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Heroes and Legends: The moth class today

by Phil Oligario 12 Mar 2016 10:10 GMT 12 March 2016
Ben Paton on day 3 of the International Moth UK Nationals at Stokes Bay © Mark Jardine

The moth class is a thing of beauty. It has been around for longer than most of its current membership worldwide and continues to thrive to this day. How is this possible? I believe it's down to the spirit of the class and the essence of what it represents and as a result the type of people that it attracts.

The old adage 'like a moth to a flame' is not lost on those drawn to sail these amazing boats so what exactly is it that compels men and women across the world to take on the challenge of conquering these tiny boats?

If we look at the type of person that sails these boats we can split them into two categories, Heroes and Legends. The heroes are the ones we all know, sailing superstars who have forged their professional careers in all disciplines of sailing from Volvo Ocean Race Yachts to Olympic class dinghies, Melges 24s to Solos.

These heroes are a recent and welcome addition to the class and with the advent of the America's cup moving to hydrofoiling, a natural choice for many professional sailors. Our heroes list is pretty much a world roster of top sailors across the globe. Here in the UK, most of our top 10 are made up of professional sailors with such accolades as Volvo Ocean Race winner, Olympic medallists, I14 POW winners and National Champions in a variety of fleets.

These men and women are made of different stuff, driven by a passion and commitment to racing that many of us mere mortals can only dream of. They push the envelope of development and tuning to places unforeseen by others. Committed to winning, they focus their energies on their given craft and their bodies, Racing to them is their life and winning is what drives them.

But it wasn't always like this in the moth class...

Back in 2007, I saw my first youtube video of foiling moths. This was essentially the UK moth fleet consisting of just a handful of boats. Among those names were Alex Adams (who went on to become part of the Vesta's world record breaking Sail Rocket team), Adam May (now working with America's Cup team Artemis), Simon Payne (Multiple World, European and National Champion in the moth), Mike Cooke (Builder of the Ninja and the Rocket and also National Champion, filming at the time but nonetheless amongst those present) and James Roche who went on to be part of the design team of the 2014 Winter Olympics Gold winning Skeleton and is now part of the Ben Ainslie America's Cup design team.

These guys formed the nucleus of what we see today in the UK and without their pioneering spirit, many of us would not be in the class today. Skip to the other side of the world and down under a similar movement was taking place. Rohan Veal was the poster boy of Mothing at the time having joined forces with Amac (THE man behind the game changing Mach2), we had people like Bruce McLoud proving that homebuilding a moth was possible. Taking that to the next level was David Lister who was one of the first people to foil tack consistently and is arguably the fastest mothie alive.

In the UK, fleet numbers are now up to 70 plus at a National Championship so the question is... who are these people?

The current demographic is hard to pin down because no two mothies are the same. We have a huge mix of self employed, high flying city execs, craftsmen, artists, designers, IT professionals, recruitment consultants and pretty much everything else, so trying to pin it down to career path is a tricky one. The only thing that I have been able to ascertain from my years in the class is that we are all slightly mad. We are unique in that we share the same goal of being on the edge of control in challenging situations whilst happening at the speed of light. Some are more determined than others and that is reflected in their position at regattas. On the other hand, some of us have more time to commit than others and this also helps to move up the ranks however, moving up the ranks is not on everyone's mind. Some of us love having the opportunity to just race these fantastic machines alongside some of the greatest sailors in the world and on occasion, beat them.

If you ask any moth sailor what it is that keeps them coming back for more, it's always the same answer.

Here is what some of our heroes have to say:

Rob Greenhalgh, current European Champion (Volvo Ocean Race winner among other titles) says, "I've been in the moth since 2012 and I keep coming back for more because the moth is the most technically advanced singlehander on the planet and, being a development class, gives me options to evolve elements and work on new stuff."

Chris Rashley our multiple European and UK National Champion says, "I started in the moth just over 5 years ago after watching the highlights on youtube of the 2009 European Championships in Lake Silvaplana, Switzerland. I keep coming back because the boats are getting faster easier to handle and the standard of the competition and the racing improves all the time. I won't be going anywhere until I win the the World Championships."

And from some of our legends:

Neil Baker, current 'voice of the UK fleet' has this to say about what mothing is to him:

"I've been sailing a foiling moth since November 2010. But I had a gentleman Jim lowrider (similar to magnum 8) from 96 to 1999. I continue to sail it and no other dinghy appeals. There aren't any other boats that are enough of a buzz that I'd bother to go practice in. Frankly I could never race the moth and just go for a play in it every now and then and be happy, I only sail because I love racing. All my other sailing was based around regattas. And there aren't many that equal a moth event so you just get bored and sell it."

James Sainsbury, the only man to build a competitive moth in his front room (no exaggeration!) started sailing foiling moths three years ago and simply says: "It's fun, it's fast and you'd be hard pushed to get the feeling you get in a moth anywhere else."

Ricky Tagg who is known to many, having been sailing since before the 2nd World War says, "I had my first sail in a Moth, a Mistress back in 2006/7, courtesy of my old friend David Ellis. I learned to sail at age of 5 and for nearly 40 years I got to race against and coach great sailors in iconic events and locations across the world. However, whilst I enjoyed the various campaigns and successes in a wide range of boats, I just got bored of racing and sailing.

After that one sail in a Moth, I just had to sail again and I didn't care if I raced or not. In those days the boats were unrefined at best, however today, with much better boats and control systems, you pay no heed to the fact that you are doing mid to high 20s downwind and it still makes me smile and poke my tongue out! Am I tempted to change class? HELL NO."

As for me, Seven years in and the class has become a part of me and visa versa. I cannot think of anything else I'd rather be doing then building them, sailing them, thinking about them or talking about them. I never foresaw this in my life years ago and I would like to think that I'll be involved with them for many years to come.

The moth today is a strange class in that it draws out the legends and the heroes from all walks of life. One thing is for sure, once you've sailed one, you'll never be the same again. It is such a force of nature that it has changed the face of sailing forever, proving the concept that foiling is possible even with a 72 foot catamaran. Anyone who sails a moth is a legend!

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