January Member of the Month
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Congratulations Chris, Magic Marine Member of the Month
Chris Davies – Grass Roots sailor with an Olympic Gold medal
Chris Davies talks to Doug Latta about his sailing career and love of Solo sailing at his beloved Portchester Sailing Club.
Chris Davies, born in 1946, is a 6’2” Solo sailor who remains extremely hard to beat in club races at Portchester Sailing Club. He looks back on his classic sailing career, starting off as so many other grass roots sailors learning to sail and race with his Dad at the age of 10 in their Redwing and Albacore, sail number 404. His Dad recognising his son’s emerging talent, sold the Albacore and bought an Enterprise for himself and a Cadet for Chris and his sister which they sailed at their home club at the time, Porthpean SC. Like the Solo, the Cadet and Enterprise were both designed by Jack Holt, and Chris recalls being in a room with Jack Holt who said he couldn’t understand why the Enterprise was so slow! In those days, there was no safety cover, and you went out and back under your own steam, even if it meant deploying the two paddles that each boat carried. “Seamanship was a big factor”, Chris recalls.
Moving to Torquay, and sailing from RTYC, Chris teamed up with his Dad again in an Albacore, and also sailed this during this time at Bristol University, where he was in the Team Racing in Firefly’s, and their team was second only to London University who at the time were almost unbeatable. He felt the Albacore and sailing on the sea suited him well, but the Firefly, although generally underpowered, still needed enough weight due to the then poor quality of the sails which stretched easily. ‘You had to ease the jib in a big gust just because the depth of the sails changed so quickly’.
During his time at Torquay, the National 12 was coming up rapidly, and was seen as the pinnacle of competitive sailing for young people. Moving after University to sail at Hamble River SC, he sailed his National 12 every Wednesday and Saturday at his club. Other major classes there at the time were the Merlin Rocket and Flying Dutchman and within the club at the time were the National Champion of each class. He’d seen the FD during his time at Torbay Regattas, where Alec Stone, also a Solo builder had built his own FD. Chris had always wanted to crew an FD, and after 2 years helming the N12, he became David Robinson’s crew in the Merlin, finishing 5th in the Merlin Nationals at Pwllheli.
In 1971, together with local builder Hugh Welbourne they built an FD, and started doing the UK circuit. Chris recalls unfurling the huge jib of the FD, and the boat leaping forward as the power surged on. He says ‘I’ve always loved sailing boats that are overpowered, where you are trying to shed power rather than looking for power as you mostly were in the N12, Firefly and indeed the Solo’.
Hugh and Chris took part in Kiel week the same year, and with Dinghy sailing at its’ peak at the time, there were 100 FD’s and 100 505’s competing. Later they took their FD K238 to the Worlds Week at La Rochelle. At the time the World Week ran on a separate course for non-qualifiers, only 2 boats from each country going through to the Worlds – great practice for what was to come. They finished mid-fleet but with only 1 set of sails, they struggled to keep the powerful FD in one piece. Eventually the pair had to give up their campaign, as they had run out of money.
In the autumn of 1971, David Robinson, Chris’ Merlin partner, became the first UK Olympic Sailing Coach. Rodney Pattisson was well known for riding his crews hard, and David’s first job was to find a new crew for Rodney. He approached Chris, who was persuaded to take the role although in his heart he really wanted to sail against Rodney and beat him! Rodney was known for his immaculate boat preparation, and having previously been in awe of Rodney’s K163 at the Earls Court boat show,
he now felt privileged to be sailing ‘Superdocius’. They sailed together at Quiberon in October 1971, and their pace was excellent. By now a new boat K263 was being built, but when they started sailing it the pace had gone, and Chris was concerned that he would ‘be the crew who lost Rodney his Olympic place’. But by the Summer of 1972, Bob Hoare had built them another boat using the old template for the FD, still class legal but very much quicker than the boats from the new templates. They fitted out the boat in record time (just 4 weeks), and went on to win Kiel week with a straight 7 wins, (except an OCS in one race) an unprecedented achievement.
During the Olympic trials it blew old boots, and they nearly lost to Keith Musto, but Chris recalls ‘When Rodney got angry, he got really quick’ and they won the trials by a whisker when the wind moderated. Chris was only 13 stone at the time, but recalls the weight jacket that was commonly worn at the time was put to full use.
During the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics at Kiel, the pair found they had excellent speed, and with many fewer boats competing they sailed to victory without having to sail in the last race. Chris was now age 26. And broke! Olympic sailors were all amateur and self funded, they even had to cut the labels out of their clothing in case they were suspected of having sponsorship! Chris went to the Olympics with his last £40 in his pocket. Chris’s employers at the time had stopped paying him once he used up all of his holiday allowance, and even threatened let him go - but once they realised he was now an Olympic Gold Medallist they re-instated him and gave him his back-pay.
In 1968 he met Ingrid, who he married straight after the Olympics, and the pair moved to Fareham and sailed together at Ingrid’s home club, Portchester SC on the upper reaches of Portsmouth Harbour.
Chris now started sailing a National 12 again , building a total of 5 boats himself, and the fleet at Portchester grew accordingly. In that time and before their son Alex’s arrival, they attended various championships but mostly competed at their home club.
On son Alex’s 18th birthday, he was presented with an old Solo by his aunt, and this became Chris’s first Solo experience. A few other members had Solos by then, and Chris bought Solo 2551 from a fellow member. This was affectionately known as The Shed, because it sailed like one!. By now Portchester had around 8 Solo’s and in 2012, Ingrid and Alex bought Chris Solo 5374 for Christmas, the boat he sails today.
Chris says he has had a continuous record of Sailing Club membership throughout his long sailing career, and that Sailing at his local club was always a part of his family life. Truly a Grass Roots sailor, who today is encouraging the younger sailors in the club to take up racing, in the last year he has crewed for a number of young members in the club Feva’s, assisted with race coaching for a small Topper squad at Portchester. Chris took part in 40 club races in 2017, completed 10 race duties, and oversees the lifting, painting and re-positioning of the race marks every year.
He is keen to see a new influx of Solo sailors at Portchester SC, and with the current numbers being around 17, the average age has crept up somewhat! While he once relished sailing an over-powered dinghy, the controllability and flexibility of the modern Solo rig means the boat is ‘good for someone of my years’, and ‘it gives me just enough time to take action before getting in trouble’. Chris is often seen leading club races, and particularly enjoys the similar boat speed of all of the boats in the fleet – he recalls in the FD, you could be going at double the speed of the next boat, whereas the Solo is much more even.
Sailing at Portchester provides us with plenty of good water, which in the prevailing SW winds can build up to ensure it is challenging enough, yet a relatively safe and sheltered water. Sailing and launching with Portchester’s Roman / Norman Castle dating back to the 5th Century in the background always reminds sailors of our rich history and is certainly an impressive backdrop for the on-the-water battles that take place in club races today!
Well done Chris, you show us the spirit of Grass Roots sailing, and we are extremely grateful of Magic Marine’s sponsorship for the grass roots sailors up and down the country.
If you know a NSCA member at your club who you think deserves to be crowned "Magic marine Member of the Month" then just contact your fleet captain or NSCA committee member with the details and he/she could win a £50 Magic Marine discount voucher.