The women took a giant step closer to getting an Olympic skiff after the recent evaluation trials in Santander, northern Spain. Where ISAF is concerned, it’s hard to get too excited until an idea becomes reality. Such is the politics of ISAF, and its ability to self-sabotage its own projects, we can’t be absolutely sure that the women are going to get a new skiff for Rio 2016.  

Previous false dawns include an evaluation trial for a new men’s singlehander just over a decade ago. That amounted to nothing in Olympic terms, although did spawn some new classes such as the RS700 and Musto Skiff. Then there was the women’s skiff evaluation trial at Hyeres in 2007, which once again encouraged a number of builders to invest tens of thousands of pounds in a trial that led nowhere.  

I had to ask Dick Batt, the head of the evaluation committee, if there was any chance of the process being derailed this time. He couldn’t see that happening, and believes it is as sure as sure can be that there will indeed be a women’s high performance skiff, and a mixed multihull too, for that matter. Reassuring to hear it.  

What Dick wouldn’t be drawn on, and understandably so, was the relative performance of the boats in the trial. He and his committee are busy writing up their conclusions in time for a presentation at the ISAF mid-year meeting in early May. While Dick wouldn’t comment directly on the boats, I spoke to plenty of people that did take part in the process, and it’s safe to say that if the women’s skiff is selected based on the experience and feedback of the sailors and observers at the trial, the 29erXX won’t be it.  

Reading between the lines, I would be very surprised if the 29erXX will feature among the boats recommended by Dick’s committee, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be chosen. Last November, a group of about 10 Member National Authorities (MNAs) pushed to have the 29erXX selected there and then. Not that the 29erXX is a bad boat, but that would have been a travesty if ISAF had voted in favour of those 10 MNAs’ request. Fortunately the trial went ahead, and most accounts of Santander were that it was very well run.  

Of the six boats that went to Santander, the 29erXX has the advantage of being already widely distributed around the world. Well, the hull and foils of a 29er, although the rig upgrade package for the XX version is a not insignificant investment. Apart from that however, the 29erXX offers little that some of the newer, purpose-designed boats wouldn’t do better. It will be interesting to see how the recommendations from Santander play out against the politics of the mid-year meeting. Whatever they choose, surely it has to be better than the experiment in women’s match racing, which might have been a fun ride for the past four years for the 20-odd teams in the world that have been high enough up the rankings to travel the globe and go racing against each other. For anyone else outside of that top 20 elite, the Olympic dream has more or less been a non-starter.  

‘Computer says No’  

Have you noticed how useful that phrase from TV show Little Britain has been since it first entered modern parlance a few years ago? How ever did we manage without it? Nothing better sums up the frustration of dealing with a human being who allows his or her decisions to be governed by a dumb terminal. My latest experience of this came when I attempted to re-insure my Musto Skiff with the same company that had insured it the previous two years. I made the payment online, and everything went through fine, but then an hour later I received an email: “Thank you for your application for insurance,however we can not offer cover as the storage address is a significant flood risk.”  

Well, Stokes Bay Sailing Club certainly is situated right next to the Solent, but I hadn’t appreciated that the dinghy park might be subject to flooding. If you have ever been there, you will know that it sits a good few feet above the high water mark. If the boat park at Stokes Bay does flood, head for the hills!  

Intrigued as to why I had been denied insurance, a quick Google search of ‘Gosport flood risk’ does indeed reveal the risk of flooding in the area. “Certain areas in the Gosport Borough district may be at risk from flooding from time to time in certain weather or tidal conditions,” warns Gosport Borough Council, who offer “new-technology FloodSax®, at discounted prices, to help people protect their homes and property in a flooding emergency”.  

Maybe if I build a fortification of FloodSax around my Musto Skiff, then I could persuade my insurance company to reinstate my insurance policy. Or maybe if I can get a reputable builder to put a damp-proof course in the Musto Skiff, and then make it properly flood-resistant. Or maybe just switch insurance companies to one that believes a sailing dinghy might just be OK even if Gosport were to be hit by the worst flood in a millennium.