2015 MOTH WORLDS
Chris Rashley has been sailing International Moths since 2011. He has been reigning European champion for the past 4 years and came second at the Moth Worlds in 2014 at Hayling Island, having led right up to the last day. He was integral to the development of the Exocet Moth design, working alongside the designer, Kevin Ellway of Ellway Aero Hydrodynamic Designs and the builder, Simon Maguire of Maguire Boats. Chris is proud to be sponsored by Allen Brothers, Zhik, Marlow Ropes, CTech, Lennon Sails and the Royal London Yacht Club. He enjoys working full time coaching the British Olympic 49er FX Podium Squad.
The Moth Worlds 2015 was held in Sorrento in Australia. We were told this was an idyllic Moth sailing location with winds typically 12-20 knots. It wasn’t quite the nirvana we were promised, but we did have an extremely warm and generous welcome from our hosts, the great people at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club.
The Moth is widely appreciated as the most demanding high performance dinghy, and the line-up for this Worlds boasted pretty much all the exceptional sailing talent of our generation. It’s tempting to rank it as the most prestigious sailing event ever. We had previous Moth World champions such as Nathan Outteridge, Josh McKnight and Bora Gulari; a huge contingent of America’s Cup sailors including Pete Burling, Dean Barker, Glenn Ashby, Ray Davies, Chris Draper and Kyle Langford; plus Olympic legends like Iain Jensen and Tom Slingsby. No one expected an easy ride and there were bound to be big names who wouldn’t make the top 20.
I always take a really disciplined approach to my sailing though, and I don’t leave things to chance. Working full time means my time on the water is as limited as any other weekend warrior, but I made sure that the training I had done was really effective. I am fully committed to Moth sailing and it’s important to me to do the very best I can for myself and for all the people who back me.
So I left the UK for two weeks of training at the venue over Christmas with my ultimate goal to make the top eight at the Worlds.
It’s the way of things that the best laid plans go awry. Sitting here after the event, I’m astounded that I not only managed to achieve my goal, but I actually finished in fourth place. It’s a fourth I value really highly and, in achieving it, I learnt a lot about myself too.
So what happened? Well, training at the venue before Christmas I knew I was fast – really fast. However, I began to have some serious back problems. I collapsed and ended up in hospital receiving conflicting advice from specialists. There were some dark days before an MRI scan helped diagnose a protruding disk.
I was told a steroidal epidural could help get me back on my feet and might, just might, allow me back in a boat again. This gave me hope I badly needed, but I had to wait until after the holiday period for treatment at Melbourne’s Olympic Park. I was in huge pain and couldn’t sleep. This was not the event preparation I’d had in mind.
Eventually I had the injection on Monday, two days before the Australian Nationals. Within 24 hours I couldn’t feel the pain anymore.
I was advised to do nothing for three days but I knew I owed it to myself, my sponsors and supporters to push harder. So I discounted doing the Nationals but took a couple of gentle sails on Wednesday and Thursday. My back was painful and I knew I would have to compromise my technique, but participating in the Worlds looked more realistic.
The World’s practice race took place on the Friday. Unlike the other races where the fleet splits into two starts, for this one all competitors would line up together. There was a nice 16-18 knots blowing. I tried hiking but quickly realised the pain was too much and settled for just sitting on the side. It wasn’t fast, but racing was possible.
Despite doubting I’d be competitive, I found myself in second place. When Scott Babbage bailed out of the win for superstitious reasons, I was happy to cross the line first - I really felt I couldn’t possibly have any more bad luck. I was pleased to take the accolade of winning the biggest Moth race ever and was stoked just to be on the race course. I went to bed on Friday night confident of beginning the Worlds on Saturday morning.
Saturday dawned a nice sub 10 knots day. Despite constant pain, the conditions were easier on my body, and I bagged some solid results: 3, 3, and 7.
The second day, Sunday, was windy and I felt nervous about hiking. But out on the start line I thought, “Hey, this is just like Stokes Bay – I love this stuff. Play it safe, get counters, a little hiking off the start line. I can do this.”
To be honest, I just felt privileged to be on the water and not be stuck in bed. It was a major achievement. I wanted to live in the moment and enjoy being able to sail. Knowing my back might give up and I might not be able to finish the event, I decided just to aim for the Gold fleet.
I started with small ambitions but my confidence grew. I can’t believe I pulled off a win in the second race which gave me a 4, 1, 4 and 4. I came off water feeling tight, sore and with a ripped shoulder muscle, but I was confident. I had more than made Gold fleet, I was lying 5th. It was a good day.
Monday continued the good vibes for me. With just one light wind race sailed, it was stressful but not physically tough. I took home an 8th.
Afterwards, there was some discontent in the boat park regarding the conditions in which the race was run. I don’t get into that stuff though. The RO can only put on racing when he’s happy to. All you can do is follow the instructions you get and not try to second guess the RO or the weather. Some high profile names launched just four minutes before the start – a schoolboy error in anyone’s book. I was happy simply to have a gentle day.
The next day, Tuesday, was tougher. It was windy, raining like I’d never seen before and 11 degrees. We were postponed and my back was seizing up in the cold. I spent the day doing exercises in the shower to keep warm. We were sent out at 6pm. It was really rough and I’d already been round the forestay once before they finally called off any racing.
The forecast for the next day was dreadful and the RO confirmed it would remain as a lay day. I was able to relax a bit and, for the first time in weeks, I got 5-6 hours of sleep. It was great.
After unwinding on Wednesday, my mind set shifted from being happy just to sail, to really believing I could get a decent result. I wanted top 8 positions from Thursday – an ambitious goal in the shifty 12-28 knots. However I achieved 6, 8, 3 and 5. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I’d pushed harder. I felt I’d lost touch with the podium - Pete, Nathan and Josh were really consistent.
Yet I felt comfortably destined for the top six. With the pressure off, I slept well again. We had four more races scheduled. I could give it my all in the first two, discarding the rest if necessary.
The final day was breezy and choppy – enough to keep the Silver fleet ashore all day. But I went out to win the first race, ignore the pain and not worry about anything else. And I did win it, and I can’t tell you how good it felt.
We were sent in while the RO assessed the conditions. It was howling. At 3pm they ran a final race. I’m pretty sure it was the windiest I have ever raced the Moth in. There was spray at head height flying over the committee boat. However, I came away with a respectable third to Pete’s win and Nathan’s second.
So there I was with a healthy fourth place overall and I was a bit overcome really. I’d got through the event – something I’d thought impossible at times. I was massively relieved. In that calibre fleet, I would have been delighted with fourth even without an injury, so I’m really happy.
The best news is that I know now that I’m mentally tougher and more committed than I realised. I know I will always deliver my very best performance regardless of the situation. I’m determined to win the Worlds one day. Undoubtedly this was Pete Burling’s year though – he was in a league of his own and absolutely deserves the World Championship title.
PIECE WRITTEN BY - JO EVANS