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Zhik 2024 March - LEADERBOARD

Shaking off the rust

by Mark Jardine 18 Mar 20:00 GMT
Race Practice on Sunday at Keyhaven © Helen Farquharson

While I had sailed a couple of times already this year, Sunday was what I'd count as the start of my 'sailing season'. It's been a pretty grim February in the UK (the fourth wettest since records began in 1871) so the days getting longer and a bit drier is welcome.

Although it's always tricky to get motivated in March, when you're feeling rusty and a little apprehensive. Couple that with the weather apps warning of 25 knot gusts, and you wake up to driving rain belting against the windows, and it does nothing for my motivation. It's tempting to stay in the warm and say to yourself that next week will be better, but that's no way to start as you mean to continue.

So, this Sunday, my eldest son and I ignored the wind meter at Hurst Castle and headed down to our local club at Keyhaven to take part in the first practice race training day. If there's a way to shake off the rust, then six short races on a tight course was certainly the way to do it!

To get things started for the year, I crewed for my son in the RS Feva. Usually, he'll be sailing a Laser 4.7 - sorry, I mean ILCA 4 of course - but being in the boat with him meant I could give him some tips to start things off in the right way.

I've done this before with him during Covid, when we had to sail in family bubbles, but in the few years that have passed since then my knees and hips certainly felt stiffer and less supple. Or maybe it was just that it was during the summer when it was warmer, or my memory blocking out the aches. For the early part of the season I'll continue to crew in the Feva with my younger son, so it is time for some yoga, me thinks...

Parent and child sailing is fantastic and needs to be encouraged more. Dinghy supremo Ben McGrane has been singing its praises in the Mirror class, which has had a strong revival in the UK. There's an enormous sense of satisfaction watching your children learn while sailing with you, and it is far easier than trying to communicate with them from a RIB. Just getting a few of the basics nailed on Sunday, and lots of great starting practice, felt like it made a real difference in a short space of time.

It was hugely encouraging to see the best part of 30 boats out for the training. Keyhaven Yacht Club is only small, but there have been a number of initiatives running for a few years which have really borne fruit. The Get Sailing Group has introduced quite a few new sailors to the water, first crewing in Scows, then helming, pottering around the rivers and creeks, and now getting involved in the racing.

While Wednesday evening racing has been hugely popular at the club, Sundays have sometimes suffered with low attendance. If this training day is anything to go by, then it's obvious that quite a few people are keen to race more in 2024.

None of this would have happened without the support of the volunteers, and a couple of the hot-shot racers giving tips to the sailors before and during each quick race. Often it can be the simplest of suggestions, seen from off the boat, which can transform someone's sailing in their early racing journey. Recommending feathering the mainsail upwind instead of fighting the tiller during a gust, can lead to a far greater sense of control, as well as the speed benefit, and helps make the newer racers hungry for more. Sunday was full of that, and the dinghy park abounded with smiling faces once back ashore.

Another encouraging signal for 2024 was how quickly the volunteer positions for race officer and support boat crews have been filled for the next few months. In previous years a plea usually goes out on WhatsApp mid-week for more people to sign up, warning that racing won't go ahead unless the support is there, so having this done already will make the conversation on the group far more positive, which should lead to more wanting to race - a lovely virtuous circle.

As I wrote in 'Your club needs you', volunteering is rewarding and, without doubt, watching the racing helps with your own sailing. You see things that you otherwise wouldn't see, and can watch techniques other sailors use, which you can implement yourself in the next race.

I know here I'm writing about the microcosm of sailing at my local club, but I've often found that things are mirrored elsewhere. True, it's a mixed picture, and some clubs will be thriving while others languish, but there is no time like the present to both get out on the water, and volunteer at your club. Yes, in the southern hemisphere you're heading into autumn now, but I don't think that's an excuse; the Australian winter can often have better days than UK summer...

2024 has started incredibly well on the global scene, with events like the Arkéa Ultim Challenge - Brest catching the world's attention, and Cole Brauer's Global Solo Challenge building a huge following, plus there is so much more to come with the Olympics, America's Cup and Vendée Globe on the horizon. Wouldn't it be exciting to also have a big uptick in participation as well? This year really could be a shining year for sailing, with no signs of rust at all.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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