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Learning to sail a Musto Skiff on a limb: You are never far from the support of the fleet

by Peter Doherty 19 Mar 2018 17:42 GMT
Musto Skiff sailing in Dublin Bay © Glyn Williams

The Irish 'skiff scene' has always been something of a misnomer. No club in the country could claim to have anything resembling a skiff fleet. Although they can sometimes be seen honing their skills on local waters, for the most part, the Irish 49er squaddies ply their trade in the Olympic sphere. As a result, there has been no 'trickle-down' effect to weekend-warrior level.

Skiffs remain something esoteric to the average club sailor, tools of the Olympian's trade rather than something to be enjoyed in club races. This is despite Ireland's natural potential. The recent flourishing of the International Moth and F18 fleets, both boats which favour conditions similar to those suited to skiffs, is ample evidence that Ireland's abundance of inland and coastal venues are ripe for exploitation by skiffs.

However, as it stands, any Irish sailor who chooses to invest in a skiff is opting for a very personal odyssey, alienating themselves from the kind of friendly advice available to Laser, Fireball or RS200 sailors in the dinghy park.

I purchased my Musto Skiff in December 2017. Like many others, I had spent a number of years in a 600. For the first two or three of these years, I had the only RS600 in the Republic. Now resurgent, the 600 was an ailing class when I bought my boat and, without the benefit of a fleet, I managed to repeat all of the basic mistakes that UK sailors had overcome in the 90s and early 2000s.

In buying a Musto, I expected to rehearse my experience with the RS600. However, the energy, enthusiasm and generosity of the Musto Class, and in particular that of UK sailors, has made my first few months with this boat an utterly different enterprise.

Nothing is greater evidence of this generosity than the help offered by Jason Rickards. I spent the Christmas period trying to cobble the various ropes and blocks together into something resembling a boat. Jason, over the course of a half hour video call while I was in the boat park, walked me through how to rig the kite.

Jason's help exemplifies the spirit of friendly competition and sportsmanship which animates the class. Having pestered the GBR association with questions on their Facebook page, sailors patiently explained the nuances of rigging the boat and, when I finally carved out some space between winter storms to actually sail the thing, offered advice on the GoPro footage I uploaded to the page.

Although geographically alienated from the largest Musto fleet in the world, the class has gone out of its way to ensure that I can benefit from the wealth of expertise harboured by UK sailors. This support has not been confined to the pages of Facebook and Youtube. Paul Manning has kindly arranged use of the club's demonstration boat for class training at Stokes Bay in April.

In recent years, much ink has been spilled in the pages of sailing periodicals on the decline of dinghy sailing from its heyday in the post-war years. Remedies for this decline have been discussed online, in print and in the board-rooms of the major sailing organisations. However, it is not hard to understand why Ovington Boats are still building new Musto Skiffs nearly two decades after the boat was first conceived.

While sailing organisations might be accused of looking inward in an attempt to arrest the decline, the Musto association has been looking outward. My experience with the boat is evidence of a class quietly capitalising on new technologies to nurture new fleets, to grow the global Musto population and to champion the sport of sailing.

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