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Inaugural RS600FF Open at Weston Sailing Club

by Graham Simmonds 22 May 2008 09:03 BST 17-18 May 2008

It was with some trepidation that I set off early on Saturday morning to Weston Sailing Club to our first ever RS600FF Open Meeting. I have owned an RS600FF since September 2007 and have sailed it hard for 6 months at Hayling Island learning (sometimes battling!) to understand how this awesome boat works. Imagine a car where all of the pedals have been reversed and you have some idea of the mountain we have to climb!

On arrival at Weston, I am directed into the field where most of the competitors are camped out. Ian Gotts describes it as the “Misfits” regatta and I know exactly what he means. Moths, Cherubs, International Canoes and ourselves all chucked together and somehow I feel at home. I am at last amongst people who will at least understand my madness. “Foil and trapeze at the same time! What on earth makes you want to do that?” they say whenever I try to describe sailing the 600FF to the ordinary sailor. Why? Because it is the most amazing feeling hanging out the side of the boat three feet above the water, going at 18 knots, whilst looking down at the hydrofoils keeping you aloft inches below the surface of the water.

Upon launching we are greeted with a gentle 6 – 10 knot North Easterly. Now those that know Weston Sailing Club know that a North Easterly is somewhat unstable. Shifts of 30 degrees result in many involuntary tacks with spectacular results if you are trapezing. Anyway off we go in the first race sharing our start with the Cherubs. In the marginal conditions those that get the gusts and pop up on the foils gain enormously. There are lots of Moths sailors struggling to foil and the 600FF benefits from a proper hull and exceptional light wind performance meaning that we have caught a lot of them up by the top mark.

At this point I must introduce Sam Pascoe to you. Sam has an illustrious history in the foiling Moth including being the 2006 UK National Champion. But at 85kgs he has always been regarded as somewhat heavy in the Moth which makes his achievements in that class even more amazing. Whilst working for L Jenkins at FullForce Boats he was given the opportunity to develop the 600FF into the first single-handed trapeze foiler that would support heavier sailors. Two years later he is a master of his craft (in both senses of the words) and he sets the standard to which we aspire.

Sam is the first to admit that he is not happy unless he is foiling. Which is why he spends 99% of his time cajoling his boat onto the foils. In the prevailing light weather conditions at Weston he works harder than anyone and turns the smallest gust into foiling action. It is a wonderful thing to witness a boat of 60Kgs foil past an inert Moth that is half its weight. In race 1 he is quickly a blip on the horizon leaving us to get on with our part of the race. David Smithwhite demonstrates his skill with a 2nd in Race 1 with Paul Bayliss in 3rd.

Having missed the start in the first race through being Captain Faff, I am now on the line for the start of Race 2. I low ride my way up the first beat and approach the top mark. I have a hundred yard lead over David, when I experience for the first time a new aspect in racing sailboats. I watch behind with horror as my large lead is decimated in 10 seconds when David picks up a gust and foils right up to and past me. Yes there is luck involved here but also being ready to make maximum use of every opportunity. He holds onto this lead to take his first win and I hang on to second. Sam is third.

Race 3 - I again round first with David and Ian Gotts close behind. Sam is in fourth. We have a bevy of Moths and Canoes in proximity and we are all gently making our way down the first reach of the square course. Suddenly there is a roar of amazement and incredulity from all of us as Sam launches his boat on to the foils as soon as he rounds the top mark and proceeds to go from fourth to first in 30 seconds and settles just in front of me. We look for wind on the right hand side of the course and find it. Sam however pushes his boat up onto the foils and is gone. Ian sails brilliantly and gets in front. However, on the penultimate leg to the finish both David and I pop up on to the foils behind him and pass him. I finish 2nd and David 3rd. Sam is overnight leader in our first open meeting.

Sunday brought wind gusting up to 18 knots but challengingly from the same direction. The wind differential ensures that sustained foiling will require a large amount of effort as gusts cause the boat to stagger and can knock you off the foils. Not to mention the shifts which make a normal boat difficult to sail let alone a foiler. Race 1 sees Sam revelling in the conditions. His confidence means that he is lapping virtually all of us by the end of each race but this is not without some fantastic wipeouts due to the conditions. Paul Bayliss is also meeting the challenge head on and is achieving some excellent runs upwind. First and second places goto Sam and Paul in all 3 races respectively. Race 1 sees me finish in third. Race 2 allows David to demonstrate his increasing skill level to finish in third which he repeats in Race 3. Ian and I tussle for the minor places.

At the end of 6 races Sam demonstrates his overwhelming mastery of the 600FF foiling for a deserved win. David’s increasing confidence and an excellent boat setup sees him foiling beautifully and securing a consistent 2nd place. I manage 3rd place.

The overwhelming message from the weekend is that we are getting there. We all feel that a lot more training and practice is required to improve the skill levels. We are all looking forward to the brand new sail design which is winging its way as I write from the Hyde Sails factory in the Phillipines. Mike Lennon’s unique skill in sail design means that we will have a sail tuned to make foiling easier than the standard 600 sail. It is a significant move in the right direction for the class. Please can you let Linton know if you would like a new sail so that he can get it ordered?

Our next event is a demo/training day on the 7th June at Hayling Island which we are going to follow with another at the end of June at Weymouth. If you know of anyone who would like a go in a 600FF please ask them to contact Linton at FullForce