Comet Training Day – Staunton Harold

A sunny Saturday 5th June saw six NSC members and their Comet dinghies at Staunton Harold Sailing Club, in Derbyshire, for a ‘Comet Training Day’. Attending were Comet sailors Rose, Jan, Hazel, Ellie, Nick & Phil. The preparations of this had taken some time as the number of Comet owning members with tow-bars and towing trailers was limited. Thanks to the generosity of the Comet designer, Andy Simmons, who lent jigs that could be used to mount two boats (one inverted) on a trailer (using a towing trailer lent by Sue) and the availability of a double stacking towing trailer at the Club (thanks Nigel), the delivery to Staunton Harold became possible. The double stacking trailer, required a bit of swapping around of launching trailers, and a fair amount of careful tying down thanks to a lot of effort by Nick, who then delivered this to Staunton Harold on the evening of the 4th. Ellie had her Comet on a trailer collected from the Club Friday evening and delivered to Staunton as well.

The morning of the 6th saw Nick, Phil & Rose at the Club early to hitch up another trailer and Comet (Rose’s), then drive to Staunton Harold with Rose & Phil on board, arriving around 8:30 to unload and rig their Comets. Meanwhile Jan had arrived with the two Comets on one trailer (hers and Hazels) with Hazel and Ellie arriving separately around the same time.

Staunton Harold Club and Lake

There then followed a frantic period of reassembling and rigging the boats, while admiring the sunny scene across Staunton Harold reservoir, noting that there was little or no wind, and wondering how we were going to launch (no nice landing stage obvious). The changing rooms and toilets were open (under Covid restrictions) so those who needed to could use the facilities. We, plus the attendees from other clubs (we were about 10 altogether), were all called together at around 9:40 for an opening briefing of safety and Covid rules etc. with introductions to the host ‘instructors’ and SHSC officials Alan Bennett (Comet 126), Paul Williamson and Nigel Fern.

The first session of the training day consisted of advice on sailing, in particular ‘roll tacking’ and ‘roll gybing’ given by Paul. Then, taking Nick’s Comet as an example, Alan discussed the rigging on the Comet and how it can be improved for racing. Particular points emphasised were the need to have the sail tight, but still leaving a small amount of ‘bow’ excepting in extreme conditions, like very low wind and very strong wind. The need to keep the boom horse line on the stern tight, to have the clew end of the sail as tight to the boom as possible, and depowering using the cunningham were emphasised. The useful scheme of putting markers on the kicker and outhaul so that appropriate settings can be restored easily was also pointed out. There followed a detailed description of roll tacking and gybing given by Paul and the way this was to be practiced on the water.

Rigging Instruction

Following the onshore instruction and briefing, a session of sailing trying to put some of the roll tacking and gybing information into practice. Firstly, we had to tackle the unfamiliar technique, for many of us, of launching into a lake with a shallow sloping shore. This involved wading out up to at least knee level, pushing the boat off the trolley, as soon as depth allowed, then somehow getting the trolley back to shore without losing the boat (or getting someone else to pull the trolley back). Once the boat was floating free the centre-board could be inserted (but not lowered) followed by clambering into the boat. The rudder and centre board could only be lowered fully once the boat had floated into deep enough water. Once all this had been sorted out sailing out into the lake could be done. I have no idea how all the process can be achieved of it is windy!

Working from one of the safety boats (a rib), with Alan in his Comet leading the way, Paul gave commands via shouting and a whistle on what and when we should carry out manoeuvres. So a whistle to then attempt a roll tack or a roll gybe, with the whistle commands sometimes happening so fast that the boat had scarcely stopped moving from the previous manoeuvre, when we had to go the other way. It’s fair to say some of us were better than others at actually rolling, though in the light winds prevailing it was difficult in any case. At the end of this session we broke for drinks around 11:30. This meant, of course, going through the procedure of arriving at a shallow shore which meant pulling up the centre board, trying to raise the rudder (it was certainly trying for me), then hopping out of the boat, finding the trolley and hauling it on. At least one of our number managed to jump out into a deep hole, and ended up to the armpits in water! Landing was by no means an easy exercise. We were allowed to leave the boats on the trolleys just on the shore fortunately (there is quite a long slope up from the water at SHSC). Hot water for tea and coffee was available along with water and squash. Rose surprised us all by producing a mixture of cream cakes, apple turnovers and doughnuts (courtesy of her Mums work) for us all to sample, boosting morale greatly.

Comets on the water







Following drinks, we were all then instructed on the intricacies of starting races on start lines that can be adjusted to allow for the prevailing wind direction – something we don’t really experience in Nottingham where our start line usually is fixed. In particular, the manoeuvring for the ‘better’ end of the start line and how to do this effectively, plus the rules that applied and what mistakes and rule breaking moves to avoid. Then we were encouraged to try all the advice out for real on the lake by practicing starts. So, going through the challenging launching routine again, we proceeded to practice starts on lines set out with a buoy set from the safety boat and from which Paul shouted instructions with a 3 minute countdown for each start.  Surprisingly there wasn’t too much chaos and mostly we started almost immediately and sometimes all in the same direction.

At the end of the starts session we broke for lunch, with a repeat of the routine to try and beach the boat without doing too much damage to centre-board and rudder. After lunch, again finished off with more cakes from Rose, came the ‘formal’ bit of the day. All the NSC sailors gathered together and the chairman (Peter Mountford) of the Comet Class Association presented us (and Jan in particular) with the official Comet pennant (to be used at our Comet Open in July).

The Pennant – held by Jan

We were then invited to join in the 2pm race (starting less than 30 mins later, although the Comets start 3 minutes after the general handicap racers with Lasers starting first at 2pm, so we had a bit of time to panic and prepare). After some prevarication and gauging the still fairly light wind, we all joined the race. We were faced with the novel (for those of us used to just racing on the Trent) concept of having more than two marks and remembering the order round. Basically though, we just followed the other boats as far as possible. Having successfully negotiated that race, taking around an hour, we were then invited to join the second race of the day starting at around 3:30pm. A certain amount of ‘I’m knackered, not sure I can manage’ followed, but I think all the NSC sailors joined in again. Just to confuse us they changed the course as well, but again mostly we managed to get round ok – though there was a noticeable increase in wind over parts of the course, but rather like our home sailing the wind came and went rather, and one corner of the course was almost Trent-like with shifty winds.

More Comets on the water

Once ashore from this we were able to votes of thanks all round to our hosts, to whom we were very grateful, for an interesting and active day. Then the process of loading boats tying them on to trailers etc. followed, which took about an hour with Nick, Rose and I the last to leave. We arrived back at the Club at around 6:30pm and unloaded boats before Nick set off to drop Rose off at around 7:15and I drove home in my car.

A tremendous day which I think we all benefitted from – look out other fleets we will be coming through! Well, some of us perhaps.

Phil Roberts (Comet 784 )

NOTE – You can download a pdf version of this report from here