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Through the eye of a needle

by Mark Jardine 25 Jul 20:00 BST
Thread the Needles day © Mark Jardine

Saturday was a day which will live in the memories of many of the youth sailors at my home club of Keyhaven for a long time, for all the right reasons.

It was the day of the 'Thread the Needles' event, where they sailed out of the confines of Keyhaven and Hurst Castle, into the Solent, out through the Hurst Narrows, across to the Isle of Wight side, tacking up through Colwell Bay, Totland Bay and Alum Bay, then around the Needles lighthouse and back through the gap in the Needles, with an epic downwind sail home.

Conditions need to be just right to make this happen, using the ebb tide to get there and the first of the flood tide to get home. There needs to be enough wind, but not too much, so it's hugely exciting when the forecast plays ball and the decision is made to go ahead with the adventure.

It's no small undertaking shepherding 27 kids and 15 boats on a sail like this, and I take my hat off to Alastair Craig for organising it. Any problems with the boats are going to get found when out in the open sea, and for the young sailors the size of the waves, combined with a decent breeze, is a real challenge. They all sailed incredibly well, and while there were a few rescues necessary, it all happened just about as smoothly as could reasonably be expected.

The 'gap' in the Needles isn't a completely clear stretch of water, as there are a couple of rocks lurking just beneath the waterline, so we had to create a transit for the boats to pass through using the RIBs, then guiding the sailors with hand signals to make sure they were central in the safe corridor. Once through the gap, the smiles were wide and the exhilaration obvious. This was an adventure they weren't going to forget in a hurry.

The return trip was much faster, planing downwind with a brief stop on the Island shore in Totland Bay for lunch. Then a fast reach across the Hurst Narrows, as the wind built to a peak of 23 knots, and back into the sheltered water behind Hurst Castle.

Once ashore they were understandably tired, but elated. They had so many stories to tell each other; how they surfed down a wave, sorted a capsize when the daggerboard came out, the wind shadows behind the cliffs, the views of Alum Bay, and the chairlift which runs from the top to the beach; the list goes on... as will the chat.

Over time the stories of the day may well get taller: the waves will have been ten feet high, the winds up to gale force, the tide causing whirlpools that could swallow a supertanker... It was a sail that will turn into legend for them.

Out in San Diego another epic sail took place, with the running of the 49th Dutch Shoe Marathon. Around 150 young sailors (and some not-so-young) sail between La Playa Cove (San Diego Yacht Club) and Glorietta Bay (Coronado Yacht Club) during a seven-mile race in Sabot dinghies.

Conditions can be challenging, with short, steep waves, and the Sabot dinghy isn't exactly big or speedy, so the race takes a few hours.

The Dutch Shoe Marathon is a rite of passage, and something every Sabot sailor in the area has marked in their diary from the day the event is scheduled. Once again it goes to show how mixing up the format of sailing, showing off the diversity of what we do, is so important.

Ronan Servais, who was awarded the title - while of course delighted to take the win - summed up everything that's good about our sport: "I had a lot of fun sailing with my friends".

Sailing is a marathon, not a sprint. Nurturing a love for being on the water in those formative years is what will be the backbone of a child's journey though sailing, navigating the ups and downs through whatever path they take in the marine world.

Saying that, there are rare times when a marathon is completed at sprint pace, and the design and home-build of James Sainsbury's latest foiling Moth is a prime example of that. Just after the UK Nationals he decided he needed a new boat to replace his previous 'Valkyrie' (which we also documented the build of) so he drew a rough design on a piece of paper and got to work.

In less than five weeks he has gone from idea to reality, completing the fit-out in the garden of an AirBnB house in France, then taking the boat for its first sail on Sunday ahead of the International Moth Europeans in Quiberon.

James is a true character of the Moth fleet, and this epic build is an incredible achievement. We wish him the best of luck at the Europeans, but in my book, he's winning already by just being there in the new boat.

So all-in-all it has been a momentous week for sailing. For sure there have also been big, glitzy events around the world with the winners rightly lauded, but it's the quirky and niche events or achievements - which both challenge and thrill sailors young and old everywhere - that have piqued my interest today, and continue to demonstrate the vast span of options that we have available when on the water.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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