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Hyde Sails 2022 One Design SALE LEADERBOARD

Hyde Sails win the XOD class at Cowes Classics Week - we talk to Ben McGrane

by Mark Jardine 15 Jul 06:49 PDT

I chatted with Ben McGrane of Hyde Sails, who has just won the XOD class at Cowes Classics Week 2022. It was an all-star fleet with lots of previous Captain's Cup winners, including John Tremlett who has won a number of times, and Lone Star, a boat that has won the Captain's Cup a record number of times with different crews.

Mark Jardine: A great result for you, Ben, in what must have been a really hard week of sailing.

Ben McGrane: Yes. I've been helming the boat two seasons now and am slowly chipping away at unlocking the full potential. I sailed on the same boat previously as the bowman/tactician but getting to grips with understanding the art of helming one is a whole different experience.

Mark: The XOD class is over 100 years old, and no-one could call the boats fast, but they have enduring appeal; there are strong fleets at Itchenor, Parkstone, Lymington, even Hamble and Yarmouth. What is it about the XOD that is - I might almost say - addictive? You get into one and you want to do more!

Ben: It doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. They are fairly slow, tricky to sail boats. All of them have a bit of variation, despite being called the "X One-Design", so there's an element of having to learn the individual characteristics of that particular boat relating to weight placement etc. I don't believe there are fast ones and slow ones, just that you have to take your time to understand how to sail them. Certainly the boats at the front these days are all set up in fairly similar ways, small variations in rake and then the rest is setup to the different sail manufacturers, crew weights and styles of sailing. The standard is very high, with ex-Olympians here and there. I was chatting to Sid Howlett and he said, "You're a bit young for this, aren't you?" And that is the leveller: being younger doesn't give you a great deal of extra performance. I've raced all sorts of different boats, and at the moment it's probably one of the ones I enjoyed the most. It is a quirky boat that is well suited to the Solent and all it has to offer as a race area with really good competition.

Mark: You also sail the 505, International 14, RS400 and Mirror, so what developments have Hyde Sails looked at recently to try and get that little extra edge of speed.

Ben: With the one-design classes we are obviously having to look at each one individually in terms of the development: Mirror, Solo, F15, 505, XOD. They are all massively different in terms of the requirement to get the most out of them. For me the XOD has been the most time-consuming in terms of the sail design and then revising it to work towards a preferred setup. Richard Lovering went back to the previous designs from the 2007-2011 era and then we looked to evolve these; the design software has improved dramatically and the way boats are setup and sailed has changed so all that has to go into what we were looking to achieve with the new designs.

We knew by September 2021 the XOD sails we would be using and selling in 2022 which has really helped this season to then just get on the water and focus on using them. Getting launched in mid-April has been great and while we only race each Wednesday we've had good time on the boat and that, combined with good weeks at Itchenor and Cowes, really allowed us to unlock that last bit of setup in terms of jumper adjustments, leech tension, travel and jib barber settings across the wind range.

It was good to see at both these events we were on an upward curve and getting better through a solid few days on the water and finding repeatable settings in specific conditions. We've worked really hard on all the classes where we are active to make sails which are user-friendly combined with supporting information and knowledge made available for our customers, which I think is massively important in getting then most from your purchase.

Mark: The Captain's Cup is still THE trophy to win in the XOD fleet, and I'm sure that is your focus for Cowes Week. While we've got a load of regional events now, which are growing in popularity, we are seeing the XOD participation at Cowes Week dropping. Does the event need to evolve in any way?

Ben: I believe a lot of the fleets aren't seeing the attendances they were previously. It's a reasonably expensive, and long, regatta to do. I think Covid is still in people's thoughts and then they weigh up the cost of going to a big regatta, especially when there is good racing locally. The XOD class will need to think about what to do to encourage people back. This is what AGMs are for, I guess! It would be wonderful to see 80-100 boats again. Wasn't there 145 boats in 2011? That must have been a heck of a running start!

Mark: Oh, it was! Coming back to Cowes Classics Week, one competitor mentioned that having a mix of short windward-leeward races, and longer races that required 'orienteering', struck the balance quite well?

Ben: The two events (Classics Week and Cowes Week) offer very different things. The first with committee boat starts and predominantly windward-leeward courses in the central Solent is more the racing I am used to and arguably closer to the racing you get in most classes these days. I felt the hour-long windward-leeward race, followed by a 90 minute navigation race in whatever part of the Solent we were in, to get us back home, was a good mix in striking a balance of something for everyone and was a really well put together regatta.

Mark: Events like the Taittinger Regatta are now attracting 40 boats to Yarmouth. Do you think the way to attract travellers is to offer a season trophy across (say) three of the class' five major events each year?

Ben: There are so many regattas to choose from. All the XOD divisions have their own regattas and some of these are 4-5 days; teams are now deciding to do those rather than Cowes Week. The main thing is: there's no doubt there's good racing to be had in the class. It would be great to see the numbers back up at Cowes Week but we've been racing Itchenor Keelboat Week for two seasons now and really enjoyed it. Our sport in general is going through what feels a pretty big transition and perhaps in 10-20 years classes will have to offer a different regatta to be popular. It will be interesting to see the progression, it's hard to ignore the cost of doing events now although value for money is probably the most relevant measure - sailors still seem happy to attend and some regattas are still getting big turnouts like the RS200 Nationals and Salcombe Merlin Week. These regattas aren't necessarily cheap but are delivering on what the sailors in the class want both on and off the water and as a result are proving as popular as ever.

Mark: What sailing events have you got coming up, including other classes?

Ben: I've got the Mirror national championships at Hayling Island in a couple of weeks. Then back in the office for a week before Cowes Week which leads immediately into the 505 Worlds! A bit of a mix, in three very different boats.

Mark: How is the 505 development going, with Roger Gilbert?

Ben: In much the same way as the XOD the majority of the design work was done in 2021 and we used these designs to come second at the UK nationals and first at the UK Eurocup; we've been competitive in all conditions which is really promising. This year the calendar did not align well with other commitments so we have been limited on racing but with 80+ boats entered and all the big names there I'm really excited for this regatta and seeing how we go. I'm hearing lots of good things about Crosshaven which is somewhere I've not raced previously - it's always nice to go somewhere new!

Mark: In terms of supplying to these classes, how readily available are sails for those looking to place orders?

Ben: The market is very different to pre-Covid, and we are having to plan and think far further ahead than we used to in order to make sure we have materials and allow for longer transit periods. We took decisions back in the winter to create stock for a number of classes in order to be in the best position possible to service the demand in the middle of the season; sales are on the up so quite a bit of this stock has sold but we do still have products on the shelf for a number of classes including the XOD. Our strategy going into the 2023 season is to further increase the stock we hold of not only sails but accessories to provide the best service we can for the one-design classes we are active in.

Mark: Enjoy your big fleet racing, and once again it's great to see that win in the Hyde Sails powered XOD Swallow at Cowes Classics Week.

Find out more at www.hydesails.co.uk/xod-sails-for-sale.html

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