29 Jun Sailing the wide-rack International 14
Since the first whispers of this design proposal came about, there have been plenty of people with plenty of opinions on the matter. This is a natural response to such suggestion, and follows the pattern of 14 conversation around every great advancement in the fleet’s history. However, before anyone can truly cast any assertions over the potential success of this idea, they have to do one thing…
So, on a crisp April Saturday morning, I did just that.
There have been plenty of photos and videos doing the rounds on social media of the wide rack boat recently, so anyone who hasn’t plunged their head into the sand will have seen her. But until you see her in the ‘flesh’ you can’t fully appreciate just how normal she looks. It just looks right. There is no better way to describe it than that really. The wings appear in proportion to both the M12 hull and the 2011 sails kindly donated by Andy Fitzgerald.
There has been considerable discussion across tables and bars relating to how the racks extended width will be achieved and managed. In this case, Woofy has kept the original rack width and incorporated the extension to provide ‘granny bars’, enabling the sailors to have a two stage approach to getting out should they require it. To combat the increased width for trailing, boat parks and container packing, the wings are completely removable, held in place on a pin system similar to that successfully demonstrated in fleets such as the B14s.
Whilst all of this is very exciting, I was eager to don some rubber and hit the water for the first time in 4 months to see what this is really all about.
First things first, rigging. Usually the word halyard sends me running for the hills. It was a relatively painless experience and we had sails flapping around in the breeze in no time.
Up next, launching. This was the point at which we expected to find ourselves beating our heads against a metaphorical brick wall, whilst desperately attempting to avoid slamming the boat against a similar wall. But this too proved to be an unnecessary concern as there was plenty of space between the transom and the rudder wings to scramble into the boat. The wider racks appeared to have made life easier for my helm too, allowing him to take a little more control over the boat whilst holding station in the water. Anyone who has sailed International 14s in the most modern evolution of the fleet will confirm that this is not something to be sniffed at. They have tempers, and nothing infuriates them more than sitting around waiting for their passengers to climb aboard and begin the ride. But in a shifty Northerly breeze, some of this difficulty appears to have been eroded.
So, we’re rigged, we’re afloat. Time to go sailing…
Something that I tend not to share in the International 14 fleet is that I’m actually quite a cautious sailor. So imagine my helm’s surprise when he turned round to tell me not to worry about going out onto the full extension of the racks straight away, only to find me nimbly scampering out to take a look at the view!
And what a view it is! It offers a whole different perspective far superior to that currently experienced in modern International 14s. It feels effortless, whilst still feeling the same connection with the boat that we love.
My previous reservations that we would find it difficult to adapt to the wide racks straight off the bat proved to be unfounded. In fact, the addition of the second set of racks allowed us to have options that we’d never even considered. At 5″2, I was quick to take advantage of the additional height. Conversely, my helm is 6″4, so has less of a need to capitalise on such extensions. When sailing downwind in big breeze (and at 140kg all up that category begins pretty early!), he tends to sit on the rack to maintain control and avoid heading higher and higher to keep us both out. This does mean that sometimes we relinquish speed for control, something that I would rather avoid given half a chance. With the extra width, it is still possible to perch on the rack for stability and control, but it now provides the same leverage as if he were to trapeze off the narrower racks. Two birds, one stone as they say.
The transition didn’t prove nearly as testing as we expected either. Yes there were one or two moments where we got somewhat carried away in all of the excitement (we haven’t sailed in 4 months remember!) and a foot dipped in the water between the racks. But I’m pretty certain that after one or two sails this kink could soon be ironed out, and is no different to learning where to place your feet when moving from one design to the next within the current 14s.
As previously mentioned, I am slightly vertically challenged at 5″2, especially as a 14 crew. As a result, when the breeze builds, we spend a lot of our time debating rake settings, and attempting to set the boat up in a way that will grant us a chance to cling on to the bigger teams. Not only did we spend no time adjusting the rake or controls, it didn’t even crop up as a potential for debate, despite gusts of 20 knots when we first launched. To put this into perspective, this would usually be rake setting 3 of 3 in our previous boat, a M12. In fact, my usual trepidation around sailing in breeze bore no relevance on this occasion. Instead I finally understood why the guys in the fleet get so excited when the sheep are in the paddock! It was quick, but I didn’t feel out of control, nor did we have to continuously invert the main as is often the case for us when it blows.
She feels faster too. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our trusty Speedpuck with us this week so I can neither confirm nor deny this claim, but following the results of previous sailors trialling this boat against current top boats, it seems that she really is faster, although the true test will be when she lines up with the rest of the fleet for some unofficial racing.
Ultimately, the thing that matters most for anyone who truly loves the 14s is the thrill of the ride. The absolute ecstasy of gliding through the chop, breezing past every other boat around you-there’s nothing like it. And none of that has been lost with the wide rack boat. The only difference is that now it is possible to do all of this, with the thrill of being on the edge, without the fear of losing control. Because that feeling of pushing it to the limit is addictive, it’s overwhelming and it is intoxicating. The only difference now is that we can push it further, longer, harder.
And that is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.