Doug Baker’s Windsurfer LT windsurfing universe.

Interview: WSUK

Pics: Ellis Photography

Since the renaissance of the Windsurfer LT enthusiasts have been popping up in droves everywhere. While there’s a committed crew of WLT racers there’re just as many real world sailors using them in place of previous windSUP machines. One such sailor is Doug Baker who’s an avid Windsurfer LT lover. WSUK caught up with Doug to get his take on why the WLT is so good.

Give us a little of your sailing/windsurfing background first. Where did you start; why and where do you (mainly) sail now?

I learnt to sail on a tiny gravel pit at Frampton at Severn Sailing Club in Gloucestershire, starting out in Optimists my father soon discovered he enjoyed driving me and my two sisters around to events more than he enjoyed sailing himself. Optimists are not fast and while racing in big fleets is a huge amount of fun for a fix of speed we got an Alpha 230. This was in the early 80s and the board came with a triangle sail which I used for a few years until I got a fully battened sail aged 14. This board is still in my parents back garden, however, it would require garden sheers and a spade to free it from the undergrowth. I am pretty sure they have the original sails still in the garage somewhere.

That board went around Europe on family holidays to the South of France and a couple of Oppy European events. Mostly just sailing close to the beach, however, I did get my first taste of long distance sailing in Thessaloniki Greece where I sailed with Colin Dobner a 20-30km trip from our campsite to the sailing club where my sister and his son Paul were competing in the Europeans.

Once I got to University I did not have the funds to continue windsurfing and dinghy racing took over for some years. Over 20 years ago we joined Hayling Island Sailing Club using that as a base to travel around the UK and Europe with the Laser4000 circuit, stopping only when we had kids 14 years ago. After a few years playing with the kids on the beach while watching the windsurfers I spent £80 on a Bic Techno 283 and started buying more kit from the Hayling Windsurfing car boot sale.

Windsurfing from HISC in Chichester Harbour is pretty safe as long as you understand the tides. With the prevailing south westerly winds there is a wonderful speed strip along the sand banks at low tide. At high tide there is a huge sailable area, however, once the tide is going out care needs to be taken as the tide can reach 6+ knots in places.

When did you become aware of the Windsurfer LT (in modern guise) and what made you think you’d like one?

We sail from Hayling Island and, well, it is an island so at some point you have to try sailing round it. I have completed two Round Hayling races on a Starboard Gemini tandem and a couple of further laps on short boards. The fastest of those trips took almost three times as long as the longboards were managing in the race. At some point you always have to go upwind often against adverse tide, if the wind drops on a short board you can go from having a nice sail to needing to be rescued rather too quickly.

My youngest son is a really keen windsurfer and I have been taking him to Techno race events. The coaching at these events is excellent and it is a lot more relaxed compared to the kids’ dinghy sailing. The thought of chasing him around the harbour on a short board did not appeal, I needed something with a centreboard. I saw the initial LT launch and at the time having not purchased a new windsurfer since the 90s was thinking I would get an old RS:X or something like that. However, this year along came Covid and lockdown. I am very lucky to have a job where I can work from home so I worked right through Lockdown and could not spend anything. The money saved needed to be spent, so knowing Rory (Ellis) had taken delivery of a couple of Mistral LTs at Sandy Point Chandlery I purchased one just before lockdown finished.

Did it prove to be everything you expected when you first stepped aboard, and why?

I was out on the LT pretty much as soon as we left lockdown in the summer (2020). As windsurfing summers went it was pretty special with many windy days and now there was never a day when I could not sail. Though I did not get exclusive use (my wife Hilary took the board out for a good number of harbour tours) the ability to simply potter safely about the harbour with no worries about if you will be able to get back is great.

How does your Mistral Windsurfer LT compliment your other windy kit?

The sail is more powerful than it should be at only 5.7m. It takes no time at all to rig and having a functional boom clamp really helps compared to the good old days where you needed to tie the boom to the mast. The sail is not as stable as a modern sail once it gets windy, but at that point you can just switch to short boards and reasonable sized sails. Having the LT this year has meant that I have hardly used the really big sails I own. I have a 10.5 which last year I was using quite regularly with a Formula board – that has not been rigged at all this year. It is just more fun on the light days to go for the LT, and so much easier and quicker to rig.

What does the Windsurfer LT offer over say windfoiling or windSUP for instance?

Windfoiling looks a huge amount of fun but I don’t like the look of the catapults which even the experienced sailors take occasionally. I am sure I will try it at some point, but at the moment I am happy to have a well proven way of enjoying the lighter winds at a slightly slower speed.

In an ideal world would you own both bits of gear – a windfoil set up and Windsurfer LT?

Of course, you can never have too many toys.

The aspect of the windfoil which appeals to me is the ability to travel so far so quickly. My first reasonably quick lap round Hayling was a week or so before Guy Cribb did his record breaking lap. On that day both Guy and Ben Clothier completed two full laps of the Island in less than the time it took me to do one.

Have you tried in SUP mode? We know it makes a good paddling platform. Is this something you indulge in?

Yes, though not too much usually on SUP friendly days my wife has stolen the board to go off with her friends.

We hear you like a bit of distance aboard your Windsurfer LT? Tell us a little about that and how the WLT covers the miles more efficiently than standard windsurf kit.

Unlike a shortt board on the LT you never sink down into the water and stops, even with my 100kg standing on it if there is a tiny amount of wind you are moving along at a few knots, without needing to paddle.

This summer I have completed six trips round Hayling Island, the fastest so far one hour fifty five minutes in a 20-25 knot Northerly breeze. The slowest 3:37 in a 5-7 knot south westerly when the Sea Breeze I was hoping for never arrived.  Venturing past the West Wittering to see what was past the headland. A number of trips out into the Hayling Bay to play of the swell was great fun. Even a little playing in the waves which break across the Winner Bank in the entrance to Chichester Harbour on a rising tide. Not forgetting trips to see the Seals and

Apart from a couple of the round Hayling trips this was all done in wind strengths where sailing conventional kit would have meant needing to rig a monster sail.

Got any particular challenges in mind with regards to sailing distance aboard your WLT? If so, what and why?

Well, the Isle of Wight is visible from Hayling and it would be good to sail to it at some point.  I would like to go round, but you are pretty exposed at times so I doubt I will be doing that without support. I might leave the really long trips to Henry Cartwright for now.

A little birdy tells up you were out sailing your LT in waves recently? How was that?

Great fun! It was the day after a southerly storm and the wind was light and gusty, enough for the windfoilers in the harbour. The harbour entrance had a rolling swell coming in which was breaking in places over the Winner Bank. I did about five laps sailing upwind in the flat deep water then coming downwind again for 1km broad reaches in the waves, managing a peak of 18 knots at one point. Brilliant fun, only stopped by an approaching rain storm. Definitely something which I will be repeating.

Do you race or are you looking to race your LT?

I have not done any proper racing yet, though HISC is going to allow us to race alongside the dinghies very soon when we are allowed back to the club. We have eight LTs at the club already and a number of people with classic Mistral Superlights so we hope to get some fun races in soon.

This year there were also supposed to be LT races alongside the UKWA racing events which I would have attended for my son’s Techno racing. I am assuming that will happen next year as well.

What about the international events? Fancy your chances at any of those?

Absolutely! The best fun I have had in dinghy racing has been in one design classes with big fleets. Seeing the 100+ board fleets the Italians have been getting looks really tempting. In addition, the fleet results are split into weight classes so the light people don’t take all the prizes. I am certain to go to one of the international events at some point, sailing on the Italian lakes is something every keen sailor should experience at some point.

It’s not just you who rides the LT though is it? Your wife gets out for sessions as we understand? What does she think of it?

Hilary prefers to use a lighter less powerful modern rig when sailing the LT and spent a good number of summer evenings pottering around the harbour. As well as mornings using it as a SUP with the ladies SUP group.

And the kids?

I jury rigged something like an Easy Uphaul for my 12 year old as otherwise the rig was too hard to uphaul once there was any wind, the long boom makes it more difficult to get out of the water than a modern sail. Virtually the first thing he tried to do once he was sailing the LT was a duck gybe which seemed appropriately retro.

Though I think as far as the kids were concerned the best aspect of the board was that they could get multiple people on it while sailing. Seeing them three up one sailor and two paddlers for maximum speed was one of the more imaginative uses.

Where do you see the revamped LT class going? Reckon we’re going to see a resurgence of One Design sailors everywhere?

I think it will take off, seeing the fleets in Australia and Italy develop shows there is an appeal and the simplicity of one board and one rig for a wide range of conditions really is a great idea. There are a lot of SUPs out there with the LT you get a good big SUP with the added benefit of not needing to paddle on the days when it is not flat calm.

Any final thoughts on the Windsurfer LT or windsurfing in general?

2020 has been an unusual summer, but one major positive has been the number of people discovering and rediscovering the sport of windsurfing.

At HISC we have a lot of youngsters who would usually have been travelling round the country to dinghy racing events and instead they have been windsurfing all summer, with their parents often on the water rather than being sat staring through binoculars watching the kids sail. We had more than 60 boards on the water on a few occasions.

There are also a lot of women out windsurfing. In the kids Techno fleet there may even be more girls sailing than boys, it helps that up to the age of about 14 the girls are often bigger and stronger than the boys. Unlike dinghy racing instead of events getting cancelled when the wind blows they just switch to playing on short boards. Parents are encouraged to play as well, which is not something you will ever see at an Optimist event.

Thanks and praise?

The designers of the LT have done a really good job of updating the classic idea of one board one rig for most conditions. I look forward to seeing more folks out on the water rediscovering the fun which can be had just pottering around. We lost something when we moved to only owning short boards.

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