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Zhik 2016 Yachting Range

2017 McDougall McConaghy Moth World Championships Preview - Part 1

by Neil Baker 21 Jul 12:29 BST 21-30 July 2017
2012 Zhik Nautica Moth Worlds at Campione del Garda ©

It's a wonderful time; it's a horrible time. We're less than a week away from the start of the 2017 Moth Worlds and it really is a time of mixed feelings for Mothies. It's getting the heart pumping just putting these thoughts down.

Why is it wonderful?

Because we're so close to the Worlds, the most exciting event of the year, and for many Mothies the only time they'll do the worlds for a few years as we can't all travel across the world every year to do the competion. There is the added bonus of the opportunity to race against the best of the best, rumours a certain America's Cup helmsman may now attend are increasing.

Why is it horrible?

Well mostly is the crushing realisation that you have to deliver. It's high noon in the racing stakes and you cannot hide anywhere now. You have to make good on what you've invested in training, brownie points and in carbon. Moths have that extreme element for sailors of trying to work out where the best pay-back is when buying your kit for a season, and the best time to do it so that you haven't, quite literally, blown your wad too soon. Of course, most annoyingly for one still stuck at the desk looking over a London train station, the really horrible element this week is the self-gratifying pictures of people already on their way or even already at the best sailing spot on the planet, Lake Garda, filling social media feeds with increasing regularity.

Why is Garda simply the best place to race?

If you've not been there then I don't quite know how to explain it without gallons of expletives and school newspaper adjectives. The wind is like clockwork (touch wood) and the Italians are superb hosts. The pasta always seems to be ready just when you're going sailing, the coffee is good enough to make even the most committed Melbournian barista swoon, and for those of a 'Patonator' type persuasion, an Aperol Spritz is the finest post-sail recovery beverage you'll get anywhere in the world.

It is quite poignant to compare it to the last time we were in Garda in 2012 for what was the most hotly contested event ever, but now almost seems like looking back into the last century compared to what will be happening this year.

The kit has changed in an imperceptible yet highly effective way. 2012 was a year when things were getting very optimised around the foil area and there have only been small improvements since. However, many other areas have progressed; aero tramps, lower mast stumps and stiffer EVERYTHING. Adjustable wands have gone mainstream and then moved on to be telescopic and to hang off the bowsprits they now adjoin. The foil verticals have got thinner and stiffer and the sails have evolved to a whole new level with carbon battens being de rigueur. Exocets have gone from just single figures in 2012 to being the boat of choice for many and they even finally managed to win the Worlds in 2016 at the 5th attempt (took long enough!). Does that mean they're the best? We'll find out. Cookie has taken the Rockets into the solid state design and Mach 2 have continued to make small, incremental but effective improvements.

There are a few other new designs coming through, we might even see the Lennon Thinnair doing well, although it has not raced yet. The Voodoo is getting there and we still don't know what the heck Josh McKnight is going to turn up with. Between the big builders, the margins are very fine. We don't know which design will win. One thing we can be certain of is that the best sailor will still probably carry the win. Actually, one more thing we can be certain of is Simon Owen-Smith, the mothies SOS. The most important bit of Moth kit will be there and will be busting his ass off for everyone to keep them on the water. Buy that man a beer, I doubt Aperol is his thing, although you never know.

Some of you might remember a piece I wrote during the 2012 worlds about how I changed a lot of kit in the run up to the worlds and completely fell on my face. Naturally I've done the same thing again, but I gave myself a lot more time this year. I also chose very carefully. Time will tell if I've done the right thing, the amount of time on the water will also be a much bigger factor this time, in that it's been very limited. One key element in my choices has been to look to improve the average time around the course more than the top speed. It's an age-old adage that you need to build your boat handling, then your boat speed, then nail your tactics. This is just as true, if not more relevant for Moth sailing than any other boat. If you can't tack consistently you've got no chance. If the boat doesn't keep itself fast, making it easier for you to think more broadly, you've got no chance. Tactics be damned, we all know boat speed makes you a tactical genius anyway. So I've spent the money on a bow sprit which seems to do all of the above. I can honestly say it makes it feel like I'm tacking a Firefly upwind and racing a GP14 downwind. Like I say, it doesn't necessarily make you fast but it sure as heck saves you a lot of slowing down. Thank you SHOCK.

The racing at this championships will be as full on as anyone can imagine, and far worse. One of my own abiding memories/nightmares from the 2012 event was the start lines. The hunger and commitment from the competitors to hit the cliffs, we were racing at Campione, was manic. We had about one third of the fleet starting on Port in the first few races and by the end it was 80%. Trying to start on port in the first few races was like the scene from Independence Day when Will Smith leads his flight of F18 Hornets through the marauding Alien fighters as they come out the mother ship. Only it was faster and closer for the Moths...

The number of boats entered is looking like going over 230... yes that's TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY. I used to hope I'd make the gold fleet but now I'm thinking the bronze fleet will take some going. It could be up to 4 flights and the qualifying races will be brutal. Then the standard will rush up as we get to the business end of the event. Anyone who makes gold fleet can expect to be hitting the leeward mark and lining up like Lasers trying to squeeze each other out.

For most of us that kind of racing is so rare in Moths that we have to really think how to deal with it. When you're already doing the best part of 18 knots (someone, somewhere is laughing at me now saying "18, you've got no chance!" and I can't even do 18) it's pretty difficult to try and crack off to gain clear air. Drop a tack and that will be 20 to 30 places gone in a second, so you'd better be sure you know what you're doing. Worst of all, we might have to race in the morning breeze and then again in the afternoon to get the races finished. It'll be about stamina too, not that anyone thinks Moth racing is easy. If you're under 75kgs the boat speed means you're flat hiking in all directions once it gets above 12 knots. Average weight is now almost certainly edging over 80 kgs: a small man's boat it is no more.

So, onto the point many people will have been thinking about in the back of their mind, and probably on some very geeky areas of the internet, who's going to win?

But if we talk about that now, we'll have nothing to share tomorrow!