Born again sailing – getting back in after 20 years…

Sailing in South of France in the eighties

I sailed from the age of about 8 through to 14 with my Dad and then again in the mid eighties working for a sailing school in the South of France. Now, 20 odd years later, I’m the classic ‘born again’ dinghy sailor and am absolutely loving it.

I bought an elderly and slightly beaten up Laser 1 and refurbished it with some elbow grease and TLC. Then I went on the lookout for something new to learn more on. Here’s how it all happened…
My mate Mick fancied buying a sailing dinghy. He wanted a sport that he could do in all weathers and that’d compliment the other stuff he loved – paragliding, mountain biking etc. Like me, he’d done the obligatory crewing for Dad bit between about 8 and 16 and then stopped. Mick mentioned getting a boat and before I knew it he had a very tidy, second hand Laser 2000 which rapidly became his pride and joy. In fact he started spending so much time down at Bala in North Wales polishing and tweaking her that Kath thought he’d found another woman!!!
One sail in Mick’s 2000 convinced me that this was a really exciting sport and had moved on a lot in the 20 years since last being in a dinghy. A lot of the old favourite designs still abounded – Lasers, Merlin Rockets, 470’s, Mirrors and Enterprises but a real performance revolution had come about and even the so called family boats such as Mick’s Laser 2000 were capable of fantastic performance with asymmetric spinakers and trapeze options to make the boats absolutely fly downwind.
My 1979 vintage Laser

After sailing with Mick a couple of times I was convinced enough to want to get a boat but as I was skint, a Laser 2000 like his was out of the question for the time being. Plenty of single hand Laser One’s were around though but a decent one was still fetching £1,500 – out of my league.

Mick came to the rescue by finding a 1979 boat that still had life in it and just needed a hole in the transom fixing and some TLC. After a week in my garage she looked fantastic and sailed really well despite me not doing!!! After loads of capsizes but a lot of laughs, I decided I was hooked again and the great thing was, I was still doing all the other sport I love. Because we were down at Mick’s place near Bala biking, climbing and flying most Sundays anyway, on the mankier weather and higher wind days, we’d get the boats out.
But by May 2007, it was time for something new – bye bye motorbike and hello dinghy…
Liz had now started getting into sailing but as she was probably not going to be a die hard, the boat needed to be single handleable yet perform well with a crew as well. We might end up wanting to race both one or two up, so easy and fun handling was vital too. I lusted after a trapeze and sail size options for maximum performance AND, as we hadn’t got heaps of money it needed to be at the cheaper end of the market. Fussy eh?
The only dinghy that ticked all those boxes and sounded like fun was the Laser Vago. After testing one on Rutland Water courtesy of Paul James at Laser, I was won over enough to take a step into even more debt to buy one! The guys at Laser were superb to deal with – I hope we give customers a similar level of friendliness and expertise…
The Laser Vago

After picking the Vago up complete with the two versions of sails to give it the right power for every occasion, I towed her down to Bala Sailing Club in North Wales. Over several Sundays, I’ve steadily got to grips with this fantastic and massively versatile boat. For those new to performance dinghies or just wanting big fun, the Vago should definitely be high up on their list. For the purist or those only interested in racing, then it’s not going to be as ideal a choice – certainly not until a few more appear at clubs and form a fleet. But if you want to sail with a nervous crew or novice one day, then get high speed planing with a mate on the trapeze in 15-20 knots and all three sails the next, then she’s perfect. And now I’ve tried the demanding skill of singlehanding her on the trapeze, I realise there’s loads of learning ahead and I’m very unlikely to get bored…

Postscript: Liz and I spent a week’s holiday in North Wales staying at Mick and Kath’s farmhouse and we took both boats down to Abersoch for 3 days in some really strong conditions. The Vago was in her element in the waves and gusty wind – just glad we’d taken the small sails as well as the XD kit. After some great windsurfing when the wind was too strong for dinghy sailing (safely anyway…), we had some exciting hours including a capsize a couple of miles off shore. The boat came up easily but we were glad we had the security of a good safety knife and a quick release trapeze hook just in case.
In the more gusty conditions we found the Laser 2000 a joy to sail as it’s much drier and more stable when things are getting hairy. But for excitement it’s got to be the Vago for me – you don’t go any faster most of the time but you feel like you’re in a performance boat that needs much more pro-action between helm and crew to stay upright, particulary with all three XD sails up!
December 2007: We spent a week at Neilson’s sailing centre in Dahab, Egypt, windsurfing, diving and most importantly, dinghy sailing. Neilson’s have 3 Laser Vago’s at the centre and despite Dahab being a fairly high wind destination for dinghies, we had a ball and Liz made massive progress on the trapeze.
May 2008: Back into the new sailing season and after some serious tweaking of the Vago we are enjoying her even more. It’s been breakthrough time for Liz on the trapeze and I have sussed out single handing using the trapeze and gennaker which has been a big learning curve.
Rigging the RS500

Mick changed his boat for an RS500 and found it a lot more exciting than the Laser 2000 but with a lot less forgiveness when things went wrong! I helmed and crewed the 500 and really liked it – not as much versatility as the Vago but faster and more powerful.

Later developments: Disaster struck in early August 2008 when a massive storm hit Abersoch and Vago 802 was totally destroyed along with several other boats stored there that week. Thanks to Noble Marine Insurance and Laser, two months later a replacement was delivered – Vago 1044. We carried on sailing her for a few months but my whistle was whetted for an RS500 like Mick’s so after a load of customs and shipping hassle, I managed to sell and freight 1044 to a guy called Kostis in Greece. And that’s a story in itself!
The lean lines of the RS500

Now we have RS500 707 and we love her. She’s a thoroughbred – fast and responsive. The Vago was good training for a boat like the RS and although they look similar on paper, the RS is in another league performance wise. But the Vago is way more versatile and miles tougher as a first trapeze boat. Bala is the perfect place for a boat like the RS whether racing or just razzing around as the steady but strong South Westerlies power the sails up to full potential. The feeling of reaching at top speed with the bows way out of the water and the crew out on the trapeze with me hanging off the transom is awesome!