Virgin Airways

Virgin Airways

Forwarded to us by our old friend Bret Van Munster, who builds some of the fastest carbon skiffs and dinghies on the planet.

After sailing more or less all my life and competing in several National Championships in the UK, I was really keen to have a go in the so called hardest and fastest boats in the world, the 18ft Skiffs.  Thanks to Ronstan (a rather long story), Brett Van Munster and Paul Montague, I was able to realise my dream last week!  

Prior to the arriving and rigging up my expectations were high.  With a good breeze hitting just over 20 knots at times on the flat of Lake Macquarie conditions couldn’t be any better – right at the top end of the No 1 rig.  When we finally got out on the water after rigging (which seemed to take for ever), the upwind speed was incredible.  Faster than most boats I’ve sailed downwind in a blow!. 

One of the most surprising elements of getting sailing was the huge loads on all of the control lines, pulling on the Kicker (or Vang as you guys call it down here) was a real job just to get a half as much on as was needed.  When the time came to tack, after reaching the other side of the lake in minutes, it didn’t seem to bad, making it through the tack with no drama, but it was quite obvious the regular 18 sailors, Brett on the Helm and Monty on the main, were doing all the hard work.  Making it across the lake in really no time at all, three stringing and Dick McColloch from Ronstan sitting in on the wing, it was time to get back down wind, after the speed upwind the ride home was going to be ridiculously quick.  First was the bear-away, apparently not the easiest move in an 18 in 20 knots.  Once again though, no real problems with the bear-away, getting weight to the back and Brett doing the tricky part.  When it was time to get the kite up we discovered Brett was a helm and not a rigger; the kite wasn’t so immaculately rigged, with some halyard round the Hounds related issues.  The problem was soon remedied with a wick trip up round the bow from Dick, and it was all on for the down wind streak back down the lake.  

The acceleration with the Spinnaker up is huge especially after pottering down wind two sailing, the skiff came to life.  All the crew to the back, and hold on.  Centreboard out of the water, Top Gun, Jet Fighter stuff – getting the occasional air from a few waves in front.   Only thoughts at the time were just how fast the boat was going, it felt quick from out on the wire, but then gauging the speed against the land which was seemingly galloping towards us, combined with the fact that there was on wind apparent on the boat – we were travelling just about as fast as the wind, somewhere around 20 knots.  After reaching the other side of the lake in half the time it had taken us to get up there we gybed, the kite dealt with by Monty as it turns out a bit of a kite gybing specialist.  Down on the other gybe the story was much the same, remarkable speed in the especially when the gusts ripped through the lake.  After we made it down the lake in around eight minutes (a 30-40 minute drive) there was a quick crew swap and time to go again.  The second time round didn’t disappoint, although getting used to the speed of the boat, almost enough to concentrate on the sailing rather than just holding on. 

All too quickly it was time to land and get the boat back on the beach.  As with everything on the 18s, not easy.  Firstly trying to get out without hitting a shroud, and then catching the boat so it kept head to wind.  Soon enough the boat was on the rack and sails where down, panic over.   It was then that I realised my legs and feet were covered in claret – I can see why it’s not a good idea to wear a shortie or go barefoot in an 18.

It only remains to thank all the guys that made this awesome appearance; Alistair Murray from Ronstan for getting it all organised, Dick McColloch also from Ronstan for his organisation, Brett Van Munster for skippering (or helming as we call it in England) and the time to take me out, and the same to Monty for taking the time to go sailing.

-James Salter