Learning to live with a Crystal Moth addiction
This has been a difficult blog post to write, but it needed posting. I have a confession to make: over the past few months I've developed an addiction. It's dangerous for my health, it's expensive, and it risks damaging relationships as the addiction takes hold as I can think and talk about nothing else. In other words, I have become... a moth sailor.
After a couple of years of deliberation and saving, this winter I made the plunge to buy an International Moth. I'd been deterred in the past by the expense and perceived fragility of these flying things (not to mention being a little intimidated by the speed), but they do look amazing fun and a real challenge. The final push came from a friend who had bought one recently, and having a training partner to learn with made the journey less daunting and more appealing.
Having only over raced one-designs, even choosing which kind of boat to buy was confusing. While I could pick up an old Bladerider for £4-5k that would be a stable and reliable platform to learn to foil on, I felt I'd quickly outgrow it since they are far slower than the latest designs. I wanted something competitive, but with a budget of £8-10k I could immediately rule out the beautiful Exocets or a newer Mach 2. This led me to either an old Mach 2 or an Aardvark boat built by Mike Cooke near Bristol, which includes the Ninja - they were rapid about 5-6 years ago and still competitive in flat water, and its replacement the Rocket, which includes a number of modifications to give improved performance and reliability, especially in waves. I was able to find a lightly-used Rocket at the top end of my budget, which should last me for several years as I get to grips with the boat. Having turned down several name suggestions from friends (some of which were brilliant but can't be printed here), I've settled on naming her Crystal. Crystal Moth.
I collected the boat in November, but the storms all winter meant she stayed firmly tied down until the first weather window in January! 16kts at QMSC, perfect mothing conditions. With Rooster Polypro thermal base layers, Polypro glove and boot liners, Rooster neoprene socks and gloves, Aquafleece hat and neck gaiter, I was never cold despite spending a lot (most) of my time in the water.
Foiling happened very quickly, as did crashing and swimming, repeatedly. Eventually I figured out how to adjust the ride height and was able to achieve stable flight up and downwind. I came off the water buzzing - what a thrill! The adrenaline masked the pain in my hand, which arrived that evening and worsened the next day, leading to a trip to A&E for an X-ray (I'm told this is common for the first few outings!). I was told I had a possible fracture, but this was later cleared by the consultant, so after a couple of weeks I was back out, crashing and swimming. This was brilliant.
For a competent dinghy sailor, sailing a moth in a straight line is not too hard - lulls, waves and shifts are tricky, but essentially the boat sits happily on the foils with a bit of windward heel. Manoeuvres are less easy. Anyone who has sailed a moth will tell you that you learn to gybe before you learn to tack, and this is very true. Through the gybe, the boat loses very little speed and the force in the sail is minimal, so there is time for corrections mid-gybe. That said, it took me a while to get used to the idea of crossing the boat head-first to heel the boat into the turn and initiate the gybe.
Tacking still eludes me. You have to enter the tack at full speed, turn the boat quickly through 100+ degrees, ease the sail just enough and throw yourself across to the opposite wing, all in about 1/2 second. Timing has to be perfect else you will crash into or out of the turn. The closest I've come to pulling off a foiling tack thus far was when I abandoned my attempt mid-tack and dropped everything while throwing myself at the far wing to stop from capsizing, resulting in the boat immediately accelerating away. She does seem to sail better without me sometimes.
Anyway - here's a short clip of a fly-by at Grafham Water, which is where I've moved to now. I'm currently building up to the European Championships in Bordeaux in two weeks time, where I have no expectations beyond trying to learn as much as possible and finish as many races as possible. Just getting around the course without capsizing can put you midfleet!