Is TASA for you?

We take a look at a new open meeting concept

Wednesday March 21st 2007, Author: Toby Heppell, Location: United Kingdom
The high performance dinghy market only ever seems to be big enough for a finite amount of active classes. Technology continues to progress leaving boats as young as ten years out of date and arguably no longer fit for purpose. Many boats of this style are designed to be as high performance as possible, but as technology moves on these classes become outmoded sailors moving on to other newer more up to date boats.

Many of these less fortunate classes are now fighting back with what could be looked at as a new style of open meeting circuit. For many years now people have been sailing in handicap fleets at their home clubs, but this has always been limited to sailing on home waters, bar a few one off events . The question is: what happens to those who want to travel but are sailing a relatively small class?

Conceived in late 2006, TASA (the Trapeze and Asymmetric Sailing Association) is an organisation which runs races for a variety of different classes. The man behind TASA and current Commodore of the Association is Alex Ford, who came up with the idea after several yeas of frustration in and around his own class. “The original reason I set up TASA was because I sailed a Spice and I was the Class Association Chairman for about a year,” he explains. “During this time I found it unbelievably frustrating and difficult trying to find a venue for events because we would only have a very small turnout. Originally the idea was to create a Topper asymmetric fleet so the Buzz, Spice, Boss and Iso would all be involved.”

After several weeks of consideration Ford realised there were many other people in the country who must be struggling with the same issue and slowly the concept evolved to where it is now, allowing significantly more classes to attend events.

While Ford is Commodore of the Association his close friend, Emma Liddell helps out with the running of the organisation and designed their logo. Liddell is another prime example of why Ford decided to open up the Association to other classes outside of the Topper fleets. “Emma has a penultimate International 14 that has been converted to new rules so it does not really fit in either bracket. There is no penultimate circuit and it does not fit in with the new circuit. So that is exactly the sort of boat I started it for,” says Ford.

The idea of TASA is a simple one: instead of a number of classes struggling to get decent sized fleets, any boat with an asymmetric spinnaker and a trapeze can come along for the weekend. The plan is that the majority of the events will be split over two days, with the first day being dedicated to training and the second day to handicap racing.

One of the main reasons Ford wanted one training day each weekend was he has witnessed many people getting into difficulties after purchasing a high performance skiff for very little money. “I currently have a Spice for sale and there is a part of me that wants to sell it to someone I know is capable of sailing the boat,” he explains. “Then again it has been on the market for a year and a half and if someone comes along with £1000 cash in their hand I am more than likely to sell it to them. The chances are they will buy it, go out in it once, scare themselves witless and it will sit rotting in the boat park. I have seen it happen so many times with high performance boats and particularly twin wire boats.”

This is certainly an issue with a number of high performance boats being available for such a small amount of money. Generally the only people interested in buying a boat that has very little fleet racing going on are those who do not have the necessary experience to sail a high performance skiff.

Ford explains one of the main reasons the association is only for trapeze asymmetric boats is to try and make the coaching as relevant to everyone as possible. The name of the Association though makes it sound slightly stricter than it actually is. For example B14s are allowed to attend the training days despite not having a trapeze. “The B14 is about as close as you can get to an asymmetric trapeze boat anyway so we decided they would be able to come,” explains Ford.

This slightly relaxed approach is also evident in the actual racing at the events. “The racing is handicap and the idea with it being trapeze asymmetric boats only is that we can have a single start. We can do this because all the boats’ Portsmouth Yardstick numbers should be within roughly 100 points of each other. Everything attending should be faster than a Buzz, we think. However, we are a bit flexible as we are allowing RS600s, RS Varios, anything that is fairly quick and will be able to compete,” states Ford. They want to run back to back races from a single startline and his means they do not want to be hanging around for too long between races. Thus they make decisions at the entry stage about whether a boat is able to come or not, if it is outside of the trapeze asymmetric concept. “We do not want to end up with say ten 49ers all having to wait for a Laser to finish before they can race again,” he summarises.

Currently there is no fee to be a member of TASA and the association seems unlikely to introduce one anytime soon. “The whole thing is non-profit making, currently the website fee is coming out of our own pockets pretty much. People pay on an event-by-event basis and the actual cost will vary from venue to venue. Weston, for example, took £5 per boat per day but on the Sunday we had to organise everything. Whereas Datchet are taking £30 per weekend per boat but on Sunday they will do everything,” Ford comments. He adds that at the moment Julian Pearson is being hired to do the coaching on the Saturdays so his costs are being covered. Ford himself is a qualified club racing instructor and is hoping to qualify do be able to run the training himself. Until then, he says, it looks like costing about £30 to £40 per weekend, per boat.

The future for TASA continues to be a little disorganised as is the case for any organisation of this type in its infancy. So far this season they have held one event in Weston and are in the process of preparing for the next in Datchet in two weeks time. Following this they have another three identical training/racing events planned for the rest of the year. They are also in the planning stages of holding a combined event with the Scottish Skiffs (a similar venture) although Ford admits it is still very much in the planning stages.

Another interesting idea the association has had is to introduce some weekends where only certain types of boat are to attend, narrowing down the field further still. “We have another event in the pipeline which will be a single wire showdown. The idea is that there will be racing between 29ers, Buzzes, Isos, Laser 4000s, Laser 3000s etc. That will be the 4 - 5 of August but we have yet to secure a venue,” Ford says.

Ford seems quite ready to admit his concept is more than likely to attract people from dying classes but thinks it is only right these sailors have a place to go. He says he does not think there is anything bad about this happening but that it is a natural process - some of the new classes of boat just fill the same slots many of the old ones which are now being phased out. Ford says the most important thing is to get all those boats out there racing again. “We would like to eventually work our way through as many clubs as we can - or at least the majority of clubs that have a high contingent of our sorts of boat. There are some clubs like Datchet where there are 40 boats in the compound that are TASA-type boats and a couple of people have said they have only seen ten of those out this year, if that.”

Perhaps this kind of combined racing event is the way forward for classes who are struggling to keep their numbers up. It certainly seems like a relatively cheap way to potentially get some decent relatively high performance racing. If the events attract even as few as 30 boats, then suddenly you could buy a secondhand Spice for £1000 and regularly have training and racing with boats that are very similar for £40 a weekend. That certainly seems to be a lot of bang for your buck.

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