Roll Tacks February 2011

If anyone is close to living the idyllic lifestyle, then it surely must be Andy Budgen. An Olympic squad 49er sailor in his day, including a silver medal at the 1998 49er Worlds with his brother Ian, Andy is a great talent who never took it seriously enough to make it to the Olympic Games. If he had made it to the Games, he would have thrived on the pressure; or rather, other people's pressure - because Andy doesn't ‘do' pressure. He is laid back to the point of being horizontal.

I must confess to being a bit jealous, because Andy has forged himself a life that keeps him in almost permanent sunshine. This is the third winter that Andy has disappeared downunder to Sydney to compete on the 18-foot skiff circuit, while he flies back up this way for the summer season for some paid professional sailing around the Solent and on big races like the Rolex Fastnet Race.
 
Originally I think the plan was a "six months here, six months there" scenario, but it seems that with every year the time in Australia grows by a month or so. Now it's more like eight months there, four months here. Who can blame him, with 18-foot skiff racing at the weekend and Moth sailing on Sydney Harbour to keep him occupied during the week? It's a hard-knock life.

Andy was particularly busy with the Moth in the build-up to the recent World Championships that took place up the road from Sydney at Lake Macquarie. It was his first Worlds, and so to finish 11th out of 109 was not too shabby. It also made him top Brit.

In the weeks leading up to the Worlds, all the talk was of the wing rig that had been developed by a group of Americans led by 2009 World Champion Bora Gulari. In the end Bora decided it was too risky to attempt the Worlds with this barely-tested rig, but another American, double Olympic medallist Charlie McKee took it on and finished 23rd overall.

The Worlds were dominated by double 49er World Champion Nathan Outteridge, who also enjoyed the advantage of local knowledge of the lake where he grew up. He was using a standard Mach 2 package with a few significant tweaks, such as smaller hydrofoils for the strong breezes, and different gear ratios between the bow wand and the flap on the central hydrofoil. Bora wasn't entirely joking when he said that one of Nathan's big advantages of having smaller wings on his foils meant he picked up less weed, which dogged the course and forced competitors to make up to five tactical capsizes per race just to clear their foils.

So after not dominating the Worlds, as some had feared it might, the wing is not such a controversial topic as it had been in the lead-up to Macquarie. I asked Andy his view on the wing. "I thought from a speed point of view it seemed on par with maybe someone like myself upwind. But it seemed prone to breakages, and when Charlie had used all the spare wings he went back to the standard soft sail for the rest of the Worlds."

So, what future for the wing? "The way I see it," says Andy, "there are two types of people attracted to the Moth -  the sailors and the boffins. There are some people who like boat work, messing about with boats and foils, and people who just want a bog-standard boat out of the box and go racing.

"The boffins were quite excited about having something they could mess around with. The American camp were looking for an advantage over the fleet, looking for a quantum leap forward and hoping to get a better result, win the worlds, whatever. I would say the general consensus was that, having seen the wing and the problems involved, it has probably put people off from adopting the wings."

Part of the problem with the wing at Macquarie was that the class rules weren't sufficiently well worded to determine whether or not the wing was race legal. So the class sought an emergency ruling from ISAF and the wing was allowed to race at the 2011 Worlds. Now the class has a few months' breathing room to formulate some better wording to govern this new technology, and the fleet will have a vote on it at the Europeans later this summer."


Currently, one of the attractions of the Moth is that you can buy a Mach 2 package and go very quick. The package isn't exactly cheap, but the boat-in-a-box concept has proven very popular, with more than 60 of the 109 competitors at Macquarie using Mach 2s.

That off-the-shelf option was what appealed to Andy Budgen, but if the wing became a must-have piece of equipment, would he stay? "Absolutely not! First they're expensive, and they don't look like a lot of fun to go sailing with,  particularly how you get it in and out of the water. Then you'd have to store it somewhere on shore, and as well as the up-front cost there'd be development costs too."
 
Then again, as Charlie McKee pointed out to me, without open development the class would never have adopted hydrofoils, although Andy remains unconvinced. "Prior to the class putting foils on, I wouldn't have gone anyway near the Moth. It was just a small, difficult, not particularly quick boat. I could have got a trapeze boat and gone faster. Now, though, with the foils I can beat all the 18 footers round the course, by miles. It's become a class that you want to get involved with.

"The foils were a quantum leap forward in performance, but even when the wing is sorted, it's not going to be noticeably better than what we've currently got. But the expense and logistics are so much greater."

Simon Payne came to Lake Macquarie as the reigning World Champion, having notched up a win in Dubai which surprised even Simon. The Hayling Island sailor hadn't done much practice for Dubai, but his light weight of around 65kg and long experience of the Moth stood him in good stead on that occasion. He also came to Macquarie unpractised, but this time his lack of weight told against him at what was predominantly a very windy venue.
 
Simon also has a commercial interest as the marketing man for the Mach II, yet as a Moth sailor of more than 20 years, he is more open minded to the idea of ongoing development than Andy.

"It's up to the wing builders to develop it into something which the class is happy about," says Simon. We will have a vote on this at some point.  I've been around long enough to see the Moth class grow rapidly through development like hydrofoils, but also shrink immensely through development. 

"My own feeling is I believe that with a Mach II at around US$20,000, it's reasonable to assume a wing on top of that is going to be another $9000 or $10,000, you're looking at a $30,000 boat in order to win. There is a collective feeling that we might wind up similar to the C Class catamarans, which is a great class but really only consists of a few highly expensive boats.

"That is the Moth class's destiny to a certain extent, but the people bringing the inventions into the class just have to understand that invention doesn't always mean growth."

Miami Nice


Will Ben Ainslie be going to the Olympic Games in 2012? If he does, he will surely win gold and surpass Paul Elvstrom as the most successful Olympic sailor of all time.

But that small ‘if' has grown into a big ‘IF', now that Giles Scott has beaten Ben twice in major international regattas. The first time was last August at Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, when Ben hadn't long been back in the boat. Ben finished 4th in Weymouth, bringing to an end a remarkable unbeaten run in the Finn that stretched all the way back to May 2004.

Then in January at Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, Giles did it again, claiming gold, relegating Ben to silver and Andrew Mills to bronze. A Skandia Team GBR clean sweep of the podium, which was repeated in the 49er fleet, with John Pink and Rick Peacock wrapping up the series before the Medal Race, ahead of Paul Brotherton/ Mark Asquith and Dave Evans/ Ed Powys.



 

The Brits scooped four gold, five silver, and five bronze medals across nine of the 12 events they contested, a mind-blowing set of numbers even by the standards of Skandia Team GBR.

 

The selectors face a big headache (but a nice one to have) in a number of classes, where it will be tougher to win British selection than the gold medal at the Games. Throw the reigning Finn World Champion, Ed Wright (not present in Miami) into the mix, and you can see why Big Ben is by no means a dead cert for Olympic selection.

 




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