After a succession of cruising boats, David McLean's latest boat, a nimble X-37, has given him the chance to mix it up with the club racer fraternity.
For almost 30 years, I have continued a wondrous voyage of family cruising, sailing around the waterways of Sydney Harbour, Pittwater and Broken Bay on comfortable easy-to-sail cruising yachts.
My boats, my constant carriers and companions, have been named after nymphs, goddesses and a great navigator of the sea.
My first boat in 1980 was Naima(A Compass 28, named after a “sea nymph ” of Egyptian mythology – at least that's what the former owner told me!).
With my second boat, Nereide, a Kirie Feeling 32, I continued the sea nymph metaphor, but this time moving to her Mediterranean origins, since she was a French boat. My Bavaria 35 was Nereus, named after the great navigator of Greek mythology.
Tradition continued in 2005 with my new X-Yacht, coming from Denmark, obviously mandating a name from Norse mythology. Solveig was chosen – a Viking warrior's Queen, who was a tough warrior and sailor herself. A serendipitous added dimension was that Solveig, a character in Ibsen’s play ‘Peer Gynt’ and in Greig’s musical composition, came with her own musical theme. “Solveig's Song” gives the new boat her own signature tune. I chose this beautiful new X-37 primarily for her luxurious finish and high standards of Scandinavian craftsmanship, essentially to be a cruiser with creature comforts par excellence. However, the arrival of Solveig in January 05 created a challenging dilemma. She turned out to be much faster and more nimble than expected; I guess much like her namesake.
It became clear that although the naming tradition was a constant in my sailing life, the captain had a transition to make – racing as a possibility lay before me. The helpful folks at the distributor, North South Yachting, gave generously of their time in showing us family cruisers how to optimise the boat and sail it to performance. Even with cruising sails and plenty of “stuff ” below, we found our ‘cruiser-racer’ to be a real ” racer-in-cruising clothing”, This became apparent when we entered the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Cruise to Lake Macquarie in April 05 and surprised ourselves by being competitive against Sydney 38s and other well-credentialed racers. Getting a second and a third placing in our first regatta was a welcome surprise, since we were using cruising sails only – no kevlar or carbon yet (Amex, Visa and MasterCard would unfurl later!). Gaining second at the X-Yachts Owners' Regatta in March 05 was fun, as we were competing against our own marque.
So, the adrenaline kicked in, and we entered the Squadron's very enjoyable summer Friday Twilight season and won two firsts and a third. By now, it was clearly incumbent upon us to order “proper” sails. Appropriately, the roller furler cruising genoa is hibernating in the garage at home, and will reappear for the family cruising over the Christmas and Easter periods.
Having the sailmaker aboard for a race, showing us how to perfect our use of the new toys, was highly instructive (see box).
At The Squadron's 2006 Cruising Regatta, we gained a first placing and really enjoyed seeing how fast the X-37 “cruiser” could be against more race-purpose boats, sailed by highly experienced racing sailors.
Where did this racing urge come from after all these tranquil cruising years’ Undoubtedly it was the pedigree inbuilt into the boat – some kind of nautical DNA – that was inspiring us to enjoy competition so much, and to gain a few trophies along the way. In the 06-07 summer, we continue to do Friday Twilights, but are now competing in the enjoyable Sunday Pointscore Series at RSYS and presently lead that pointscore.
The momentum continued, and once the news arrived that the X-37 was winner overall – and all three classes – in the IMS 670 World Championships in Spain in August 06, the crew mutterings about “Hammo” and the Lord Howe race become hard to ignore. So, more challenges could be on our agenda, as much as I try to studiously ignore the mounting enthusiastic pressure.
The experience so far gained has shown us that with careful selection of the right boat, correct sails, and a willing crew of good friends eager to perform better, the transition from cruising to racing can be a rewarding, thrilling experience. The final learning for me is: it’s not just your boat’s nautical DNA, it’s also what’s in a name. Solveig confirmed that!
Issues that racing sailors know only too well became the order of the day for us to learn:
* Get excess weight out of the boat, particularly at each end
* Train the crew to concentrate on their own tasks
* Understand the boat's targets and sail accordingly
* Ensure good communication and common terminology
* Practise foredeck work (still our shortfall sometimes)
* Really understand the boat's particular dynamics and characteristics (in our case, managing the mainsheet more aggressively)
* Read sailing instructions, communicate them, and ensure all crew are in agreement about course, tactics, sail choice and so on
* Upgrade knowledge of rules, since there's always one other competitor who will be extra-aggressive at starts, or will push the rules to the limit trying to intimidate others
* Analyse performance data on competitors to understand exactly who the real threat is and plan tactics
* Remember to keep the hull clean, regularly check all gear, analyse our own performance to agree on next week's improvements.