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Chris Rashley reflects on the 2015 McDougall + McConaghy Moth Worlds

by Chris Rashley 22 Jan 2015 11:48 GMT 9-16 January 2015

Chris Rashley has been sailing International Moths since 2011. He has been reigning European champion for the past 4 years and came second at the Moth Worlds in 2014 at Hayling Island, having led the event right up to the last day. He was integral to the development of the Exocet Moth design, working alongside the designer, Kevin Ellway of Ellway Aero Hydrodynamic Designs and the builder, Simon Maguire of Maguire Boats. Chris is proud to be sponsored by Allen Brothers, Zhik, Marlow Ropes, CTech, Lennon Sails and the Royal London Yacht Club. He enjoys working full time coaching the British Olympic 49er FX Podium Squad.

The Moth Worlds in 2015 was held in Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia. We were sold the venue as an idyllic Moth sailing location with winds typically 12-20 knots. Close to Melbourne where it is normal to experience four seasons in one day, we perhaps should have been suspicious about the nirvana we were promised. Yet one thing that did live up to the hype was the extremely warm and helpful welcome we received from our hosts, the great people at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club.

The Moth is widely appreciated as the most demanding high performance sailing dinghy and the line-up for this Worlds boasted pretty much all the exceptional sailing talent of our generation. For these reasons, many feel it to have been the most prestigious sailing event ever sailed. When you look at the names and achievements among the 165 entries, it's hard to argue against that. There were previous Moth World champions such as Nathan Outteridge, Josh McKnight and Bora Gulari; a huge contingent of America's Cup sailors including Pete Burling, Dean Barker, Glenn Ashby, Ray Davies, Chris Draper and Kyle Langford; plus Olympic legends like Iain Jensen and Tom Slingsby. No one expected an easy ride and there were bound to be big names who wouldn't make the top 20, let alone the top 10.

I've always taken a really disciplined approach to my sailing though and I don't leave things to chance. As always, before travelling I made sure my equipment was in perfect condition and I packed everything to ensure my chances weren't hampered by unexpected gear failure. Though working full time means my time on the water is as limited as any other weekend warrior, I made sure that the training I had done was really effective. I am fully committed to Moth sailing and it's important to me to do the very best I can for myself and for all the people who have backed me, either as sponsors or as part of the Exocet team – in particular Kevin Ellway, Simon Maguire and Mike Lennon.

So I left the UK for two weeks of training at the venue over Christmas and an ultimate goal to make the top eight by the end of the event.

It's the way of the world though that the best laid plans often go awry. I can sit here now, four days after, and be astounded that I not only managed to achieve my goal, but I actually ended with fourth place. It's a fourth that I value so highly. In achieving it, I learnt a lot about myself, more than I have done in a while. I learnt I am mentally very strong, I'm tough and I'm committed.

So what happened? Well I'd been training just before Christmas in some of the wildly variable conditions Port Philip Bay can serve up. I knew I was fast – really fast. However, I began to have some serious back problems on and off the water. Cutting a long story short, I ended up in hospital having collapsed on the street. I received conflicting advice from specialists and there were some dark days before I had an emergency MRI scan that helped diagnose a protruding disk.

I was told a steroidal epidural should help get me back on my feet and might, just might, allow me back in a boat again. I was fortunate to have contact with FX sailor, Charlotte Dobson, who had previously had the same treatment. She had managed to be sailing relatively comfortably a few days later. That gave me the hope I badly needed, but I had to wait until after Christmas and New Year for the treatment at Melbourne's Olympic Park. I was in huge pain, couldn't sleep and was feeling mentally drained by it all. This was not the event preparation I'd had in mind.

Finally I had the injection two days before the Australian Nationals. Within 24 hours I couldn't feel the pain anymore. Although I was advised to do nothing for three days, I knew I owed it to myself, my sponsors and supporters to push myself. So I spent the next few days doing core work and stretches. I discounted doing the Nationals but took a couple of gentle sails. My back was painful and I knew I would have to compromise on my technique, but participating in the Worlds was now looking realistic. Meanwhile for the rest of the fleet, the Australian Nationals was windless and lost to the wind gods without a race being run.

The Worlds practice race took place on the Friday. Unlike the other races where the fleet would be split into two, for this all competitors would line up on the one start line. There was a nice 16-18 knots blowing. I tried hiking but quickly realised the pain was too much and settled for just sitting on the side. It wasn't fast but it was more manageable for my back. I felt racing was possible and my confidence was growing that I could at least sail some of the event.

Despite doubting I'd be really competitive, I found myself racing in second place. When Scott Babbage bailed out of the win for superstitious reasons, I was happy to cross the line first and take the accolade of winning the biggest Moth race ever. I really felt at that stage that I couldn't possibly have any more bad luck and I was just stoked to be out on the race course and sailing my boat. I went to bed on Friday night confident of beginning the Worlds on Saturday morning.

Saturday dawned and I felt more myself despite having constant pain. It was a nice sub 10 knot day which was easier on my body, and I bagged some solid results 3, 3, and 7.

The second day, Sunday, was Pete Burling's mega day where he notched up four straight wins in his qualifying fleet. It was windy and I felt nervous about hiking. But out on the start line I thought, "Hey, this is just like Stokes Bay – I love this stuff. Play it safe, get counters, a few tacks and gybes, a little hiking off start line. I can do this." To be honest, I just felt so privileged to be out there on the water and not be in bed all day. It felt a major achievement and I just wanted to live in the moment and enjoy being able to sail. I had been given a new chance. I knew I would have to compromise on how I sailed and accept the day wasn't going to be easy. And I knew my body might give up and I might not be able to finish the event. So today, I just wanted to aim for the Gold fleet.

I started with small ambitions but my confidence grew. I can't believe I pulled of a win in the second race of the day which gave me a 4, 1, 4 and 4. I came off water feeling tight, sore but OK. I had more than made Gold fleet, I was lying 5th. It was a good day.

Monday continued the good vibes for me. With just one race sailed, it was a useful, restful day. It was stressful but it wasn't physically tough and I took home an 8th. The conditions were hardest for the Race Officer who had to deal with dying breeze.

There was a degree of tension in the boat park after sailing with a murmur of discontent regarding the decisions about when to run and not run races. I don't get into that stuff though. You can only race when there's racing and the RO can only put on racing when he's happy to call it. All you have to do is follow the instructions the RO gives you and not try to second guess him, the conditions or the weather. Some high profile names launched just four minutes before the race start time – that's a school boy error in anyone's book. All in all, I was just happy to have a pretty gentle day.

The next day, Tuesday, was tougher. It was a grizzly day weather-wise and I'd been at the physio for 7.30am in order to be rigged and ready to sail at 9am. It was windy and raining like I'd never seen before, really bad visibility and 11 degrees. Like many others, I hadn't got enough warm kit and I could feel my back seizing up in the cold. I alternated between doing back exercises in the shower to keep warm and then kitting back up when the postponements came down after each storm passed. Eventually we were sent out at 6pm. It was windy and rough, and I had twinges from my back as soon as I was off the beach. I'd already been round the forestay once and was happy when they called the race off before the start.

The forecast for Wednesday was dreadful and that night the RO announced it would remain as the lay day. I was able to relax a bit and, for the first time since before Christmas, I got a good 5-6 hours of sleep. It was great.

I spent the Wednesday having a holiday – well, one interspersed with three trips to the physio as my back locked up in the middle of the day. But I got to a coffee shop and I was able to unwind. Things felt brighter and I had another solid night's sleep.

Thursday dawned and the whole event was coming to a head. My mind set changed from just being happy to get up and rig, to really beginning to believe I could come out with a decent result. I decided I wanted three top 8 positions from the day. Initially I felt this was ambitious because it was blowing a shifty 12-28 knots. However I got 6, 8, 3 and 5. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I'd pushed harder in the first two races. I felt I'd lost touch with the podium. The top three, Pete, Nathan and Josh, were so consistent that simply having top 8 results wasn't cutting it. I was nursing my back which made me conservative. I didn't have the confidence in to tack well in 25 knots of breeze – something that when I'm fit, I revel in.

However the one thing that did happen was the pressure had come off. I slept 7-8 hours confident in the knowledge I was in the top six and that I could give it my all in the last day. With four races scheduled, I wanted to give it my all in the first two, knowing I could discard the second two if my back blew up.

So the last day was breezy and choppy – enough to keep the Silver fleet ashore all day. But I went out to win the first race, ignore the pain and not worry about anything else. And I did win it, and I can't tell you how good it felt.

The RO sent us in while they assessed the conditions. The weather was clear but the wind was howling. Most people decided the event was over and began to pack up. I stayed in my kit and at 3pm the postponement came down. Only about 50 boats launched. It was a struggle to get out: you had to get your boat up, bear off and blast out of control downwind through moored boats – it was up around 28 to 30 knots and it was hard just to get out to the course.

This ended up being the final race and it was properly breeze-on. I'm pretty sure that although the conditions were flatter than the first race, it was the windiest I have ever raced the Moth in. There was spray at head height flying over the committee boat - spray everywhere, hitting everything. However, I came away with a respectable third to Pete's win and Nathan's second.

So there I was with a healthy fourth place overall and I was a bit overcome really. Firstly I couldn't believe I'd got through the event – something I thought would be impossible at some points. I was massively relieved.

Had you offered me fourth place back in England, prior to the back problems, I would have been delighted anyway – a fourth is brilliant in that fleet. But to have done so with such a bad back is amazing and I'm really happy.

So for the immediate future, I've been told not to change what I do. I've got to keep moving and be meticulous with stretching and core work. I'll train for the UK Nationals and Europeans, but I'm taking nothing for granted. You can't plan for everything but I'll continue to fully cover all the things I can control.

The best news is that I know now that I'm mentally tougher and more committed than I'd ever realised. I know I will always deliver my very best performance regardless of the situation. It feels weird to say, but I know now that I'm determined to win the Worlds one day. Undoubtedly this was Pete Burling's year though – he was in a league of his own and absolutely deserves the World Championship title.

Just one other thing, when I got home from Australia, I found my broken shaving mirror in my bathroom and remembered knocking it down just before I left for the airport. I hadn't made the connection before then, but may be there's something in that old superstition...

Thank you to all my sponsors and suppliers: Allen Brothers, Zhik, Marlow Ropes, CTech, Lennon Sails, the Royal London Yacht Club, Maguire Boats and Ellway Aero Hydrodynamic Designs.

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