Meet the Fleet: Radley College

Like policemen, do crews seem to be getting younger and younger? Worry not, in the case of one team on the SB20 circuit that’s genuinely the case as the team comes from renowned public school Radley College. George Barker, Radley College Sailing Coach, talks us through the set-up…

Radley is an all-boys boarding school for 660 pupils from the age of 14 through to 18 (Years 9 to 13 on the school system). Radley boys have the opportunity to do many sports – sailing is the minor ‘wet sport’, with rowing being the major sport on the water.

Boys who opt to sail can sail three afternoons a week: on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Farmoor reservoir near Oxford. Radley has a mixed fleet of boats which includes two 420s, three Fireflies, one RS200 and the SB20. In addition, we have the use of the sailing centre’s fleet of Pico and Feva dinghies.

Last term 11 boys sailed and we were fortunate to be able to borrow St Edwards School’s SB20. This allowed us to have eight boys in the two SB20s at any one time, and the other three were taught to drive powerboats with three achieving their RYA Powerboat Level 2 by Easter.

The SB20s are kept with their mast up in the car park on their trailers. I launch them down the beach on the Tuesday morning and moor them to our pontoon. We sail from 1400 till 1630, or when it gets dark, which is much sooner in January! The SB20s are left on the pontoon ready for the Thursday and Saturday session, with them being recovered after sailing on the Saturday. The boys have become good at along-side tows using our safety boat to manoeuvre the SB20s onto the trailers. I put the road trailers into the water behind my car and the boys do the rest, so their powerboat training has been very useful!

With the two boats we have been able to race on a windward-leeward course, which has allowed pupils to practice their boat handling and mark roundings. We have also match raced and we hosted the NSSA match racing championships, using the four SB20s that are based at Oxford.

Radley College pupils racing two SB20s at Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford

Radley College pupils racing two SB20s at Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford

The greatest feature of the SB20 is that having a crew of four boys means they have to work as a team. The helm – if he is also the crew boss – has to give clear instructions in plenty of time and also delegate the tasks to his crew. Initially the helms who were good Laser sailors tried to do everything on the boat, but quickly realised that this did not work. The helm also has to communicate his intentions to his crew.  Mark roundings were initially very wide with teams often sailing straight by the mark with the spinnaker still set, or attempting to go upwind with the spinnaker still most of the way up! The boys have also tried turning the SB20s into fishing trawlers with the spinnaker as a net and, whilst Farmoor reservoir is stocked with trout, an SB20 spinnaker is not ideal for catching them!

The boys have had a lot of fun this term and are always keen to see how fast they have sailed, the current record is 15.5 knots.

Dom, who is in Year 11, commented: “It has been a great opportunity for the school to develop the keelboating side of sailing and the SB20 has been perfect for this. The downwind experience is incomparable with anything else we sail at Radley. The boat has been perfect for us with the lifting keel making it possible to sail here without having a crane.”

Radley has also taken part in the Warsash Spring Series with many of the boys experiencing sailing on the sea for the first time. Coping with tide, waves and sailing at a completely different location has been good experience for them all. Warsash Sailing Club has been very accommodating and we have all learnt loads. It’s also been good practice as Radley will be entering Cowes Week this year and we hope to take part in more regattas in 2016.

Lower sixth pupil Chris explained: “Having the SB20 has allowed Radley to be able to train younger sailors in both a safer environment where the instructor is in the boat being able to talk through manoeuvres, and give younger sailors more responsibility in the boat. Meanwhile the performance of the boat has really enabled older and more experienced sailors to sail it to a high level.

“We are very fortunate at Radley to take the boat to exciting events such as the Warsash Spring Series, Cowes Week and hopefully, in the future, some regattas abroad.”

Radley College competing at the 2015 Warsash Spring Series

Radley College competing at the 2015 Warsash Spring Series