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Chris Bentley

Class Development

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Your current Chair here again with another long one. I have started a new topic because this is a separate, if linked subject to my previous post. Please continue to respond to that. This post is about how we might alter some rules to increase our appeal. It has been prompted by feedback and personal observation.

There are issues. The first, that I am sure will prompt adverse comments from the keen racing fraternity is that the suggestions below, and they are only suggestions, are potentially aimed at altering the "ethos" of the Sonata Class,  dividing those who can/want to compete at top racing level away from a sort of "Club Class" that is more of a Cruiser Fun Race level. 

Well, I don't think so, but I stand to be corrected. Going back, Dave Thomas designed the Sonata as a 'family' boat, capable of family cruising as well as racing, hence the "toilet and cushion" rules we still retain, plus the fact it won't plane because he stuck a big Vee in the hull shape aft of the keel. That was the original ethos. It has changed, over the years, mostly because what he actually designed was a very cute One Design race boat, that's how it has developed, particularly in later years.

Actually, I think, where the Class is at, is that it has generated a core of very dedicated and supportive racing members, the most dedicated of whom travel to race events, another tranche who race competitively at Club level, don't travel much, and, behind them, there surely are a much larger bunch, there were 400 plus made, who are still owners but either potter with their boats or have abandoned them to barns or yards where they languish. This last, large group are not NSA Members, why should they be? A big difficulty is finding them and the boats and being able to communicate with them. I have a plan for that.

How then might we further encourage my previous post's aim of at least halting the decline of NSA membership, that, undoubtedly being key to the Class survival? Not boasting, but, look around, any surviving class has an active Association behind it. You need us,  to keep the Sonata Class alive for the next 40 years. 

My prevous post touched on the difficulty, these days, of sourcing a 4-person crew for a small, not particularly sexy boat to either regularly race Club or do Events over an extended number of days.

SUGGESTION 1.

Reduce the min number of racing crew to two. (Retain the upper limit of 5 plus the requirement to start and finish any "Event" with the same number of crew).

To enable this, allow a furling headsail and, possibly, also, self-tailing winches.

What this would do is allow the possibility. Certainly, I think, let couples race at Club level as a man and wife/partner team, pair of mates, without disadvantage and in control. Sail technology regards furlers has moved on massively. Dragons have always had furling headsails. Financial advantage is one sail opposed to two. Financial disadvantage is one-off cost of a furler, self-tailers, if that too. Race advantage, well, who knows? The classic dilemma at the warning signal, 1 or 2 would be eliminated. Roll it in or out all around the race course at will. 

Our rules state that "If it doesn't say you can, then you cannot". Put in "Can" to furlers and, maybe, self-trailers, 2 min crew and nobody has to do it, but they could if they wanted to. There was, I think, a perception that bilge keel Sonatas were of inferior performance to fin keels. That was squashed at the Poole Nationals. Maybe the same might apply to furlers.

SUGGESTION 2.

Introduce a "blade" sail between 1 and 2. The original sail plan of a Sonata allows an intermediate sail, see Rules, not, visibly, a blade, nonetheless. The gap between 1 and 2, which is effectively a working jib, would be bridged with a sail that a lighter, maybe smaller crew could manage in over 12 knots. We all know that the decision to carry a #1 in marginally heavy airs is taken more on the basis of the ability of the crew to still tack quickly than keeping the boat on its feet. Sail controls and a beefy, experienced crew enable that, in my experience,  and, if you are fortunate enough to have such a crew, you will always err on the side of the #1 because it is quicker. I know I have been stuck with a #1 up in ridiculous amounts of wind because of that decision making process. But what about the lighter, less experienced crews? Again, it's introducing a possibility. You don't have to buy one, or use one.

Financially, it brings more expense but this could be balanced by using the #1 less, making it last more than one season. It's an alternative to suggestion 1 above.

I have become involved in some Classic Yacht racing recently. In the Sonata we almost have a "Classic". Believe me when I say that the competition is as intense as on any other race course but owners have adapted and improved their craft with modern technology and equipment to keep them competitive and manageable by, often, family crews. That thinking might be usefully employed by us to encourage, or, re-encourage membership and participation.

Please let me have your thoughts.

Chris

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Hello again,

Thanks again for your efforts here Chris. I agree with your point that relaxing the rules risks upsetting the keen races and actually wouldn't want to see them relaxed too far, even though I'm very much in the club racer group. So before any keeno racers get upset, here's my thoughts.

Many club racers are already sailing with 2 and so are out of class even if their boats are standard. This means they can't join in any class events even if they are on their doorstep without having to find extra crew, and if a club has a one-design fleet they're not technically in it. This may well stop them committing to events. eg. I've been looking at Windermere winter racing - that's a series I'd like to do in future - but it would be just the wife and me so we couldn't join the one-design class they're hoping to have.

I don't really think the boats need changing, it is possible to race with 2 without extra gear. Although I've been racing with my boat rigged as when I bought it (which includes a furler) I regularly race against a 2-handed but otherwise in class sonata, and my intention was to go that way myself next season. (At present, by the way, I can't touch the standard boat to windward until he gets over-pressed - only then is being able to quickly lose some sail useful. To be fair he is more experienced and basically out-sailing me though).

So basically, I strongly favor reducing the minimum crew to 2. But I think that allowing furlers etc. needs careful consideration. An in-between sail size would help lighter crews and may be a better option.

Nat.

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Thanks, Nat,

You obviously are keeping a close eye on our website, brill, wish I could say the same about a lot of others. Hey Ho!

I take your points. Agree with them. Just remind me where you sail from, you are exactly the sort of chap I desperately need to feed me info and stuff from your area. Up for it?

If Tiger Rag is the same boat as I knew, here's a bit of history for you, if you don't already know it. First I knew her was as a Medway boat, one Mike Clarke, that, probably 15 years ago. Next was Sandy Woodward, he of Desert Storm fame, he was the man. He kept her in Chichester Harbour at Sparkes Marina. I raced against him at Cowes. On one memorable occasion when I had rights on him at a mark, I asked for "room". ("Water" in those days). He responded "You have enough". As he could, in all probability, have summoned an Exocet from Portsmouth to make his point, I shut up and clipped the rounding mark as close as I dared. Smashing bloke, I have a couple more stories about our encounters, unfortunately, as I was strongly advised by his crew, Naval officers to a man, subject to the Official Secrets Act. 

No idea who you bought her from. If, indeed, the same boat, add it to your archive!

Chris

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Now in my mid seventies and having owned and raced my Sonata for 25 years I find it increasingly difficult to get crew and whilst I am reasonably happy to take new crew out and training them up I still find it difficult at times to get 4 of a crew and when I do have 4 there is usually a combined crew age approaching 250 or over. I rather doubt that I will ever do a regatta again unless it was a single day event. I also want a fairly simple rig e.g. furling genoa as I would like to do more cruising and often single handed so anything that makes short handed sailing easier I would agree to. The numbers racing on the Clyde East Patch have been falling away and we turn a blind eye to boats sailing with a crew of 2 and on one occasion a furling genoa but it would be nice for them to be legal even if it is only a local class rule to get more boats involved in racing. I do realise that these suggested changes are only due to my personal situation and we are really looking at getting more young people into racing but then the Sonata is probably not the favourite boat for young people today.

Peter Booth

Firebird

GBR 8717N

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Hi Chris,

Thought I might be walking into that one. Not exactly that sort of chap at present I'm afraid. I tend not to have time to commit to much - infact I have resigned from Rear Commodore Race at Whitby Yacht Club (that's where I'm based!) this season as I didn't have time to do the job as I would like. However, my time on committees has given me insight into these things and how frustrating it is when no-one has time to help or even respond, so I will try to give what assistance I can. I'll try get you some info about the Sonata situation in the NE.

It is the same Tiger Rag. I have old log books written by Sandy Woodward. It was in fact Sandy who eventually decided he was too old to cope with the big one-design genoa and so fitted the furler and went into handicap racing. Next owners (a group on the Solent) continued this, with some success too - winning 1/8th ton cup. It was back at West Mersea when I bought it, off a lad who'd fulfilled his dream of moving up to a yacht from dinghies only to get disheartened by a lack of crew!

Nat

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Hi Chris

nice to see you back at the helm even if temporarily.... some interesting ideas may be a threat to the OD status but so is reduced numbers.

 

good luck for the year ahead 

Euan

wicked wookie

 

 

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Absolutely, Euan. I have a fond, no, wrong word, lasting memory of you vanishing off on Port tack into the mists of the Clyde whilst us lot, Mark, Steve and various others pursued what we calculated to be the correct tactic of getting closer to the windward mark on Elvestrom's theory, only to discover, when we eventually got back in sight of each other that your 'flyer' had got you a lead of several hundred yards! I never did get the hang of racing on the Clyde but Sharon and I had a great time trying.

I sure have no intention of threatening the OD status, just suggesting ways it might be made more accessible.

Chris

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On 18/09/2017 at 21:34, Peter Booth said:

Now in my mid seventies and having owned and raced my Sonata for 25 years I find it increasingly difficult to get crew and whilst I am reasonably happy to take new crew out and training them up I still find it difficult at times to get 4 of a crew and when I do have 4 there is usually a combined crew age approaching 250 or over. I rather doubt that I will ever do a regatta again unless it was a single day event. I also want a fairly simple rig e.g. furling genoa as I would like to do more cruising and often single handed so anything that makes short handed sailing easier I would agree to. The numbers racing on the Clyde East Patch have been falling away and we turn a blind eye to boats sailing with a crew of 2 and on one occasion a furling genoa but it would be nice for them to be legal even if it is only a local class rule to get more boats involved in racing. I do realise that these suggested changes are only due to my personal situation and we are really looking at getting more young people into racing but then the Sonata is probably not the favourite boat for young people today.

Peter Booth

Firebird

GBR 8717N

Peter,

Thank you for your comments. Rest assured, you are not alone, there is a significant proportion of the existing Sonata fleet in a very similar position, for one reason or another. 25 years of ownership says a great deal about our wee boats. I count myself as one, having owned BFG since 1976. My current personal view is that there is absolutely no point in trying to sell BFG. I would get pence. I would far rather beach her until either the market picks up, which my plans are aimed at, or give her away. However, currently, BFG is in Poole because Sharon and my children live close by and they can use her which they have done. Our personal use has been limited to the Sonata Southerns, Seaview, Isle of Wight and the RTI this year. Bit of a reduction on our previous racing programme, hey-ho, age, other commitments, etc., impinge. 

I seriously do think we as a Class need to consider how we best proceed to ensure our survival for the next 40 years. It is not impossible. Others have done it and we have an excellent vehicle in the Sonata to achieve that. Sonatas are almost a "Classic", (not yet quite in the Classic Yachts definition), so lets go for "Iconic". 

As an aside, my youngest son raced in the re-formed Quarter Ton Cup recently in Cowes. World class competition. Most of those boats are custom-built for that event. Not far off a Sonata's dimensions, with an international following. His boat was an original, much modified, obviously. They got a second in the "Original" class. My point is that,  Sonatas could, with some effort, generate something similar. It isn't hard, it requires effort on the part of your NSA Committee, we will do that, but most importantly, it requires the support of the Class. 

There is an appetite for racing "Classic Yachts", hopefully also "Iconic" yachts. Never more so than now. See the rise of, for example, the company, Classic Yachts of Ipswich, the growth of Classic events all around the UK, let alone, France where they have been doing this for years. As Sonatas, we might not entirely qualify as a "Classic", but we sure as hell qualify as "Iconic" amongst all of the 1970's GRP boats that were made then and have since vanished. 

My view of the Sonata Class is that we should adapt to the changed needs of our current members by allowing, for example, a 2 - crew minimum. On the other hand, at a racing level, we, NSA, should not do anything that precludes the Sonata as a completely one-design boat.

When my Committee have assembled their opinions I will be communicating with the whole Class, well, as many of them as I can via email, to inform them of what we propose. The tone of the email will be along the lines of what we, NSA, can do to ensure the survival, hopefully, growth of Sonatas not only as race boats but as fab little cruising boats, as evidenced by some tales in our "Yarns" section here.

Chris

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