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Hyde Sails 2023 SIBS - LEADERBOARD

Ben & Keira's Mirror Worlds Win

by Mark Jardine 1 Sep 14:00 BST
Ben & Keira McGrane win the Mirror Worlds 2023 at Sligo © Michael Broaders

I spoke to Ben McGrane to find out more about how he and daughter Keira won the Mirror World Championship in Sligo, Ireland at the end of July, how their Hyde Sails performed, and what their future plans are.

Mark Jardine: We talked about the Mirror Worlds at the RYA Dinghy Show. And this was clearly the focus of your 2023 season. To then go and win it, you must be over the moon.

Ben McGrane: Yes, we've been in the Mirror class a few years now, really a 4-year process, probably not consciously from the very beginning, but working towards this event. Certainly for the last year or two, the Worlds was very much on my radar, something that was there and something that we could go and do. It was always very much depend on Keira, her development and whether she was going to be keen enough and wanting to do it at nine years old. It all worked out and she was very much up for it.

Mark: To win this with Keira must make it extra special.

Ben: I suppose it's special on all levels. I've got this tendency at World Championships to come second, including four times at the International 14 Worlds, which I've had a go at helming and crewing, and come second both ways around. So it's nice to actually finally win one, which sounds silly in a way, but it's been a long term goal and nice to have finally got one. To have done it with my daughter is that next level special really.

Mark: The Mirror class has had a huge revival in the last decade, with a lot of people who may have grown up around the Mirror and now sailing as parent and child pairings. Do you think the Mirror is a great boat for that?

Ben: The Mirror still does things that I think no other boat that has come onto the market necessarily does. I think, like many classes, it's done quite well with the switch to plastic boats requiring far less maintenance, although gel coat with young kids is always quite entertaining with a V shaped bow! There are still the wooden boats out there, good wooden boats, like Duffins, which you can buy for £1,500, so there's a good entry point into the class there. I think, probably more importantly in a way, people are picking plastic boats for £3,500 - £4,000 which are ten years old and still competitive. They're made with 10mm foam, so they're almost over built really in terms of the stiffness of the boats, which makes it a fairly affordable way to go sailing with your kids. The re-sale value is incredibly good as well!

Mark: With the event being held in Ireland did you find that the event also acted as a holiday?

Ben: No, not really! I think that everything has levels, doesn't it? But one thing that the Mirror class do very well these days is Abersoch Mirror Week, which we're off to next week, the format is two races a day that are around 30-40 minutes long, just off the beach, and it's kind of more about building sandcastles than it is about racing. And that's probably the most highly attended event in the calendar. The Worlds is a Worlds, you're out there for six hours on the water in the rain, and it was a proper test of all these young kids that were doing it. We raced in some pretty big winds and we raced in some pretty light winds, and the bay was very well suited to the Mirror as it was sort of a natural amphitheater like Plymouth, but it was a World Championship and was a reflection of everything that Nationals or World Championships are in sailing these days. It was a week-long with long days on the water.

Mark: When you're sailing with a nine-year-old, do you find that at times the concentration is going to go and they're going to say, 'I've had enough now can we go out in and eat lunch?' How do you motivate Keira to keep going during those times?

Ben: There's definitely a bit of bribery in the early days, with sweets and ice creams. I have just been negotiating with my younger daughter this week, with a sweet at every mark at the very beginning and then a sweet every lap, weaning her off slowly. But yes, if she gets through two races at Abersoch she'll get an ice cream afterwards. It sounds awful, doesn't it. But I think in a way, you have to get the kids to understand it all a little bit, to give them an incentive to stay out there for them to then realise that they do actually enjoy sailing. You know, and it's splashy, and it's cold, and all that side of things. But I think the one thing we've always done with our kids at the point they say they want to go in, we go in. If you can say to them, right, it's time to go in before they even get to that stage where they're thinking about going in, then that's always a bit of a win. I can think back to when I first started with Keira, and you go out and you start a race and you get to the windward mark, and that wasenough, then you literally don't even manage a lap, and you just have to take that on the chin and remember it's lots of small steps. Whereas I look at Keira now, and there she is, super competitive, and there's never any doubt that she's going to stay out there and do all the races. There's still plenty of food in our boat, but she just wants to be out there. She wants to do it. It's amazing how much a nine-year-old can eat over the course of a day on the water! They're growing! Keep them fed, keep them happy! That and keeping them warm, but yeah, that's pretty much it.

Mark: And you've spoken about how this has worked for you on a personal level, but professionally, as well with your own role at Hyde Sails to win with your own sails up must be feel like a double win for you.

Ben: The Mirror is a recognisable class and it's always funny when you have a Mirror at the Dinghy Show, just how many people associate with the class. 71,000 of them have been built, so there's a lot of history there. It's worked really well with Hyde Sails, linking with something I was obviously doing on a personal level. We've targeted this class and made some fantastic sails, and all the associated covers and accessories, which have been selling really well this year, which has been really pleasing to see. It's a class we'll continue to work with moving forwards.

Mark: After a week like the Worlds, where you've got pretty much all the top Mirror sailors competing, have you looked at certain things on the sail design and thought of things you could improve slightly?

Ben: I think we're largely in a in a really good place with the sails. I think probably if there was an area which I want to think about going forwards, it's that there's quite a broad weight range with the Mirror. Part of that is in tuning, and part of that is in the sail design, in terms of how you potentially set up differently for a team that's 90 kilos compared to a team of 110 kilos. We're near the top end of the weight range and we don't really change anything other than jib cunningham. Whereas now where I've got Roz now starting to sail with Keira, and I'm now going to be sailing with Evie, and I'm going to be back down at sub-100 kilos with Roz and Kira at 90 kilos, and that's probably where the rake setting starts to come back in a little bit again, I used to run 2 settings with Keira when we were lighter and that is probably where I am back to now with a smaller crew and generally. It's also amazing how rig tension impacts the fullness of the jib entry on the mirror so again it has a lot of potential but it's all hard to impossible to change on the water so this is where I always think it is important to keep it very simple and not have too many settings. There are a few little tweaks maybe to the jib, in terms of luff lengths and bits we might play around with, but for the most part we've done four years, and we've put a lot of work in, and the sails are pretty well sorted at this stage.

Mark: For those joining the Mirror class, or maybe returning for the first time from when they sailed them as a kid, now having a single part mast rather than the gaff rig, if you've got a tuning guide that says keeps it simple, with cunningham adjustments, and if you're on the light side, adjust the rake, this must make the tuning guide pretty easy for these sailors.

Ben: I think this is, and this is the bit where I come in really, as a key point in selling any sails is that you've got to have the supporting documentation. You've got to be willing to share your settings and your numbers and all the information. I think Hyde Sails as a company, do make sure that we produce the supporting tuning guides and, fundamentally, if you take the sails and the equipment that we're specifying, and you put it on the settings, we're telling you you're going to be there or thereabouts. Then of course you can evolve it, as everyone likes to do, tweak it and see where you end up. But it's a critical part of what we do.

Mark: With Abersoch Mirror Week coming up, which I understand is as much about sandcastles on the beach as sailing, you've got two McGrane boats there.

This is the next evolution really, Keira's now fired me, and is moving on to her next chapter, so we're sort of going to see how it all goes. We've got two boats on a double trailer, as we've seen with other families in the mirror class, which I think is a pretty nice idea. We're just gonna have to see how it goes with Roz and Keira. I'm pretty sure next week, I'll probably be on the beach 50% of the time, because Evie's really young and I'm not sure how keen she'll be. But you know, at the same time if it's blowing 25 knots I'm not sure how keen Keira and Roz will be. The theme of it all is just generally playing it by ear. I think Keira is quite keen to do some helming as well, which again, the Mirror does really well as it's a lot easier trying to teach a kid how to helm when you're on the boat with them, rather than when you're following them around in an Opti, Tera, or whatever it might be,. Every day is a different day, and were just having fun with it, really,

Mark: This brings me on to transitions. Where Keira is going from a position of world champion, and then we'll be helming. It's almost like going back to the bottom rung of the ladder. How are you going to handle that transition with her?

Ben: There's been a few conversations about it, for sure. For me with Evie we're going to take a a big step back from where Keira and I have got to, and then Keira sailing with Roz as well. Roz hasn't really helmed for 20+ years, so there's going be lots of learning going on in both ends of that boat. They are going to have to figure it all out again and the experience for Keira learning to sail with a different helm and what that potentially means, for sure me and Roz will do things differently like all helms do and when you step in a boat with anyone new it's all about adapting. So Keira is going to have to go through a period where she isn't necessarily right at the front certainly will they get to grips with it, but I think that would be true if she and I went and got an RS200 or another class, so you're always going to have to go through that process. I think it'll be interesting to see how she how she deals with all of it.

Mark: This is a journey that we've going to end up checking in with quite often, in the same way as we did during the Dinghy Show, so we can see what works, what doesn't and what advice that you'll give to parents who are following a similar path. This is important as I believe that parent and child sailing is a superb pathway for long-term participation.

Ben: The Mirror is definitely seeing a resurgence, partly due to it being a very good little boat. But fundamentally when you go to the Nationals or Worlds, or even Abersoch Mirror Week, it's largely parents sailing with kids and the Mirror class is filling that niche, outside of the RYA's support system and pathways. That's comes with its own merit, that the Mirror was replaced as a junior boat, and that the class, whether through accident or on purpose, has found its place. I don't think it's ever going to be a 200 boat fleet at the Nationals, but it's clearly growing. Two things are very evident: all the kids are having a great time with each other and all the parents having a great time with each other, and that's what is important. Rather than an event you go to and push the kid out and then stand there on the shore and drink cups of coffee, the parents are out there doing it as well. It's just got a really good vibe about it. I very much followed that pathway when I was as a kid, and it seemed a natural way to get my own kids sailing. There's a lot of parents starting to appear now who haven't necessarily sailed a Mirror before, so it's gone to the next level. That's pretty cool to see.

Mark: I'm absolutely sure it will. Congratulations again to you and Keira for the win, and we'll now be following the family rivalry in the races that you do.

Ben: As long as we don't have any port / starboard incidents it'll be fine!

Find out more about Hyde Sails Mirror sails and accessories at

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