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Hyde Sails 2017 Dinghy Show

Steve Nicholson Memorial win for McGrane's Merlin powered by Hyde

by Mark Jardine 31 Jan 14:57 GMT 28 January 2017
Ben & Roz McGrane win the Doublehanded class in the Steve Nicholson Memorial Trophy © Tim Olin / www.olinphoto.co.uk

We spoke to Ben McGrane after his win in the Steve Nicholson Memorial Trophy at Northampton Sailing Club on Saturday, sailing a Merlin Rocket with his wife Roz. Ben has been working with Hyde Sails developing the Merlin sails and had a new set for the event.

Mark Jardine: Firstly can you tell me a bit about the event?

Ben McGrane: I've been sailing the event for quite a few years. It's a well-supported event in aid of Asthma UK with 120 boats attending. We had a really good day in favourable Merlin conditions and finished first in the Doublehanded fleet.

Mark: I see Merlins took five of the top ten places and it was very much the traditional classes which were up there in the results. What do you think made it such a good day for the traditional classes?

Ben: Pitsford is quite a small piece of water which leads to the course area being fairly short, which led to the faster boats not being able to make maximum use of their speed. It was also quite a marginal pressure day which also favoured the middle-speed boats.

Mark: You're working with Hyde Sails on your Merlin Rocket rig. How's that partnership going?

Ben: It's really good; we've been working together now for 18 months. I've known Richard Lovering, their lead designer, for a long time and it's been really good to get the opportunity to finally work with him. With a young family, Roz and I are fairly restricted with the amount of time we can sail, so it's been quite critical that when we change things that Hyde have managed to make really accurate changes and we have been getting it right with very little time on the water. Richard's been a very good person to work with in that respect. He lives locally to us and he's been really good at coming to look at the sails down at the local sailing club and has worked very closely with us; it's been really helpful. At the weekend we were sailing with a brand-new set of sails, straight out of the bag, so it's always very nice when you can take out a new design and go out and win an event!

Mark: So the latest iteration is clearly working well. What events do you have planned in the Merlin for the 2017 season?

Ben: We hope to attend the Nationals; that's always our main focus of the year. It all depends on whether we feel we can put in enough time to go and compete with the main people who are now racing in the fleet. We've come second for the last two years and it would be nice to think we could go out and achieve a result at that level again. So provided we can get enough Open Meetings in and enough training then we'll aim to do the Nationals.

Mark: What do you think it is about the Merlin Rocket that attracts such a high quality fleet?

Ben: I think it's just the way that things worked out. A number of us joined the class around the same time; myself, Nick Craig, Simon Potts, Roger Gilbert returned after a few years away, combined with sailors such as Andy Davis and Geoff Carveth. Now that we're all there it's hard to see us doing anything different. It's a fairly unique boat in the sense that it's fairly tweaky, so it maintains the interest that way, and you have the development side which allows you to play with the sails and use different rigs, foils and hull shapes. At the moment I'm sure it's the standard of racing though which attracts more people into the class. Christian Birrell has just purchased a boat as well so you can see that more and more of the UK's top sailors are joining the fleet, which is great.

Mark: So the tough is just going to get tougher!

Ben: Totally, and they're getting younger as well unfortunately!

Mark: With balancing up family life, your Merlin Rocket sailing, and your job at Harken UK, are you getting any time to sail any other classes?

Ben: I'm hoping to carry on International 14 sailing with Roger (Gilbert). We haven't quite got a plan together, but would like to do the Worlds in San Francisco in 2018 - that's definitely a bucket-list event to do, I14 racing in San Fran harbour - but I think it'll be a fairly quiet year in that class this year and then we'll focus on next year. I've also agreed to sail with Simon Russell in the XOD class at Cowes Week, so still a few bits and pieces going on, but it's a much smaller amount of time spent sailing each class.

Mark: Congratulations to both you and Roz on your result at the weekend. All the best with balancing the different parts of your life!

Ben: Thanks very much Mark!

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