Tuesday, July 10, 2018
National Solo Vintage Championship 2018
This Saturday sees the inaugural Vintage Championship for Solos, hosted by Leigh on Sea Sailing Club. There is an exceptionally strong fleet of older Solos at Leigh, some while ago a number of members decided there was a lot of fun and value to be had from adopting a policy of pre-4000 Solo sail numbers and the fleet has blossomed to well over 25. For this event the club have adopted the NSCA rolling twenty year system meaning any Solo up to sail number 4168 is eligible.
I thought I would take this opportunity to chew over my own personal history with the Solo which goes back to 1979, Actually my story began seven years earlier, learning the fundamentals of sailing as crew for him in a Mirror which, along with thousands of other fathers, he built in the backroom. We campaigned the Mirror for a season or two at Reading Sailing Club, on a gravel pit called Sonning Eye, though his competitiveness usually resulted in me crying, a was a pretty pathetic crew.
Fast forward to 1979 and with adolescence in full bloom I took the opportunity to go for a quick sail in my father’s Solo 186, a Jack Holt built all wood example, complete with Collar wooden spars and red mainsail. 186 was in fact built for Tony Allen of Allen Brothers and he successfully campaigned her in the 1960s, culminating in a race win at the Nationals in Holyhead 1964, the year I was born! My father bought her from a chap at Burnham on Crouch a few years later, handing over two tins of paint as he had the intention of painting her orange as the decks had been burnt courtesy of an over zealous hot air gun! My father chose to paint the hull red and the deck yellow and this was the focal point for the front cover of a sailing mag in 1972, not Yachts and Yachting though unfortunately.
I was immediately hooked on the freedom a single handed dinghy provides, no one shouting at you and the feel of the breeze on your cheek and your destiny in your own hands. I decided that day I wanted my own Solo and set about saving, a task that did not take me long as I worked in a bakery full time on £23 per week. A number of months later I had in my possession Solo 1621, a Seamark Nunn fibreglass hull with Needlespars and Mountifield sail, previously owned by Roger Harford. Seamark Nunn produced 100s of Solos in the 1970s, white with beige decks were the standard colour combination though I have seen some combinations that needed to stay in the 70s. The join between deck and hull would almost certainly always fail, such was the flexibility of the materials used and my purchase bore the hallmarks of this fragility. My first sail resulted in six capsizes, the sound and feel of water rushing from stern to bow and back as I trimmed certainly adding to the drama. A tube of Silastic was a temporary remedy, epoxy resin was still to be discovered! The Needlespar rig was difficult to control at first but months passed and I did improve. Advancing up the pecking order was a real confidence builder (I cried less now). There were some good young sailors at Reading Sailing Club, Hector Cisneros and Simon Corper among them and Hector’s father Jo Cisneros held coaching sessions in the midweek so I would don my wetsuit and travel the 13 miles on my Suzuki AP50 to the club, filled with the enthusiasm this new sport gave me.
We would hold a Solo open meeting every year and it was so exciting when the visitors arrived, Geoff Carveth, Craig Moffett, Barry Green and the Houston brothers, unveiling their Lovett built Solos, truly stunning examples of Richard Lovett’s craftmanship. The Lovett’s would dominate the early eighties, narrow in beam but still able to exploit the tight class rules to provide a hull that lifted on the plane early and enough rocker to tack on a penny. Proctor and Superspars providing the rigs for Batt Sails, Hydes, Performance Sails and so many others. The class has always been a popular one with our suppliers who would employ hotshots as jockeys. Something that still exists today.
I am diverting away from my personal account, so, after a few years learning the trade in 1621 I upgraded to my first wooden Solo, 3178 a Bob Beckett built Solo which had some design input from a top National Moth sailor. Named ironically, Metro Gnome, I assume the helm had a tendency to rock, the rig was equally questionable, a Delta spar which had a tip narrower than the legal diameter but with a fin either side to make it street legal. Add to this a Musto dacron sail and I had no excuses.
I won my first open meeting at Chess Sailing Club in 1984, possibly the smallest lake in the UK at that time, beating Paul Hemsley to the trophy. I took 3178 to Horn in Holland that year and met a good friend in Jon Clarke who owns Edge Sails. Jon and I shared many sailing and non sailing related experiences over the next twenty something years and It was Jon who inspired/cajoled me into buying my third Solo in 1987. High Performance Sailboats based in Poole at the time were well known Fireball builders and Jon convinced them to build three Solos, one each for us and one for John Hartley in Burwain. I collected the bare hull, 3517 with my father and he commented, as we squeezed her through the narrow passage to our garden how light she felt. He was not joking, even after a fit out she was 3kgs light and at that time only wooden correctors were legal. Jon commented that his was heavy and it seems they got it just right with the third boat. I took “Will Power” to our Chief Measurer at that time, Jim Gates who got her through the measurement process, only commenting that the upper chines looked a bit crooked. Indeed, the builder must have been busy with the sander, manipulating the shape at beam measurement stations so it would gain the necessary certificate. I was very impressed with the foils, incredibly light and after some further investigation found to be glass sheathed, another yet to be legal construction method! Fortunately this was legalised pretty soon after purchase! I had some success in 3517, especially in the breeze, the minimal rocker delivered impressive downwind speed. I raced her in Holland at the World Championship in 1988 (now Nation’s Cup) and met with a chap sailing a lovely Solo built by him and his brother and decided I wanted it! Three weeks later I had sold 3517 and collected 3513 from the ferry port of Portsmouth. Nigel and Robert Young, who built championship winning Albacores wheeled the Solo off the ferry from Ryde on the Isle of Wight, they were not about to pay the exorbitant rates for car and trailer. Ironically I now live on the IOW and the ferry is still too expensive!
This Solo was beautifully built in dark mahogany but what pleased me most was the Superspar rig with a stunning McWilliams laminate mainsail. This was truly ahead of it’s time in the Solo fleet, laminates, now accepted as the norm only gained momentum in 2008 with the Boon/North package. I had some great experiences with 3513 and winning my home club open meeting was one of them. I bought my fifth Solo, 3604 in 1989, the Solo fleet do tend to keep up with the latest number, not unlike buying a new car every year except there is minimal depreciation! This was a Tony Thresher hull built for Peter Brook and it’s startling Snapdragon Yellow hull clearly pulled on my DNA string. Peter had done an amazing job of fairing in the hull and matched with Superspar M1 and Performance Sail (the sail loft Jon Clarke worked for at that time) gave me speed to burn. I do believe this was the fastest Solo I have ever owned and had notable victories at open meeting level, I just always messed up the big events with swimming lessons and OCS.
Tony Thresher had angled the bulkhead forward at the foot so more rake was possible, previously this was usually built at section 1, 3050cm from the transom but I was able to set the mast at 3065, a big advantage upwind. On the downside the side tanks were built extremely light, focusing the weight in the floor which resulted in some nice size 9 holes after overzealous tacks.
I was impressed with the Thresher shape and had Tony build me a new Solo for 1991, thus, 3768 was born. It had all the trademarks of my previous hull but with slightly stronger side tanks. It took me a few months to get her going but I managed top tens at Inlands and Nationals, the Inlands recorded 116 entries!
Things all got complicated after 1991 with the onset of girls and their treacherous plans but eventually the sailing won and the girl was swapped for 4050, another Thresher. Tony was by this time building his Solo hulls the right way up in a female mould and with epoxy fumes firing up his imagination he really pushed the boundaries of hull form. The bow profile was visually different from the other builders, very sharp which would cut through the wave patterns. You did need to carry some weight to get the bow into the water but Finn sailor John Greenwood was one who reaped some great results from this Thresher hull. Once again girls and money resulted in another break from sailing but in 1997 I renewed my love with the sport and purchased 3705 for the National Championship that year. This was wooden hull built by Derek Jolly who was famous for his GP14s. I had a largely unsuccessful championship but was determined to get a new boat for 1998. In fact my most memorable experience of 3705 was of selling her unseen to a chap in Norwich, towing her there in the Winter with snow everywhere. On arrival he asked to inspect her and on doing so found a crack along the inner edge of the buoyancy tank (which I knew nothing about). Fortunately some bartering and pleading resulted in me not having to trail her all the way home.
I picked up 4160, an Andy Miles built Solo in the spring of 1998 and with it’s livery of red and white which paid homage to Geoff Carveth’s championship winning Lovett of 1983, set about re-establishing myself with the Solo fleet. I was now using the Proctor C mast, slightly stiffer than the M1 but I stuck with Jon Clarke who had established Edge Sails and provided me with some great “rags” which got me to the front of the fleet on several occasions, two more top tens at National and Inland Championships. There followed several hiatuses from sailing but I was always able to sail 186 when I felt the urge and I competed in her at the Nationals in 1994 Abersoch, finishing in the top thirty. It was in 2009, following damage done to the hull with my foot that I set about re-flooring 186 and, since I was there, built a new centreboard case using ply/foam/ply supplied by Kevan Gosling of Gosling Dinghycraft. The refurbishment done I entered the 2009 Inlands only for the forestay to rip off in race 1 and the hiking block to pull off in race 4! Undeterred, I returned to Rutland Water for the 2010 Inlands and finished 25th in a fleet of 97 which included rounding the first mark third in two of the six races.
I could go on, having had 4670, 4835, 5404 and have always been able to rely on 186 as a stop gap. Back Injuries have been my downfall though and as my father said when I first started sailing, don't mix racing and girls.
This Vintage Championship is a celebration of the ingenuity, vision and skills of builders throughout the years who have done their darnedest to deliver a National Solo that is quicker than the others, while keeping within the tight measurement rules as governed by the NSCA. I have fond memories of all the shenanigans that have occurred through the years, Bob Beckett’s argument at the AGM in the early eighties explaining why he recessed the centreboard case into the rocker rather than glue it on top, Robin Webb’s face when we rejected his rule proposal to allow T terminals on the mast and Measurer Ron Green’s idea of sticking lollipop sticks to the inner end of illegal booms at Mumbles in 1988.
I hope to see as many vintage Solos at Leigh on Sea this Saturday for three back to back races and a celebration of the National Solo. The first race is at 12.30 pm. Fleet Captain Colin Walker has also mentioned there may be a few club boats available so please contact Leigh on Sea for details.