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by Mark Jardine 7 Sep 2021 12:00 PDT
Women's 470 Gold for Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

It's such an important word in any sport, and seeing an inspirational performance in sailing fills us with enthusiasm.

Be it great achievement, new technology, or the human story behind an event, seeing, hearing and reading about sailing inspires us to get out on the water.

The most fun with 11(ish) feet

The foiling Moths represent the cutting-edge of flying dinghy design worldwide, and the technology and speeds are moving forwards at a fantastic rate.

The class draws the very best sailors, and while many have professional sailing commitments such as SailGP or the America's Cup, or are members of their national sailing teams, the Moth is where they turn to for their fun.

Even in Covid times, 150 sailors from around the globe managed to make their way to Lake Garda for the World Championship. As we all know, international travel isn't easy at the moment, which demonstrates just how committed this group of foilers are to the class.

The current undisputed king of the Moths is Australia's Tom Slingsby. He won the Worlds in 2019 with a near-perfect scoreline and has repeated the feat in 2021. The only person who comes close to his pace is his training partner, fellow Australian Iain Jensen, followed by a ridiculously talented group of highly-decorated sailors including Paul Goodison, Kyle Langford, 'Checco' Bruni, Phil Robertson, Nathan Outteridge, Dylan Fletcher, Brad Funk... I could go on, but look down the full results table to see just how many incredible sailors are in the fleet.

Garda's famous 'Ora' breeze has been fitful over the past few days, so staying on the foils has been key to maintaining top race results, with a 'ditched' tack often costing 20 to 30 places. Those at the top who are consistently flying throughout every race are truly at the top of their game. Slingsby is in a league of his own right now and, combined with the results he's enjoying in the SailGP, is on a serious roll.

The latest designs have dispensed with the raised foredeck and are continuing to push the aero boundaries. Decksweeper sails are now the norm, extending back over a metre from the mast which makes tacking and gybing technique even more difficult. The underwater foils continue to get smaller with the cut-off between the large and small foils moving to lower and lower windspeeds.

A current point of contention is whether the latest Moths are actually 11 feet long; The magic wand is on a prodder and the rudder gantries have become so faired into the hull that it's often impossible to distinguish where the hull ends and the gantry starts. The Class Rules (specifically 6.1.3) state that "No attempt at increasing waterline length shall be made by fairings comprising part of, or attached to rudder fittings or stem fittings." There has been discussion on the matter recently on social media and I sense that this issue could come to a head soon.

Inspiring the next generation

One Moth sailor who isn't at Lake Garda is 49er Olympic Gold medallist Stu Bithell, who seems to have been on a whistle-stop tour of UK sailing haunts, taking part in events, and inspiring the next generation.

No-one will forget 'that finish' in the 49er Medal Race as Dylan and Stu crossed the line a bowsprit ahead of the German team to secure the gold medal, grabbing the headlines in the mainstream media.

Back in the UK Stu swapped crewing for helming, winning the Merlin Rocket Nationals at East Lothian Yacht Club with Tom Pygall. This fleet has some superb sailors in it, but they managed to grab four of the eight races, winning by four points from Christian Birrel and Sam Breary, with fellow Olympian Ben Saxton sailing with George Yeoman a further five points back.

It was fantastic to see Stu then return to his home club and take part in Hollingworth Lake Junior Regatta Week, racing a Topper against the latest kids to start their sailing journeys at the club. While admittedly slightly too big for a Topper now, Stu clearly gave it his all in the race, but it was only enough to finish second to 13-year-old Jasper Bramwell who was understandably delighted with his win.

Sailing is blessed to have 'approachable' stars, who are more than happy to share their knowledge, experience and time with the junior and youth sailors coming up the ranks. All the kids who sailed against Stu will be talking about their race for years to come and it will inspire them to continue in our sport.

Next up for Stu was an appearance at Burnham Week, handing out prizes after the first weekend and sharing stories from Tokyo 2020. It's not just the kids who look up to this great sailor and all-round top bloke.

Stu says, "Nothing makes me happier than coming home from the Olympics and getting straight into inspiring the next generation. They are the future of our sport and I hope as many as possible get inspired by what all the Olympians have done recently."

"I remember being shown Ian Walker's medals at a Mirror event when I was a junior; it was an incredible feeling and I hope to continue in those footsteps."

Back to the show

Later this week the Southampton Boat Show starts. It'll be the first show I've attended since the RYA Dinghy Show back in March 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning.

Getting back into the swing of being at a show and attending the YJA Stoneways Marine Yachtsman of the Year gala dinner will be my first big in-person gathering since then. It'll take some getting used to I think, especially when I think of all those in Australia who are currently in lockdown. I am though looking forward to celebrating our great sailors and am sure it'll be a superb occasion.

'Inspirational' perfectly describes the achievements of the shortlisted nominees in the awards. Their achievements, combined with their willingness to share their experiences, is a huge factor in growing our sport; I applaud them all.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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