"Is it a by-product of foiling that you can't stop grinning?" Those were John's words to me as he reflected on his first spin in a Moth that evening.
A few weeks ago I'd read on Sailing Anarchy about Maureen McKinnon -Tucker having a go in one of the Puma Moths in Boston. I'd met Maureen on the Paralympic circuit, and watched her win Gold in China. I thought her sailing a Moth as a great story. She loved her go, but didn't get flying, so it got me thinking....
I mentioned it to our Sonar helm John Robertson, and he was very keen to give it a try.
With the whole Paralympic team training out of Weymouth this week, and some lovely evening breeze we saw our opportunity on Wednesday. Katherine was going for a sail in Carbon Footprint after work, and I was in a rib. We finished the formal session on the water, did a very quick pack up of the boats, and got John and the rest of our Moth support team into the rib.
It is worth noting here that we didn't just stick a paraplegic friend of ours into a Moth and let him go without a bit of thought. We'd done a fair bit of thinking about how to do it, and who'd do what. (I was slightly nervous about telling our Olympic manager about what I'd done to one of our squad if it all went wrong!) So the plan was to drive the rib up to Katherine, and get the wing onto the tube, and transfer John across. Onboard the rib we had Niki Birrell was our rib bowman and wing holder. (Niki was our Skud helm in China, and next on the list for the foiling Moth experience). Mark Rushall the Sonar team coach, and Steve Thomas the Sonar mainsheet man and our main muscle for getting John back into the rib. We had a recovery plan, and everybody knew what they were to do if we had any issues.
So we got him onboard and let go! First attempt was brief, but showed it was actually quite easy to do the transfer and recovery. Attempt 2 was good, John had full control of it at lowspeed, and covered some distance, but didn't quite manage to get the bearaway in to build enoough speed to foil. Attempt 3 was to go for the bearaway, the mainfoil popped up, briefly but we didn't quite get full flight. John was cold now (no wetsuit of drysuit on!) but had the taste of it, and wanted to go again. Attempt 4 was a good bearaway, an he was up! He wasn't up for long as it did a slow roll to windward but he'd been flying! It was a very happy man that we pulled into the rib after that one!
We'll be out again over the summer, when I think he'll happily be able to foil the width of the harbour next time now he's got the feel of it.