly taught me a few lessons, the hard way, which I will long remember, and this was perhaps the Solo’s way of teaching me that you need to let the kicker off before you tack!
The timing of the Solo Nationals straight after the Radial Nationals, (which I am pleased to say I won), and finishing the day before I flew to Japan, seemed perfect. In hindsight though, it did not allow much time to rest, but probably made it much easier to sleep on the plane!
I love racing, and it is always a learning experience. One of the things I definitely did not learn is how to get off the start line in the Solo. So, safety first, race 1 I started by the committee boat and tried to tack out, but the boom was waiting, and got me again So maybe I am a slow learner. The possible embarrassment of capsizing straight away is probably what saved me, although the fleet was probably 50+ metres upwind of me by the time I got going again. It was not the only time I made that mistake… so call me a slow learner (and my patience as a coach for sailors learning new skill sets has certainly increased). Certainly, I felt the need to be 100% focused when tacking in at the windward mark!
The Solo is an amazingly friendly class. The engagement and percentage of the fleet socialising is awesome, and the media presence made me really think. I have headed up the UKLA media until September (just finishing on the Japan events) when I stand down due to the constitution limiting the term I can serve. I have to take my hat off to the effort the Solo class made. Nearly 1000 photos, daily youtube videos playing at WPNSA. They set the bar pretty high.
Having had some time to think, I realise it was a great experience. Initially, frustration about not being able to tack/gybe or go upwind very fast led me to realise I have a lot to learn. The idea of looking at masts, sails and rig combinations excited me and brought me back to coaching Europe days. Initially I just figured that at sub 70 Kgs I had found another boat I was too light to sail (or perhaps too unfit to hike). I now realise there was more to it than that.
In the Radial I can pretty much do what I want (throw in a tack, go high, go low etc etc). The body may not do the tasks as well as it did 20 years ago, but it gets them done in a fashion, and at least I think I know what I should be doing. With the Solo I learnt just how important the centreboard rake was, not just the mast rake (which is easier to see… especially when the boom is coming for you!) and the inhaul…. Something you don’t have on the Radial! Old habits die hard and in the Laser with a bad tack or bad wave you (well I) often need to push the centreboard down with your front foot. It has been a habit for years… keep the centreboard down upwind… well in the strong wind we had for the Solo Nationals a little bit of rake (lifting the centreboard up and angling it back) was definitely a good thing.
Looking back, doing more than a 90 minute practice before race 1 (maybe 20 minutes of which was spent swimming) was not ideal. I would have done more but I capsized within 10 minutes of launching and lost my bottle of water, and strong wind sailing in 20+ knots does require regular fluid intake, or so I told myself as I sailed back home.
Maybe a few days and with other boats would really have helped get a few things sorted. Certainly, I was on a virtual learning curve and I couldn’t have been too bad because despite many, many faster people in the fleet, the Solo class has asked me if I would like to provide some coaching… so watch this space.
I have been offered a place for the Endeavour trophy in October and whilst I think I am able to do the regatta, one which I have never done, I do think it would be good for me to spend more than 90 minutes in the boat before-hand. Actually, there is a training day before, so that sounds worth doing… all I need to do now is find a crew.
Finally, I must thank Ovington boats for lending me their Solo. It is always great to do events at WPNSA. A great sailing venue, perfect race management and I get to sleep in my own bed. So many thanks to Nathan Batchelor and Sam Pascoe for twisting my arm, and Chris Turner for setting up the boat so all I had to do was take the covers on and off each day and then wheel the boat back to their unit (which is literally across the road from WPNSA) after the regatta.
Next stop is Japan for the Olympic test event and World Cup, both at Enoshima, the Olympic venue. So really great practice. I will once again be doing on the water footage as well as interviews at both events which will be posted on the UKLA facebook page. Sadly this will be my last occasion for a while at least, as I am reluctantly stepping down as media rep having reached the maximum term on the UKLA committee.
Jon Emmett has over 20 years of coaching experience from grass roots to Olympic Gold.