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Challenger Coaching Weekend at Rutland Sailing Club

by Marion Edwards 18 Apr 2023 15:03 BST 15-16 April 2023
Challenger Coaching at Rutland © Liz Newton

The weekend 15-16 April saw a new venture for the Challenger Class Association with two days of dedicated coaching available to members who had some racing experience. The weekend was made possible with generous funding from RYA Sailability and was supported by both Rutland Sailing Club and Rutland Sailability.

The sailors began to gather on Friday afternoon and the visiting boats were assembled (in the rain). Saturday saw 17 sailors, from seven clubs and Sailability groups, meet promptly at 10:00 ready for sailing. The sailors were split into Advanced and Intermediate groups with the understanding that sailors could switch as necessary.

Before the weekend sailors had been asked what they wanted to get out of the weekend so that the coaches could plan accordingly. Not surprisingly the expected comments included "upwind tactics", "mark rounding", "downwind sailing by the lee", etc. but one sailor simply said "I want to be at the front of the fleet"! We will see as the season progresses if they have achieved their aim. Bruce Bonar, one of the coaches, also pointed out that the weekend offered the opportunity to go out and try something different because if it didn't work nothing was lost.

At the initial briefing it was acknowledged that it was going to be a light wind weekend and we needed to make the most of Saturday because Sunday looked worse. However, there was some relief that the gale force winds earlier in the week had gone.

After the briefing the two fleets headed out on the water. This was easier said than done as Rutland Water is full to overflowing and the limited grassy areas near the slips were very muddy and got progressively muddier as the weekend went on.

Initially there was a light but sailable breeze but this faded and many sailors found themselves paddling in for lunch. After lunch there was an extended briefing because there was so little wind but once the boats launched for the afternoon session the breeze built to give the best sailing of the day.

The Intermediate group practised boat control starting with "follow the leader" with the aim of keeping about one and a half boat lengths apart. This was followed by stopping and starting on the start line which led naturally to some practice starts.

In the morning the Advanced group started by sailing in pairs to compare different sail settings on all points of sail. In the afternoon they had a series of short races focussing on upwind tactics and the pros and cons of the different approaches to the windward mark (including when not to approach it on port!).

During the day there were a couple of unfortunate incidents which were not what Bruce meant when he said "Try something different"... one arm was left sporting an impressive bruise and one boat acquired a gaffer tape patch. This led to one of the sailors (not involved in either incident) observing that sailing was (supposed to be) a non-contact sport.

The day ended with debriefings for both groups including video analysis of what went well (and less well).

First thing on Sunday morning it looked as if the weather was going to be as forecast as there was a flat calm but gradually the breeze built and turned into a better wind for training than Saturday.

The Intermediate sailors had one substantial on the water session where they first practiced sailing a course and then had a number of short races.

The Advanced sailors had two sessions. In the first they did one lap races on a windward - leeward course. In the second they started with a few one lap leeward - windward races to practice downwind starts. They then switched to a two lap triangular course using a conventional upwind start.

At the final debrief there was more video analysis and discussion of what had been achieved during the weekend. One of the most experienced sailors said the weekend had given the sailors the opportunity to practice their sport which is something that sailors don't do enough and it allowed them to get rid of some bad habits and relearn good ones. One of the Intermediate sailors has commented that "I never thought I would learn so much in just two days!". So all in all the weekend was a great success.

Thanks are due to: the coaches Bruce Bonar and Greg Baldock (both of Rutland Sailing Club) and David Newton (safety boat, mark layer and photography boat!); RYA Sailability particularly Joff McGill, Rutland Sailing Club, Rutland Sailability and all the (muddy) volunteers working on the slipways. Finally, thanks to Val Millward and Annie Molyneux who organised the entire weekend.

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