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Lennon Thermalite 728x90 2

A huge year for Lennon Performance Products

by Mark Jardine on 6 Sep 6 September 2017
Dylan Fletcher wins the UK International Moth Nationals at Paignton © Mark Jardine / IMCA UK

It's been a huge year for Mike Lennon and his team at Lennon Performance Products. Starting off with displaying the first prototype of the THINNAIR foiling Moth at the RYA Dinghy Show, then Lennon Sails winning the International 14 Europeans, wins at the International Moth UK Nationals and World Championship with different helms, and continuing to build awareness of Lennnon Racewear.

Mark Jardine: Back in May Lennon Sails continued their successful streak in the International 14 class, with a win at the European Championship, a class where Mike has worked with Glenn Truswell for a long time. But I hear this year it was a new name on the trophy?

Mike Lennon: Yes, Glenn's hung up his sailing boots for the season so we had to find someone else to work closely with in the class to continue the development work. I've known Neil Jones for a number of years and I used to sail International 14s against his father. He's an up-and-coming young sailor and he seemed to be the obvious choice to work with. I approached him, he was keen to do it, and it's borne fruit very early on - we started working together in the spring and by May he'd won the Europeans which, while it wasn't a surprise, was his first big win in the class and I wasn't sure it would be that quick.

Mark: It must be a great feeling knowing you can switch sailors, but as long as they've got your sails they can pull out the win?

Mike: We did some tweaks to his jib and rig setup and that made improvements and helped him to step up a gear.

Mark: Have there been any major changes in the class or is it just constant refinement that is keeping Lennon Sails on top?

Mike: The 14s are a slower burn than the Moth in terms of development as it's a more conventional class and the gains are relatively small. It's more tweaking things, improving the rig and improving the bend characteristics. My personal view is that they've gone through a phase of getting the rigs stiffer and stiffer and I believe they've gone a step too far on some boats, which doesn't give them the capability to go through the entire wind range. Neil has proved that in a sense as he has a more flexible rig and he was certainly quick in the breeze on Lake Garda.

Mark: It must be really pleasing to notch up another Europeans win. You mentioned the foiling Moths and the rate of development there, but you've had two major championship wins with two different helms and two different boat designs in 2017; firstly Dylan Fletcher won the UK Nationals convincingly with his Rocket SSD design and then Paul Goodison won the World Championship in an Exocet, but both using Lennon Sails. You've worked with Dylan for a long time - what developments have been made recently with the Moth sails?

Mike: The development in the Moth sails is pretty fast and the sails have changed a lot over the past three or four years, and I think that rate of change is going to accelerate again over the coming winter, with a lot of work on lower rigs and partial end-plate effects. Dylan's worked on quite a different rig to Paul where the work started last year with some different ideas. We've used a stiff, coated Dacron on the luff sleeve to give some stability and make it smoother on the leeward side and we've made the sleeve wider as well. The reason behind this was to provide more depth downwind and to bring the draught further forwards: there's a tendency to get a windward separation bubble and the wider sleeve was to try and reduce that tendency.

Mark: So this is to give you a sail which works upwind and downwind, but a novel way of creating that versatility?

Mike: The sail goes from being almost as flat as a board upwind, with 2-3% depth, to downwind having 12%+ depth and the draught right up front at the mast, which gives you a wider range for sailing downwind and easier to sail, but the windward separation bubble is always a problem when you get too deep.

Mark: Is this the equivalent, or close to it, of creating a soft version of a wing mast?

Mike: It's exactly that as it's a triangle from where the mast joins the body of the sail. Giving it a longer chord gives you a thickness on the windward side which wouldn't be there otherwise, and that can reduce the tendency for separation.

Mark: It's fascinating seeing the boats on the water, but hearing the technical side of that shows just how much work goes into this class.

Next up was the International Moth World Championship at Lake Garda with arguably the best fleet of all time, including the Olympic and America's Cup stars such as Peter Burling, Nathan Outteridge and various others, where Paul Goodison won with your sail. A different design, but another win for Lennon Sails. How did it mean to you to retain the title?

Mike: It meant a lot to me personally as you put a lot of work into these things and as a brand we rely on this as we sell sails if we're successful and we don't sell sails if we're not.

Mark: It was a convincing win with a race to spare - a dominating victory over a top fleet.

Mike: When I was speaking to Paul in the lead-up to the event I did get the impression that he was in a good place. He was very relaxed, quite confident and while you're never sure of a result, Paul would be one of the highest on the list to put a series together that could win a championship.

Mark: Lennon have been developing an International Moth - the THINNAIR - at the moment, but it's a long process to get to the point where you've got a production boat out on the water. How are developments going?

Mike: Slower than we'd like, to be blunt! We took a boat to the RYA Dinghy Show, but we'd already decided there were changes that had to be made and tested before it went into production. We decided early on that we'd lower the dihedral on the wing, giving it a lower wing angle as the first one was too high. The current crop of top boats have a front wing-angle of around 20 degrees; our prototype was at 30 degrees, which is great when you're sailing in a straight line as you get a lot more righting moment when you're heeled to windward, but it makes manoeuvres, and even handling the boat on the beach, very difficult. Practically, even if you get a tack slightly wrong, you end up with a vertical wall in front of you as you cross the boat.

Mark: So it's finding the thin line between a fast boat and a sailable boat?

Mike: Exactly. You get a lot of boat-speed through ease of sailing. We should be testing the new prototype THINNAIR in early September.

Mark: You mentioned this winter is going to see a lot of development in sails and rigs to do with the end-plate effect. Are we going to see deck-sweeper mains in the same style as the A Class Cats?

Mike: We don't have the luxury of a big, stable platform to bounce around on so we really can't have the gap closed like they do. They can go round the back on their hands and knees, but if we did that in the Moth we'd capsize! I did try a sail like on the A Class Cats, but you end up a long way back in the boat and it just makes every manoeuvre a nightmare; it was too difficult to sail.

Mark: Is there a compromise solution?

Mike: Yes, the solution has been out there for a while. Chris Rast came up with the S boom which Benoit Marie used at Lake Garda. The concept is fine but the gains are relatively small as it's less than half the foot of the mainsail - the main gain here in my opinion is that you're lowering the rig and making it more efficient where it needs to be more efficient, resulting in more power.

Mark: On the Lennon Racewear side, it's time to start thinking about your kit for autumn and winter. You choose the best materials on the market - why do you specifically choose the materials that you do?

Mike: Because it makes a difference, and it makes a big difference to the kit when it's wet. We use a brand called Yamamoto, a Japanese manufacturer of neoprene who have been market-leaders for a long time. It's limestone based, not petroleum based, it's a greener product (find out more about it here).

Mark: Yamamoto neoprene is used a lot in triathlon suits isn't it?

Mike: Yes, it absorbs less water, and the last thing you want to do when swimming is absorb water and weight and drag that around with you, so it's designed to absorb less water. It's lighter and warmer as there's less water in it. This means for a given thickness our wetsuits are warmer and outperform most people's thicker wetsuits. I believe we are the only sailing brand that uses Yamamoto.

Mark: In triathlon, flexibility and freedom of movement is absolutely paramount. With sailing becoming such an aerobic sport, that's becoming far more important.

Mike: Yes, and we can go lighter with our product for a given temperature, so the combination of those two things does make Lennon Racewear very easy and comfortable to wear.

Mark: Does this also help with drying your wetsuit after sailing, avoiding that dreaded moment of putting on a wet wetsuit on the second day of a regatta?

Mike: Yes, we also use a thermal lining, which is quicker-drying than most, throughout our range and product. It's made up of two parts; a soft layer close to your skin and a second layer that it's laminated to which draws the water away from the inner layer and then drains down the wetsuit. Even if you do get water inside the suit, which we do everything we can to avoid, including blind-stitching and gluing, you'll find the suit is wet round the ankles but nowhere else as the water has drained down through the suit.

Mark: It seems you use exactly the same philosophy in Lennon Racewear as you do with Lennon Sails - going for the best of the best. What feedback have you had from customers?

Mike: Here are a couple of testimonials we've had on Racewear:

"Very warm. I don't need a spray top even out in three degrees with just a thermal rash vest underneath. I got the second sample sale long john and top and can't see anything wrong with them. Feels a bit tight at first so need to pull the seams where the black rubber joints are, plus may need to size up from normal as it's a slightly smaller fit i think? Very impressed so got them for my 13 year old son too and the XS fitted great and he's chuffed with them, plus dry feet with dry socks and no moans about being cold in 2 degrees temp and freezing north wind at the weekend so well worth investing in!"

"Fantastic top, after 20 years sailing this is without doubt the best item I have ever owned. The team at Lennon are always happy to help. Great product and brilliant customer service!"

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