How to prepare for the UK National Championships

Having talked a bit about how not to prepare for a big event last year, I thought we could try and correct that for this years Nationals. Personally, I’ve taken a very different approach for the current season. Instead of sailing as much as I possibly can to try and keep up with the jobless lot, I mean pros, I’ve gone for more of a “sell your boat, wait 6 months to get the new one and finish putting it together, then don’t sail it more than a couple of times before any big events”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is also not a recipe for success. The only thing in my favour is it’s my 3rd Mach 2 and I have a fair chunk of experience of screwing it up, then correcting it, so that I can be fairly confident of what I need to do to at least be in the thick of it come the nats. So making the top 20 shouldn’t be that far out of reach, although I haven’t managed it before. It’ll be a decent warm up for the Euro’s anyway.

One of the things that I definitely will benefit from is having done a Moth nationals at Stokes for my first nationals in 2011. In fact it was my first proper event in a foiling moth and it really taught me a few things. So, in the spirit of being encouraging to newcomers, as there’s always a good few of those at each moth nationals nowadays, I thought I’d share some thoughts.

That first event was one that will stick in my mind for a long time. It was a heck of a lot of fun getting ready for it and I was really excited about going. I’d had my boat, a Velociraptor built by Adam May himself, for about 7 months and I’d got most of the technique I thought I would need down pat: Gybing didn’t take a second thought, tacking was consistent enough to get on with, boat speed seemed ok for a boat that was never going to win again now that Mach 2s were mainstream and seeing as it was a fairly early foiler it always gave me a bit of extra help to foil when needed.

How wrong could one moth sailor be, especially on the 1st two days when we were racing in 20 knots in a Solent chop. How best to explain? This is where I’ve decided to take some inspiration from somewhere else and use it to illustrate some key points:

Hurricane Mk1 of 46Sqdn
Hurricane Mk1 of 46Sqdn

75 years ago this week a fairly significant historical event was going on. No, not the evacuation of Dunkirk, but close. It was the often forgotten Operation Alphabet, the Allied evacuation of Norway. Same same but a little bit different in that Norway is a lot further away and so the Navy and the Army and the Air force were all lumped in together doing what the Allied forces, at that point of WW2, did best…getting the heck out of dodge. The RAF left two squadrons of Hurricanes in place to keep the Axis forces at bay during the retreat. One of which was 46 Squadron, lead by my friend Henrie’s Grandad, Squadron Leader “Bing” Cross. Henrie has been tweeting some of his memoirs in real time to share his quite incredible story. I am going to do it minimal justice by using it as a bit of inspiration for how you should tackle your first moth nationals. Although, it’s perfectly relevant for your 5th too if you’re anything like Phil Oligario. The story starts on June 7th 1940, very early in the morning:


1) Don’t be late! One of the most common screw-ups by new moth sailors is to turn up too late and not be ready on time. Give yourself a lot of extra time, be very early indeed. At Stokes in 2011 I remember several moth sailors who’d been sailing for a couple of years being very focussed on just getting to the start line on time. One even said it was his goal for the event to be at the start time on time for each race. The idea being that everything else was easy!


2) Wear the right kit. It’s a moth, not the womens auxiliary balloon corp. Get a decent wetsuit, not some namby pampby 1mm “summer suit” because you’re bound to swim a lot and it’s not that warm yet. And then get a decent pair of wetsuit shorts to stop you ripping the arse to shreds. #topmothtip

Get changed early too. Unless you have a perfect routine you’ll need to get changed then get the boat out on the beach and start getting it ready to go. It takes more time to rig, wheel the boat out and then leave it to go and get changed. If you haven’t launched off a shingle beach into a Solent chop before then watch how the locals do it and pay attention 007.


3) Focus on getting yourself ready and getting out to the start asap to check your settings and dial into the conditions. Unless you have a vital question to ask someone then now is not the time to chat and get distracted by other people talking rubbish. A lot of moth sailors like to talk rubbish pre-start and waste time.

Frankly, even if you have a vital question/issue, try not to ask another sailor who is visibly in need of getting out to the start! You should have fixed/sorted it the night before. So make sure that when you come back in from sailing you sort everything on the boat before leaving for the night.


4) We don’t allocate buddies in the moths. It’s been tried and never really caught on. If you do get time to line up with another boat for a tuning run then it is a good idea. Also, watch some of the good guys sailing in the waves and start learning everything you can.


5) Even when you’re going at full whack you’ll be slower than the regulars, well, you might be ok if you’re feeling very Olympic that day but for most of us that’s just a dream. Try and see how the profile of their boat is set up. Bow down (probably)? How high are they foiling? How much kicker do they have on (probably lots) and how much are the working the boat? Don’t be afraid to ask questions after sailing. One of the best things that happened after the first day at Stokes last time was Andy Rice doing an interview of the top 3 from day 1 in front of the whole fleet. I learnt a truck load at that session and I still use the lessons today. Hopefully we can make it happen again (Ricky?).

The other point to add here is that going full speed is really the only option. Sometimes people try and back off in the breeze when they’re going downwind. This is death. Just drive the boat hard, steer around the big ones and pump like mad when you think the boat is about to sky off the back of a wave. If you have some leeward heel on then remember the rudder starts to act as a bit of an aileron. Bearing away can help lift the bow and heading up push it back down over the top of a wave. It takes practice but it works.

6) OK, I’m not sure what I can add here other than this guy is still wearing his PJs and he hasn’t even had breakfast yet. So if you’re feeling it after one race, just remember this and man up.

7) If something goes wrong then know what to do. Fighter pilots are told that it takes as long to panic as it does to think, so think, just like Bing did:

8) Although most of the time, outright aggression is the key to moth sailing, if you are struggling then take a lateral view and think about what could help you. I’ve mentioned a couple of techniques already but also, as I did at my first nationals, sometimes you can just relax after a capsize, sit on the side and watch some of the good guys go past on the next lap and try to see what they’re doing. Gearing on, wand off etc etc. Ask around after sailing, someone will have a good idea for you to try next time. Pints of hop based recovery drinks often help lube the advice, although too many and the advice turns to total rubbish.

9) If something is really broken, including you, turn the ride height all the way off and try to sail in with the windward wing dragging in the water. It’s surprisingly manageable as a disaster technique. In this situation Bing managed to glide back to the runway to check the damage and find his port oil tank blown to pieces with another hit taken to the radiator.
Even more incredible though was where the bullet that had gone through his windscreen ended up:


In his rush to launch/take-off he hadn’t strapped in and was hunched over the controls to steady himself when firing. Some would say that is lucky. They’re probably right, but why is that relevant for moth sailing. Well, the old sporting adage of “The more I practice the luckier I get” is pretty spot on for moth sailing. Or, to use another military quote, “Luck is the outcome when preparation meets opportunity”.
The saving grace for me at the 2011 nationals was the last day. I’d been smashed to bits on the first 2 days as I failed to manage the waves with a boat not set up for those conditions, no adjustable wand, no gearing and not even a ride height adjuster. However, the final day dawned with 10 knots and pan flat water. The dream conditions for the raptor and a skinny ass spatchcock like me. We did 4 races that day and in the 3rd I managed to put a race together. The only one of the event but still, you have to start somewhere.

As the sequence started the breeze was going in and out and it was getting harder and harder to foil. By the time the fleet was stacking up between the line the breeze there was almost gone completely. I recalled countless races in other fleets like this where you could be 2 yards either side of the line in good breeze but the breeze just avoided all the boats clustered up, so the boats in the middle had nothing. So I thought I’d try sitting a little way off the port end so I could foil in at the gun. The very technique saltyballs had been drilling into me for years back in the squads. Great in a 420… risky in a moth, because if you foil in to the line it’s a 30 second journey at 15 knots and if you don’t it’s several minutes at 3 knots and the race is over before you get to the line. I actually came ripping into the line on the foils with about 30 seconds to go, ducking Simon and Mike who were low riding into the Pin on starboard. After them the whole fleet was about 50 yards back of the line trying to edge closer. Sailing as slow as I could along the line on port but staying on the foils with 20-15-10 seconds to go was bizarre to say the least, although enormously satisfying in a very smug way. I was looking at my watch saying “come on, come on, COME ON” as the seconds ticked away like hours and I seemed to be tearing towards the starboard end. BANG…Finally the gun went and I raced off up wind leaving the whole fleet low riding at 3 knots (more smugness). Slowly but surely the good moth sailors got foiling and came after me, by the first mark I was down to about 5th and just held on for 12th by the end. I realised I wasn’t pulling on anywhere near enough kicker after getting on the foils to race properly and started to change that straight away. It was also the first time I experienced light-wind foiling without using enough rudder. The boat starts teetering up onto the foils but never quite gets going properly. It’s funny to look back and see all the things you were doing wrong and realise how much you’ve learnt. That learning never stops from my experience of moth sailing and it’s why I love it. There’s just so much too it, especially getting foiling in light winds, total black magic. Still…the more I practice…the closer I keep coming that elusive win.

Anyway, enough of that, this nats is going to be awesome, if you want to know how good sailing at Stokes bay is, then take it from Rob Greenhalgh:

Although I’d swear I recall seeing that somewhere else?
Hopefully this has got you psyched about the upcoming nationals. So ping an email to to get your entry organised so you can start looking forward to a great 4 days of racing.

P.S. Luca, godfather of Italian moth sailing, is doing a bang up job of making it as easy as possible for us all to get out to Garda for their Eurocup event, 3 day Foil Fest event, July 1st-3rd. It’s a bargainous £85 to get the boat out there via his deal with GAC Pindar, there’s free beer and he’ll even send a young Italian lady to pick us up from the airport!

Check out some more info here:

Neil Baker
Neil Baker