The Solent is a much bigger and wetter place when viewed from the cockpit of an X One Design but that doesn’t put crews off from joining what is yet again the biggest one design fleet at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week 2015
Surrounded by her wooden cockpit coamings with a cabin sole that feels way below the waterline, you also can’t help noticing when you race an X One Design (XOD) how big everything else looks. A Sadler 34 has never looked like a maxi, but today the one we passed did.
But it’s not just the hundreds of cruiser-racers in the Black group, with topsides so tall that they appear to bock out the light as they pass, but other racing dayboats like Dragons and Darings that seemed to tower over us and sweep past as we punched our way upwind.
And then there’s the Solent chop, totally redefined in my mind after having spent three hours trying to haul a 65-year-old boat over every hump. Given how hard it is to keep these little boats moving when every wave is doing its best to stop them in their tracks, it’s surprising that the XOD fleet is so successful. If ever there was a length of boat that fits perfectly into each short steep wave it’s an XOD.
Lets face it, there are easier ways to go upwind.
But of course what makes this fleet special and appealing is the addictive nature of the close nip and tuck racing, some of the most fiercely fought in the 800-boat Cowes Week fleet.
On Sunday I joined owner James McGill and helmsman Jay Devonshire for a day racing in this hotly contested fleet.
While I cast my eyes around the cockpit and got to grips with the array of control lines, tweakers and most importantly, bilge pumps, I asked James when he had started sailing XODs.
“I first sailed one when I was 15 when I was a crew,” he answered. “It was 1956. In fact, it was this boat that I sailed.”
Trying to look polite, I was frantically cross checking my mental arithmetic to confirm what I had just heard. But James beat me too it, as if checking his own facts.
“Yes, 1956 because I’m 74 now, yes that’s right.”
But there was more to come, James was doing foredeck for the day. From that point it was clear that I was in no position to complain about the comfort side of things – not that I had planned to.
In a building breeze and an awkward sea state, it was clear to see at first hand just how close the racing is, at least it was until the top crews in the fleet drew out a leading margin over the rest of the fleet that seemed to defy the basic laws of hydrodynamics and physics. If a boat does 4-4.5knots upwind, how can you possibly pull out a lead of several hundred metres in the first 10 minutes?
Aside from understanding how to eek each fraction of a knot out of these boats, the main answer appears to be keeping clear air.
Unlike modern boats that can change gear quickly from high and slow to deep and fast modes as if simply changing gear, the differences in an XOD are far more subtle. Getting buried is a painful experience as it is difficult to break free. Tacking is costly and footing off to sail through someone’s lee is nowhere near as effective as you may think.
The only thing that comes easily is stopping the boat by slamming into the short Solent chop.
It is mastering these subtleties I’m sure that keeps owners and crews coming back year after year. That and the fact that the various South Coast based fleets in Poole, Lymington, Cowes and Itchenor have regular and competitive racing throughout the season. This keeps the standard high.
James and Jay have both spent a lifetime racing these boats and freely admit that they are still learning tricks and tips about techniques, settings and speeds.
That’s impressive in itself, but so is the fact that as various exciting modern one designs come and go, the XOD continues to drawn big fleets year after year.
See today’s Results.