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Hyde Sails 2022 One Design LEADERBOARD

A busy and successful Autumn for Hyde Sails

by Mark Jardine 2 Nov 2023 11:00 PDT
2023 Osprey Class Nationals: 2023 runners up front & centre Ben McGrane & James Ross sailing Osprey 1340 `Beastly Whizzer` © Peter Hickson

We chatted with Ben McGrane to find out about the busy schedule he and Hyde Sails had in September in a variety of classes, including the Flying Fifteen National Championship, the 70th Anniversary Osprey National Championship, and the Squib UK Inland Championship.

Mark Jardine: September started off with the Osprey National Championship. This is a boat you weren't used to, so you must have felt like you were going into the event a little blind.

Ben McGrane: Yes, it was. It's a class that Hyde Sails have been involved with in the past, but not for a number of years. It came about after one of those off-the-cuff conversations with James Ross, who sails with me on the XOD, during a post-racing beer in Hamble River Sailing Club; he said to me, "I'm thinking about getting an Osprey and the Nationals are at Hayling, it's their 70th anniversary, and they're expecting 50 boats," and did I fancy doing it? I didn't really think about it and said, "Yeah, why not? That sounds fun!" Three days later he rang me up and said, "I've bought a boat," and at that point I realised he was actually serious, so things turned to getting a plan together of what we needed to do to have a fair go at sailing well with what is always a pretty limited amount of time in these scenarios.

Mark: So this was a new boat for James as well as for yourself. Was it a brand-new boat?

Ben: No, and I think one of the strengths of the class is that they've got the Hartley mk. IV which seems to be a competitive boat and is available for a reasonable price. You can pick them up for between £4,000 and £6,000, give them a little bit of TLC and off you go. So it's relatively economical to enter the class. Hyde Sails have been involved in the class previously, but we took this as an opportunity to review the designs.

Mark: They recently held an Around the Isle of Wight Race, which commemorated 70 years of the class, but also the 70th anniversary of the original Dinghy Round the Island Race, so to still attract nearly fifty boats at the nationals is a huge achievement.

Ben: The fleet is comprised of a nice bunch of people: all there to do some racing, and all there to have a nice time, and enjoy a few beers. That was the biggest thing that came across about the fleet really: they're all there to have a nice time. Also, I said the boats are affordable, they sail in some quite nice places and the fleet is seeing a resurgence.

Mark: You mentioned Hyde Sails have been involved in the class before, but you're coming back into it, and you made some development sails specifically for the event.

Ben: Yes, the sails we were using were all new designs. If you look at Hyde's previous involvement, probably nearly ten years ago now, design software has moved on, design ethos has moved on; everything's changed. Alongside that we've done development in other classes, such as the 505, where we know that we've moved our product forward, which has relevance to a similar boat like the Osprey, so we took this as an opportunity to create some new product.

Mark: To finish in second place, in your first event in the class, must have left you and James over the moon?

Ben: Yes, really happy. In some ways, it's quite nice when you go to an event, and you haven't really sailed in the class and there's no expectation. We literally hadn't seen another Osprey before we turned up, so we didn't really know what to expect. I think we did better than expected; I've never helmed a single-trapeze symmetric kite boat before. I've done a lot dangling in the front end of them, which obviously helps, but it was nice to have the opportunity to go and sail in that kind of boat, and to win a race and come second overall was more than we could have ever expected.

Mark: Next year the Osprey Championship is in September 2024 at Poole Yacht Club. Will you be returning to try and go one better?

Ben: I think so, that's the plan. The goal now has to be going one better. We know the sails were good, so now it is a case over the winter of small refinements, and then finding the settings to maximise the performance from that package. It's great to have already had some interest from sailors in the fleet.

Mark: It's great to see a classic dinghy class, which is thriving in this time and getting the balance right. Now let's move on to the Flying Fifteens, again in this elongated 2023 championship season instead of packing everything into July and August, we saw nationals held back in May, and then all the way through September. At the Flying Fifteen Nationals down at the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy you did go one better than second, in another big fleet, with 48 boats at the championship. How did that one feel to you?

Ben: Really good! We didn't have any particular prep time; we went to Weymouth the weekend before with the Hyde Sails works boat and we managed to get out for five hours. So a pretty long day on the Saturday and then the weather was shocking on Sunday, so that was a case of ticking off tasks on the boat job list in the rain, thunder and lightning.

Then the event started the following Thursday. I've raced Flying Fifteens before but more than ten years ago, and Russ (Clark) had never raced in the class so this was definitely a case of making sure we were on the standard setting from the Hyde tuning guide and then focusing on the basics. I was very fortunate to have Russ as crew, he is brilliant, and in the limited events we have sailed together it has worked really well. When we get in a boat together we seem to divide the jobs up quite well. It was amazing to do as well as we did.

Mark: At the end of the event in your winner's speech you said there was a lot about the championship that you respected: the race management, the courses were good, the socials were excellent and also the regatta coaching helped everybody to improve. How did this play out at the event?

Ben: The class has taken a pretty proactive approach by getting Adam Bowers along to coach at regattas, so he was out on the water for the first three days, videoing everything that was happening on the water, from the start to mark roundings, doing a bit on boat setup, the do's and don'ts, and that rolled into an evening debrief; I think that was one of the really visible things about the class. The WPNSA is a fantastic venue in terms of the water, but it struggles as a venue off the water because it's a bit in the middle of nowhere, and I think the fleet recognised that and really tried to put something together that gave everybody a good reason to stay there and socialise. It was great to see everyone there in the evenings, as included in the entry there was a barbecue, there was a curry and there was Adams Bowers' coaching; he's fantastic at pitching it at a level that suits everyone, whether you think you know it all, or if you're further down the fleet. It's making you really realise the areas where you can improve quite easily to move up the fleet. He does it all in a very humorous way that keeps everybody awake. So I thought that the whole event was just really, really well put together, and with the World Championship coming up in the UK in two years time, I think it's a class that's got a really good feel about it.

Mark: This initiative benefits the whole fleet, not just the lower and mid section, who are getting the coaching and getting closer to the front; it helps those boats at the front have even tighter racing, with the mid fleet improving, and that must be good all-round.

Ben: I can't see any negatives about it. We're still a sport where for some strange reason practising is frowned upon, or coaching is a sort-of taboo subject; whereas if you play golf you go and get an hour's coaching to work on your swing or to work on your cutting - whatever it is - and it's just common practice. Sailing doesn't have that and it's one of the biggest mistakes really, but at the same time, it's finding people who can deliver in the right way that makes it so that everyone gets something out of it. I just thought it was a really nice way of making sure everybody was getting something extra from the event.

Mark: It's great to see the class taking a proactive approach on this and being rewarded with a high turnout. Any class that gets up to 50 boats is doing well, and, again, this is a classic class thriving in the modern age. Congratulations on the result, and it looks like you've got a superb 2024 lined up with the Nationals and Europeans and then the Worlds in 2025.

Ben: It's definitely a good time to be in the class if you're UK-based, and you're looking for something to sail. It's a good time to be Flying Fifteen sailing.

Mark: Now, moving on to the Squib class, you sailed with your boss, Nigel Grogan, at the Squib UK Inland championships. How was that?

Ben: It was good! It's a big class for us. Within my role with Hyde Sails it's really important I get out in the different classes to understand the products and as part of the design process. We're looking at sail development in the class and so the Inlands gave me a chance to better understand these quite quirky boats and their setup, come up with some ways we might evolve that and how that affects the sail designs. It all goes into the discussions with the design team.

Mark: Nigel (Grogan) has been involved with the Squib class for many years, but did sailing with you on board bring different aspects to his sailing?

Ben: I think whenever you sail with someone new, it brings something different, doesn't it? With all these regattas recently sailing with different people and on different boats that you're not that familiar with, it comes back down to just trying to do the basics right and dividing up the roles.

One of the good things with Nigel was before the first race even happened, he told me, "I'm going to sail the boat and try and make it go as fast as I can, and you're going to tell me which way to go," and off we went. I think that was really important, and it was the same when I sailed with Russ, handing the tactics over to him, then trying to stay really quiet and not have any input on the tactics; my focus needs to be on sailing as fast as possible and trusting the decisions that are being made.

Mark: So that division of roles can sometimes be easier when you've got a new partner on the boat. How did it turn out for you at the Squib Inlands?

Ben: The weekend was a great success; we won the event but this was also with a set of test sails which I had created with a different designer. The development is in the early stages as we explore evolving our products for the class, so it was great this started so well; it means we can now continue this work into next year as we hope to further improve our already really successful Squib products.

Mark: When you have a class like the Squib with a large amount of history and involvement, how is it possible to continue to improve designs?

Ben: I think there are so many levels to this question. Some development is led from knowing products perform better in certain conditions, but then we also see constant evolution of designs as we work on each class, so there are other instances that can come under review and flag a potential improvement to test in another class. Currently new ideas are coming from our ever-expanding team of designers. The team in our loft is growing, but we are also building a wider team of consultant designers, which is proving really powerful in terms of bringing new ideas. It is increasing the pool of knowledge, but also giving us more options to select the designer with the most relevant experience. Case in point the Squib test sails were created by a designer in Canada with a lot of small keelboat experience.

It's a pretty interesting time, as I can see as we continue to grow this team, this will continue to feed the development and make our products even better. Whether it be small tweaks or completely new designs, we are setting the business up with the infrastructure for continual growth and product refinement, not just in One-Design but for all our product ranges.

It's exciting to follow the developments at Hyde Sails, with innovations ashore and top results afloat. Their approach of using the best designers around the world seems to be bearing fruit already, and we will be checking in with Ben regularly for updates. In the meantime visit to find out more.

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