Many, many years ago, when I was a lad, I attended a fairly typical Grammar School, which was probably not a bad place in its way. One of its most glaring faults to my eyes, and I confess that in those days I did tend to see the faults of most things rather than their virtues, was its almost religious belief in the value of sport. I was Not Good at Games, which, in that setting, was almost a description of a personality disorder. Well it's forty years since those shivering November mornings and their memory has subsided though it has never completely gone away, it just festers gently. I no longer loathe sport, I am merely indifferent; if other people want to do it that's fine, though, in general, I would rather they didn't do it near me.
This year's Olympic Games were remarkable in that it was the first time I had ever watched a sporting event with any interest or enthusiasm. Nothing to do with the Olympics of course, I can't be bothered with all that nonsense. No, it was the novices race at Loch Tummel; for a while there I almost saw what it is that everyone else gets so excited about, but then I knew all the competitors and I did not want anyone in particular to win, but for all of them to do better, so perhaps not. All this rambling is leading up to saying that I am not the obvious person to speak in favour of racing. I sell sailing canoes (or try to) and in talking to potential customers I naturally try to emphasize the superior windward qualities of our boats. Frequently the customer will say that he or she has no intention of racing and that performance does not matter; then I launch into the same old rigmarole about how performance only really matters when you are cruising and that racing is just a game, but good practice and so on.
Jan and I learned to sail on an engineless Wharram cat that we built ourselves and that we also lived on for a while. We became expert at kedging off mud banks and moderately competent at some other aspects of boat handling and navigation, but I now realise that, after about ten years of sailing, we couldn't really sail at all. The art of getting about in a boat consists to a considerable extent in trying to work with the wind i.e. avoiding sailing to windward. It was not until I started racing a sailing canoe that I learned to sail to windward. Of course racing anything can lead to an unwholesome specialisation in gear but even that has not happened in canoe sailing as much as in other sports, perhaps because the keenest racers are also the keenest cruisers. Although I like the look of traditional rigs, it has not been possible to avoid noticing that our bermudan rig is actually a better cruising rig than any of the more picturesque alternatives. Besides being faster and closer winded, it is also cheaper, more durable, easier to reef and easier to stow.
We have talked a lot in the group about levels of competence and about training and we have recently had the excellent training meet at Chasewater, but training does not happen only at necessarily infrequent training meets. Racing is really good training and is on offer every month. Racing is also the most fun you can have with a group of boats unless you are actually going somewhere. I always think that attempts to find other group activities on the water seem a bit strained. So, am I persuaded in middle age that my old head master had a point about sport in general? I don't think so, but I will make an exception for sailing.
Canoe Conversion (David Fitzgerald)
The Group's YouTube presence had a message from a guy in the States recently liking our videos - I responded and asked him about leeboards i.e. did he use one and his reply is here:
Yes, I did have a leeboard; I didn't put it in until I was out a bit. I used all the sailing parts from an old windsurfing board and I wasn't sure if the leeboard was big enough. Unfortunately I didn't pay attention to the tides (in Puget Sound) and ended up paddling along the shore to get back. This winter I will be making real outriggers, a proper tiller and two retracting leeboards. This project was something I had in the back of my mind for quite a while. I decided as I was packing to go camping that I would throw it together. Also I would like to experiment with a landsurfer and ice surfer.