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Challenger Coaching Weekend at Rutland Sailing Club

by Marion Edwards 1 May 06:22 BST 27-28 April 2024
Challenger Coaching Weekend at Rutland © Brett Cokayne

The weekend 27-28 April saw the first Challenger event of the season. It was a coaching weekend led by Brett Cokayne, the RYA's National Sailability Developer. On Sunday Brett was joined by Andy Gordon of Scaling Dam. The weekend was made possible with the support of RYA Sailability, Rutland Sailability and Rutland Sailing Club.

Saturday saw eleven sailors, from six different clubs and Sailability groups, meet promptly at 10:00 ready for sailing. For four of these sailors it was their first ever Challenger event (it is hoped it won't be their last!). Four of the visiting sailors were loaned Rutland Sailability Challengers and they were very grateful to have such good quality boats.

There was a brisk north easterly wind (F4 gusting F5) and it was very cold but after an initial briefing the fleet headed out on the water. This was easier said than done as there was an awkward leeshore. The Challengers were split between two slips. One had it easy being able to launch the Challengers conventionally stern first with a fully weathercocked sail. The other slip needed a bows first launch which is best avoided unless absolutely necessary as a tall, drysuited volunteer is required at the bow.

The fleet started with a "Round the clock" exercise covering all points of sail. Rory McKinna commented that while he'd done this activity before in a monohull it was rather different in a multihull with more care needed to avoid stalling on the tight turns. Tim Cripps (ex-Laser sailor) found the activity useful to start to get to grips with the manoeuvrability of the Challenger and its controls.

This was followed by a "follow my leader" exercise. On a whistle this turned into a practice start with sailors coming up on the wind and then tacking on the whistle while trying to hold their lane. The activity was then reversed with a bear away and gybing on the whistle.

The fleet then came in for lunch and to warm up. Discussion over lunch was wide ranging and included much good-natured banter. Richard Triffitt wanted to know if it was better to sail freer and faster upwind or point higher and go slower (the answer seemed to depend on who he asked). Tim expressed disappointment at having to put his winter thermals on and there was discussion of gloves and liners better suited to the winter months. David Craig commented that he had learnt so much more by sailing with other Challengers rather than his usual experience of coming last when racing against other classes.

The afternoon session consisted of a number of short (mainly one lap) races. The cold eventually got to Nick Bett who, after sailing the beat, decided to lift centreboard for the run only to find it was already up! At that point he concluded his brain was frozen along with everything else and wisely decided to come in before the last race. Pauline Shaw decided to stick it out for the last race expecting it to be a single lap and was most disappointed when it turned into a two lap one!

After sailing it emerged that Mike O'Connor had an excellent win in the last race, it's just a pity that he infringed Val Milward at the start! Graham Hall commented that "X and Y were flying but not necessarily in the right direction" (Graham is of the "point higher and go slightly slower" school of thought). He also observed that Val made a beautiful port tack start but couldn't quite capitalise on it (to be fair she wasn't sailing her preferred boat). Dave Hodson was relieved to discover, that after doing some fairly serious maintenance on his mast box, his boat was no longer taking in water (and it was the sort of day when any weakness would be found).

The forecast for Sunday was not encouraging with slightly more wind and heavy rain starting in the early hours and persisting at least through the morning. Mike considered his options and decided a bunk in the clubhouse was more appealing than his tent. He did not regret his decision (saying it was £30 well spent!) especially as Andy's arrival was delayed because his campervan was initially bogged down in a campsite and refusing to budge.

Overnight the wind had swung westerly and it was predominantly F4/5 gusting F6 occasionally F7. The direction and strength rendered one of the slips unusable as the waves were bouncing chaotically off the pontoon. There was much staring at waterlogged ground and waterlogged Challengers in the bitingly cold wind. The cancellation of club racing confirmed the decision that it was going to be a theory day and no one objected.

The day started with a video debrief of the on the water sessions including continuing the fast and free (Nick) versus the pointing higher and slower (Graham) debate: the conclusion seemed to be that the "sweet spot" was somewhere in between. Looking at the video Brett also asked sailors very specific questions "Why did you do this?" and "How did you do that?" and really made them think.

There were further discussions about applying the rules at mark, how to approach the beat under different conditions and tell tales.

A number of sailors commented that the discussions were inclusive (Pauline) and collaborative (Dave) with insightful questions (Rory). So although Sunday was all theory, it was far from passive. Caz Jerromes said it had been a very informative and enjoyable weekend.

Thanks are due to Brett Cokayne and Andy Gordon, RYA Sailability and Rutland Sailing Club. Thanks also to Rutland Sailability for loan of their RIB, Challengers and to their volunteers (particularly those involved in the bows first launches), and to the additional volunteers who came to help simply because we asked them to! Finally, thanks to Val Millward and Annie Molyneux who organised the entire weekend.

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