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Three years, two classes, six World Championship titles

by Mark Jardine 25 Sep 2018 12:00 BST
Paul Goodison wins the Moth Worlds on Lake Garda © Martina Orsini

We spoke to Mike Lennon of Lennon Performance Products, designers and producers of sails, dinghy racing clothing, and the THINNAIR International Moth. Lennon have focused on the International Moth and International 14 classes, collecting a World Championship hat-trick in each.

Mark Jardine: What is extraordinary is that in two of the most high-tech dinghy classes in the UK and the world - Moths and International 14s - Lennon Sails have powered the winners of both World Champions, three years on the trot! Something a sailmaker of any size would be proud of. So Mike, this hat-trick in two classes must have been an extraordinary moment for you?

Mike Lennon: It was! I think if I go back to when I started the business, five years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that possible. When I started we were working with some of the top Moth sailors, including Chris Rashley. Chris has several European titles but had never quite got a Worlds, so we were doing a lot of work there. Chris had the talent but it hadn't happened for him yet. We started to work with Paul Goodison, Dylan Fletcher and a few other top sailors too. It was Paul - probably against the run of play at that time - who took his first World title, and the first for Lennon Sails, in Japan. We were very fortunate to pick these great guys up. You can never take it for granted, working with the some of the best sailors in the world. You hope, as a sailmaker, you can deliver on their expectations. We've done a lot of hard work to make sure we can deliver what they need.

Mark: Having someone like Paul Goodison, an Olympic Gold medallist and America's Cup sailor, coming to Lennon must be a great boost of confidence for your business? Knowing sailors of the highest calibre respect your products.

Mike: As I say, you just can't take that for granted. When you're riding high and winning stuff, it's easy to get complacent. You've just gotta keep working and working and working. Even just now, I was writing an email to some sailors about what we wanted to do, going forward; so it never stops. Especially in the development classes. The 14 and the Moth have a great tradition of innovation. The Moth right now is a hotbed of innovation; a lot of money and time is being spent, some of it backed up by America's Cup campaigns, with great brains giving input on the decision-making and technical direction. I don't know for certain, but it must be the most 'worked on' dinghy class outside the Olympic Games.

Mark: In the International 14 you used to work very closely with Glen Truswell, but he retired from the class, so your 'jockey' was gone. Then the Worlds came along, and instead of a jockey, you had a win with a customer!

Mike: Yes! The 14s are in a slightly different place to the Moths; they are developing in a more subtle manner, more traditional tweaking of the sails - seam shaping and luff curve - and just finessing the product. When Glen retired, I was looking for someone and thought I'd get in touch with some up-and-coming youngsters. So I went to Neil Jones and Ed Fitzgerald - who I already knew, they were already using my sails - and asked if they wanted to work more closely, so I had direction and wasn't relying solely on customer responses. Those two immediately went an won the Europeans in Garda! I won't claim it was my influence, as they were pretty much using the standard product, but it was gratifying to see I was working with some very good guys. They gave Andy and Tom Partington - customers of mine and fellow Hayling Island SC members - a good run for their money at the Worlds. It was great to see a father and son combo put such a great regatta together.

Mark: This brings me on to one of the greatest facets of your sails, in the Moths and the 14s: it's the strength in depth. It's not just that you won the World title in each class; you absolutely dominated the overall results. What were the final stats?

Mike: For the Moth 1,3,4,5,7 in the top 10 and the 14s 1,2,8,9. Also current European and UK Nationals holders in both classes.

Mark: You mentioned that the 14s are finessing the sails, but on the Moths there are very visible changes The most noticeable in the last 12-18 months have been the deck-sweeper mainsails. When do those work, and when do they not work?

Mike: We're still learning about that. The general feeling after this season, if you look at the big regattas - the biggest being The Foiling Week - Dylan won with Paul a very close second, and both had a deck-sweeper and a conventional rig. The general feelings were: if you're struggling to foil, forget about the deck-sweeper. Once you are solidly foiling upwind, you can switch to the deck-sweeper, though it might lose out a little to the conventional rig on downwind legs. Upwind in say 14 knots and above the deck-sweeper has quite a big advantage. That's the current feeling. The upwind advantage outweighs the downwind disadvantage. But we're still early in the development - it's the first year - so I've got more ideas of my own and comments coming in.

Mark: You are known for your attention to detail. When you see your sails on the water they are immaculately presented. This extends into the Lennon Racewear collection of wetsuits, where the top materials and top designs are used. I hear the feedback from sailors has been exceptional. What was it like, getting in a market with some big-name players?

Mike: When I sailed the International 14 the crew would get wet up to the shoulders when launching as you'd have to get the rudder into quite deep water since it has foils. You'd be soaked before you even started. The same is true of the Moth; you have to swim the boat off the beach. On a January morning, you can be freezing cold before you even get moving. It's a very unpleasant way to start the day. So I concluded I needed to find kit that didn't leak, that just meant I was staying dry that first 10 minutes. I couldn't really find that kit, even looking outside the sailing world. In surfing and windsurfing keeping the water out is a bit more important. Those suits were more fragile and tended to get a lot of nicks and tears in a sailing environment. That concept of suit though, with a single lined outer doesn't absorb water, was better for my cold weather sailing. The outer sheds water and the windchill is vastly reduced.

So, having struggled to find what I wanted, I thought, "why don't I do my own?!" That didn't really happen until I left my old job and started my own company. But that was something I really wanted to do - I felt it was a niche that could be filled, to have a really well-thought out, comfortable, dry product. Using the best materials is of huge importance. Just like using bad material for a sail. The feedback we've been getting has been amazing, and I never get tired of hearing people tell me how good they think the product is.

Mark: Finally, over the last two years, you've been developing not only Moth sails, but the whole package, with the THINNAIR International Moth. It has been a long process, but you really seem to be getting there, with a fast boat design now. In the Weymouth event we've just had you were doing very well. Where are you in that process?

Mike: I'll be honest, it has been troublesome. There have been times where I felt, if I could go back to the beginning, I wouldn't start the project! It's one of those processes where everybody's learning. Myself, the designer and the builder, we all came at it fresh, and for that reason it has been a longer road that any of us would have liked. We are close now, though we had a tough start to the season with a lot of breakages. We've learned from that. We've just done a regatta this weekend where the attrition rate for the fleet was very high, with a lot of established boats not making it round due to breakages, and I managed to finish the event with none.

Plus, the boat was fast! So that was gratifying. I'd seen glimpses of that during the season, when I'd lined up with Paul Goodison and Dave Hivey, and was around the same speed! I was blown away by that. Now the foils are more reliable, and we've learnt a lot on the hull construction, so we are ready for production. We're just in the final stages of getting a boat ready for a customer. After painting we will fit out, and in a few weeks it will be delivered.

Mark: It's been fantastic watching a new brand in the sailing industry making such innovations, and having such success with the sails and the Racewear, and seeing the THINNAIR out on the water. The rest of 2018, and 2019, we will be watching out for that especially.

Mike: Thank you.

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