Sunday, 8 August 2021

Moth: BMBA Nationals

[06/09: I wrote most of the following on Sunday 8th August, the weekend after returning from the Nationals, but it has since languished in my drafts folder as a busy month of gigs and boats and summer distracted me from finishing it. And knowing I hadn't finished this held me up from posting anything else, becoming something of a vicious circle that to my shame and chagrin I'm hardly a stranger to. So apologies for my neglect, and I shall at least try to do better from now on]

My home for much of last week was a small tent in a campsite on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire, five minutes away from Chelmarsh Sailing Club where the British Moth Nationals were being held.

I'd been invited up by my friend Ray, and offered the loan of a lovely boat, 894 "Northern Soul" in return for bringing my guitar along with me and doing a couple of numbers with him on one of the evenings. Actually, the loan wasn't conditional on bringing my guitar, but it is another of our common interests aside from sailing, he did ask, and actually, I was quite flattered that he wanted to play with me.

Ray's a lucky man. He's retired from running a very successful business, has a lovely house and is married to his childhood sweetheart Mary. Although I think we make our own luck.

He doesn't sail Moths anymore as Parkinsons has finally robbed him of the agility needed for the little boats, but he still has a couple and actively supports the fleet and its association. He does still sail, regularly racing an International 2.4m at his club in Chelmarsh.

I drove up to Chelmarsh on the Tuesday, arriving at noon to meet Ray at the club. We checked and rigged Northern Soul and I took her out for a practice sail in the gentle breeze, chasing Ray in his 2.4m and another of his friends in another of Ray's Moths around the reservoir. Because of Covid concerns, camping wasn't allowed on site at the club this year, so I retreated the campsite at the nearby Unicorn Inn to pitch my tent. 

That evening Ray and Mary invited me to supper, joined by our mutual friend (and current chairman of the class association) Rich. Needless to say supper was as delicious as the company was good, and afterwards we retreated to Ray's music room where we spent the evening working our way through his collection of guitars and jamming.

The turnout for the Nationals was a little down this year, a few familiar faces missing, numbers perhaps suppressed by the pandemic and all that goes with it. But we still had 19 entries, so the competition was keen and the racing close and engaging.

Wednesday, and the first day's racing was in light conditions, winds no more than around 5 knots. The courses were set well however, and Moths are a treat to sail in light winds. They take only a whisper to get moving, and turn on a penny. 

One of the great things about class racing, where all the boats are of the same design and potentially matched in performance, is that wherever you are in the fleet, there is always some close racing to be had. I finished the day's couple of races comfortably in the middle. The lighter conditions had favoured the more canny, experienced helms, my friends in "Wobbily Bob" and "Ockhams Razor" most definitely having put me in my place. But I'd come out ahead of my fellow South Cerney club member in "Blue One" (ironically, of which there were two at the Nationals) and, surprisingly, "Gromit".

The weather changed the following day. Thursday brought in heavier winds; averaging around 15 knots but gusting well into the twenties. As things were not expected to improve before the end of the week, the race committee ran three races across the day in case conditions deteriorated even further on the Friday. 

The British Moth, a 1930's design originally intended for steep banked, narrow rivers with light, fickle airs, becomes a little bit of a handful in a blow. The first race went well. I set up a good start, then kept the boat upright through the vicious gusts to finish with a credible 6th place, beating Gromit, Wobbily Bob and Ockhams Razor, though Blue One did better, taking 4th.

Feeling confident, I lined up another good start for the second race, only to have it completely ambushed when the other "Blue One" from Medley Sailing Club got caught out by a gust and capsized on top of me on the start line, just as the gun went. That turned into the first of my two discards, Bob and Gromit beating me back into place, though I did in the last lap finally inch my way back past Ockhams Razor on the last beat and locked him out on the finish line to place myself just ahead of him in 11th.

The third race of the day gave me my best result of the event. With the gusts building, I stopped being quite so tender with the sail controls and flattened everything off hard upwind. It paid out, giving me a 4th and letting me have the best of both the Blue Ones, Gromit, Wobbly Bob and Ockhams Razor.

Thursday evening, back at the Unicorn, and the Association held their AGM after supper. The supper was good, the AGM as dry as these things ever are. They did however make Ray a life member by unanimous vote, in acknowledgement of his contributions to the class over the last few years.

Afterwards, some of Ray's friends in a band called Rumour put on a very good show for us; lots of Fleetwood Mac covers and the like. During their break I plugged my guitar into their PA and did a handful of songs with Ray, who then stayed up on stage to do a couple with Rumour when the band returned. Needless to say, Ray was brilliant, and worth every drop of the applause the crowd gave him.

The final day saw the wind shift into the west, averaging around 14 knots but bringing it over the trees on the far bank, making for some very treacherous gusts and shifts on the first beat up to windward. I got caught out by one on the first of the two races; hiked out hard on the beat and focused on the boat, I didn't spot the incoming gust. The wind headed me with it, stripping the power out of the sail and toppling the boat over on top of me. I tried to save it, but wasn't quick enough and found unceremoniously dumped in the water and frantically swimming around the boat to the centreboard to try and stop her turtling completely.

The carbon fibre mast and buoyant hull of a Moth makes for an easy boat to recover, but that's a double edged sword. Unable to vault up on to the centreboard before she came up, the first attempt saw the wind whip her straight back over on top of me again. Another frantic swim around the hull, and a second go, and this time, coming up in to the wind, I was able to pull myself back in before she fell over again.

My friend Ian sailing "Scruff" who was coming up the same beat behind me and saw the whole thing later complimented me on the speed of my recovery, but it still gave me my worst result of the whole event, placed in 12th position.

The final race was an improvement in that I managed to stay upright. The conditions remained tricky, but I managed a mid fleet finish in 8th place, which let me discard the result from my race with the fouled start the day before.

So my final result was 7th place out of a fleet of 20, which probably makes it my best British Moth Nationals yet, but I reckon was entirely down to the quality of the boat Ray was kind enough to lend me. And they gave me a trophy for it, amusingly called the "Bit in the Middle", which I suspect I earned as much for my set accompanying Ray on the evening of the AGM as I did for my sailing the boat he lent me.

As a postscript, I should add that most of the photos accompanying are not mine; I've shamelessly stolen any that featured me in some part of them from Chelmarsh Sailing Club's website, so credit should go to them, as it should also for hosting such a brilliant, fun event.

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