Sidmouth sailor takes on the skiff

James Salter, who has been regaling readers with tales from Sidmouth Sailing Club, is currently in Australia, teaching sailing at The Big Blue Sailing School where he has the use of a 26 S80 yacht to sail around the harbour.

James Salter, who has been regaling readers with tales from Sidmouth Sailing Club, is currently in Australia, teaching sailing at The Big Blue Sailing School where he has the use of a 26' S80 yacht to sail around the harbour. He recently went sailing on a 18' skiff, the ultimate sailing boat which has a three man crew all on trapeze wires - this is how he got on...

After sailing more or less all my life and competing in several National Championships in the UK I was really keen to have a go in the so-called hardest and fastest boats in the world, the 18ft Skiff.

Thank to Ronstan, a rather long story, Brett Van Munster and Monty, I realised this dream last week.

Prior to arriving and rigging up, my expectations were high. With a good breeze hitting just over 20 knots at times on the flat of Lake Macquarie 100 miles north of Sydney, conditions couldn't be any better - right at the top end of the No 1 rig.

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When we finally got out on the water after rigging, which seemed to take for ever, the upwind speed was incredible, faster than most boats I've sailed down wind in a blow. One of the most surprising elements of getting sailing was the huge loads on all of the control lines - pulling on the kicker (or vang as it called down here) was a real job just to get half as much tension on as was needed.

When the time came to tack, after reaching the other side of the lake in minutes, it didn't seem too bad, but it was quite obvious the regular 18 sailors, Brett on the helm and Monty on the main, were doing all the hard work.

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After making it across the lake in no time at all, three stringing and Dick McColloch from Ronstan sitting in on the wing, it was time to get back down wind. After the speed upwind, the ride home was going to be ridiculously quick. First was the bear-away, apparently the tricky part. Once again no real problems with the bear-away, getting weight to the back with Brett doing the tricky part. When it was time to get the kite up, we discovered Brett was a helm and not a rigger; the kite wasn't so immaculately rigged, with some halyard-round-the-hounds related issues. The problem was soon remedied with a quick trip up to the bow by Dick, and it was all on for the downwind streak back down the lake.

The acceleration with the spinnaker up was huge, the skiff came to life. It was all the crew to the back, and hold on, with the centreboard out of the water - real Top Gun, jet fighter stuff - getting the occasional air from a few waves in front.

My only thoughts were just how fast the boat was going. It felt quick out on the wire, gauging the speed against the land and there was no wind apparent on the boat - we were travelling just about as fast as the wind, somewhere around 20 knots.

After reaching the other side of the lake in half the time it had taken us to get up there, we gybed, the kite dealt with by Monty who, it turns out, was a bit of a kite gybing specialist.

Down on the other gybe the story was much the same, remarkable speed especially when the gusts ripped through the lake. After we made it down the lake in around eight minutes (a 30-40 minute drive) there was a quick crew swap and it was time to go again. The second time round didn't disappoint, although I was getting used to the speed of the boat, almost enough to concentrate on the sailing, rather than just holding on!

All too quickly it was time to land and get the boat back on the beach. As with everything on the 18s, it wasn't easy. First we had to try to get out without hitting a shroud, and then catch the boat so it kept head to wind. Soon enough the boat was on the rack and sails where down, panic over.

It was then that I realised my legs and feet were covered in blood - I can see why it's not a good idea to wear a shortie or go barefoot in an 18.

It only remains to thank all the guys that made this awesome experience; Alistair Murray from Ronstan for getting it all organised, Dick McColloch also from Ronstan for his organisation, Brett Van Munster for skippering (or helming as we call it in England) and the time to take me out, and the same to Monty for taking the time to go sailing.

Good Sailing

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