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Lowrider Moths at Nantwich & Border Counties Sailing Club

by Dougal Henshall 18 Apr 2023 17:00 BST 15-16 April 2023
Prime 8 - Lowrider Moths at Nantwich & Border Counties SC © Dougal Henshall

Searching for a Sixpence on a (foggy) Chelsea Morning

Those of you who read my other rambling missives will know that one of my main and recurring themes is on how many of the current trends in dinghy racing seem to be optimised to suck the very fun out of being afloat. Interminable delays whilst a 'perfect' start line and course are laid, and then the tedium of repetitive w/l courses, raced in boats that MUST be identical; it helps take away not only the enjoyment, but so much of the individuality.

Almost the diametric opposite of this mindset was on display at the weekend with the arrival of the Lowrider International Moths at the picturesque setting of Nantwich & Borders Sailing Club. One of the exciting aspects of the UK dinghy scene is its diversity, yet the Moths seem to celebrate this with an even wider range of boats that spread from what are in effect 'little' versions of bigger classes (such as the pretty Shelley Moth, which shares so much of its DNA with Shelley's Cherubs) right the way through to the super skinny hulls that were the last gasp of design thinking before the addition of foils saw them lift up and fly.

However, with the forecast for the weekend it looked as if having one of the extreme narrow hulls might not be the best option, as the biggest number in the forecast wind range was a seven... and that was mph, not kts. The early arrivals on Saturday morning would have seen that the forecasters had called it right as, after leaving the M6 to head westwards, the driving was more a case of playing Blind Man's Bluff along country lanes in the rolling banks of fog.

On arrival, the mists were still thick enough that ghostly outlines of the ranks of Solos and GP14s that are the backbone classes at the club could be seen, but of the lake itself there was nothing.

Thankfully the best events seem capable of creating their own good luck and even as the first smells of coffee and breakfast were being detected, the sun broke through and a light breezy wafted away any lingering mist. It was clear that this was never going to be a breezy day, but with a practice and information sharing exercise scheduled, the conditions were ideal.

Boats were rigged with one visitor attracting a lot of attention, as David Balkwill had travelled all the way north from Brittany in France with his uber-slim 'Little Wing' that he had designed himself.

Once again, various version of the Magnum, the iconic boats designed by Mervyn Cook (who will soon be featuring in an upcoming 'Wise Man' article) and built by John Claridge would be getting a lot of attention. Further up the M6 at Aintree the Grand National would be taking place on the same afternoon, but at Nantwich the serious betting was all going on Lyndon Beasley with his well-travelled Magnum 6.

Now this is a boat that could easily act as a poster girl for the fleet, as it had first featured in one of my missives back in 2015, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The event back then had been at Oxford which had been sailed in very different conditions, which had started windy and then freshened from there.

Back then it had been far too breezy for racing, but a few brave souls ventured out for a blast, only for a hairy capsize of what became known as the 'Yellow Submarine' resulting in the helm trying to get inside the hull. The damaged remains were then subject to a further indignity when an errant cow got into the workshop and somehow managed to make the repair job even bigger.

It says much for the skills that are in the fleet that not only had the holes been repaired, but the boat now sported a smart vanished deck and paint job, a notable change from the early days of Moth sailing when keeping the boat together was far more important that the aesthetics!

This also highlights one of the problems facing the Lowrider fleet, as the boats from way back when were from the outset lightly constructed and never thought of as something that would enjoy a long lifespan. That lightness and pre-epoxy construction, often completed by people who would never really claim to be wood workers, resulted in many of the clever designs of the day becoming extinct.

At Nantwich, with the promise of some breeze coming "later" an early lunch was taken, with plenty of food on hand all day that would allow a good degree of grazing. Turn the clock back 40 years or more and the old saying was (to paraphrase Kate Moss) that there was nothing as quick as being slim, so all day food could have been a disastrous distraction, instead it fuelled a number of discussions surrounding not only the range of boats that were rigged, but the even bigger number that were known about, in restoration or awaiting their day in the workshop.

High on the list of topics was the ongoing search for two of the real game changers for the Moths that date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Lucky Sixpence and the Chelsea Morning. Although a number of each of these designs had been built, none are known to have survived (yet).

Barn finds do still appear, and the hope is that one day someone will utter the immortal words "there's this boat in the roof of my garage" (Moths didn't take up a lot of space) or that someone will invest in the production of a 'repro' version using modern build techniques and epoxy. As the diverse fleet currently all sail together under PY anyway, there's nothing to stop an adventurous builder putting something together and joining in with all the fun afloat and ashore.

With lunch finally finished the sun was shining strongly, which made the beers that were included in the entry fee look very attractive, but the object of the exercise was to sail and so the boats went afloat. The plan had been that ace sailor in the Moth and RS600, Ian 'Spiderman' Marshall, would conduct on-water coaching inside the format of some short races, but the wind was so fickle that the idea of anything formalised was dropped in favour of just free practice that saw sailors swapping from boat to boat.

Just how fickle the wind could be was seen when one sailor was spotted sat right up on the wing bar, only to find himself having to move in sharply when the breeze suddenly switched off again. Also showing well was a British Moth that had joined the group for the day and demonstrated just why this 90-year-old boat (see www.yachtsandyachting.com/news/248709/Welsh-Moths) is still such a clever performer on restricted inland waters.

For both the sailors and the spectators onshore, many of whom are already searching for Moths to restore, the afternoon was just a delight of sailing purely for pleasure at what must be one of the prettiest locations anywhere for a sailing club. The lake, or to give it the correct title, Doddington Pool, is part of the Doddington Estate, with the splendour of the Grade 1 listed Donnington Hall peeking through the trees at the western end of the water.

The pool itself is not a natural feature and instead was created by the great master of landscape gardening Capability Brown in the mid-1700s and is a real English gem: even the small bridge is not what it seems, instead the arches mask the entrance to the estate boat house!

After a varied and interesting afternoon, the beers arrived followed by dinner, with an evening of varied entertainments, though the question as to the hallucinogenic qualities of the marshmallows will have to remain unanswered! Back in the glory days of the Moth fleet evening excesses were not unknown and the keepers of the flame for this bit of the class have shown that they've lost none of the knack for late night overindulgence.

The plan for the Sunday was for a short series of races just for the Moths, then they could later join in with the regular club racing. There was a little more wind than had been enjoyed on the Saturday but sadly this was accompanied by a persistent drizzle.

In the shifty breezes it was all about getting the shifts right which suited Lyndon Beasley, whose time in the class allowed him to sail with his head out of the boat. Even so, on the close reaches the narrow boats gave plenty of indication of just how quick they would be once there was a little more weight in the wind.

After dominating the Moth races, Lyndon in the Magnum would give a great demonstration of just how good a Moth can be as an inland waters boat, with a reminder to the Solos and Lasers of just how quickly Moths pick up and accelerate in the lightest of gusts.

Full marks then to the Nantwich club for their organisation and hospitality, both of which everyone enjoyed to the full despite the lack of breeze. For the Lowrider Moths, the weekend was a great opportunity to ramp up the on-water practice after a winter of work, whilst showcasing to the visitors just what a fun genre of sailing the group represents.

The numbers are certainly encouraging, not only with those boats and owners that are already known about, but of the rewarding number of hopefuls who aim to join them. In the interim, someone might even surprise us all by revealing that they know of a Lucky Sixpence or Chelsea Morning lurking somewhere, we can but hope.

Whatever boats return to the water (some of them will be getting wet for the first time in decades) one thing is for certain: the Lowrider Moths will continue to deliver the preservation of a big chunk of our dinghy racing heritage, all laced with a huge degree of FUN.

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