Geriatric Mirror Racing

Wooden Mirror dinghy racing as seen from the top of the mast

In many coastal sailing clubs, dinghy sailors and cruising boat sailors tend to separate and go their different ways, thus splitting the club into two factions, with little to connect them. A few years ago in our east coast club we found the same problem, and initially we tried to encourage combined cruisers-and-dinghy sailing meet-ups, to entice the two types to meet over a barbecue on a beach somewhere locally.

The intention was also that we should encourage the dinghy sailors aboard the yachts for food and sustenance whilst at anchor there.

    It didn't really work .. for quite honestly, who on earth wants some hairy-bottomed wet-suited mud-spattered gorilla padding about on their nice clean carpet in what is in effect the bedroom of their country cottage? The weather was usually lousy anyway.

   But, almost all cruising folk still have access to an old Mirror dinghy lying around somewhere, so we the tried it the other way round ..  we encouraged the yachtsmen back into their little Mirrors for a series of short unofficial evening races spread throughout the year. The boats were to be sailed singlehanded, so there'd be no-one else to blame for mistakes. The present commodore came up with  names like "Golden Oldies" and "Last of the Summer Wine" for these events , and a gradually increasing number of relatively elderly gents and ladies became involved. If the weather turned out to be windy, rainy, cold, foggy, or flat calm, we didn't bother to rig .. and since we didn't always have a support/safety boat with us (we expected to die with quiet dignity if we ever fell in, which we found concentrated the mind most wonderfully), and nor did we always have club officials to start/finish the races, it was all delightfully informal.  Often we started ourselves ("Ready, steady, GO!")  and the racing itself, in both boat speed and tactics, steadily improved as knowledge was shared. The standard throughout the fleet today is light-years ahead of where it was only six years ago.

   The cruisers have found the skills that they are honing in the Mirrors are equally applicable to their own bigger-boat sailing too .. some cruiser folk found they were actually quite lousy at making their boats sail properly at first, and have advanced enormously.

  The youngsters in the club nicknamed us "the water rats", as clearly at first they thought it totally inappropriate and possibly slightly obscene that elderly grown-ups should be out actually enjoying themselves, especially in such beat-up old and relatively small and slow boats.  We've been encouraging them to join in as well, to try to knock the old'uns off their perch .. (but so far they're finding it not as easy as it appears, because Youth and Agility is still no match for Age and Deception .. it won't be long though ..).  In some races the combined ages of the boats and their crews is truly quite prodigious.. really quite embarrassingly so, many at well over 110 years per boat  ..

   And the Mirrors themselves? Today we have no less than 50 ( yes, fifty) in our relatively small club .. it's by far the most popular class here now, many of them having been rescued from forgotten hiding places at the backs of barns and farm sheds, from the bottoms of gardens, or from up under the eves of private domestic garages etc..They now range from the very latest state of the art, plastic-fantastic, bermudian rigged, crackly sailed, drop-dead gorgeous piece of sculpture, through retired ex-successful racers and rebuilt family heirlooms, to battered many-times-painted pieces of plywood with parts of the original Mirror dinghy still attached. The oldest are 46 and 47 yr old four-figure-numbered boats, where if the woodworms ever stopped holding hands for even a second the poor things would rapidly revert to their original kit of parts. Very surprisingly these latter craft still remain remarkably competitive, and also they teach the art of learning to "nurse" a boat, to try to reduce the inevitable  repairing sessions. And no, the latest fibreglass boat, though very fast, isn't winning quite as often as you might expect, because these boats certainly teach you so much more about the tiny tidal eddies, small windshifts, and local effects, which in bigger and faster dinghies you would never notice so much.

   Real old fashioned stuff, minimal outlay, great fun in good company .. I strongly recommend "Geriatric Singlehanded Mirror Racing" .  It has certainly melded the dinghy sailors and the cruisers back into a single club again now.

   And it's all due to that remarkable design .. so grateful thanks once again to Barry Bucknell and Jack Holt back in 1962.

                                                                        David Foreman, Orford S.C.
                                                                          September 2012

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