Sometimes, you just get truly memorable sailing days. Epic can be an over used word, but this for the Open fleet, was one such day out on the azure waters of Lake Garda. Bright sun, the usual southerly 14-18 kts, a day set up for Champaign sailing, This was the second day of the European Championships and in the Open foiling fleet, Mischa Heemskerk NED 7 had won the first two races in convincing style, In the Classic non foiling fleet, young Moritz Weis GER 121 was equally dominant.
Today, the Open fleet were to sail three races, the Classics to sail two. Garda is a tricky place as there tends to be very little wind in the mornings, so 1:30pm is the usual start time it is switched on, as was the case today. The wind had shifted about 5 degrees anticlockwise from the previous day, and the race officer, after yesterday’s experience of the traffic jam at the committee boat end, he had set a considerable bias on the line to try and push them away. This worked spectacularly well, as we shall see.
The remote controlled GPS marks were all got into position and held their places like waterborne drones, a great innovation for the likes of Garda, with its 300m depth. The committee boat and the pin end boat were also held in place by GPS. Now, the only ‘problem’ with Garda, and it’s a nice one to have BTW, is that the wind tends to increase the nearer the cliffs to the right of the course you get. So going right after the start is a no brainer. The fleet milled about, then the On Station flag went up, then the 5 min flag. The fleet started to coalesce into some sort of order around the committee boat area. However, a couple of boats had drifted off to look at the pin end. Tymuk Bendyk POL 15 and Stevie Brewin AUS 4, were suspiciously interested in that end. A sly nod and wink to Multiple World champ confirmed our suspicions. This would be a race-winning move if pulled off correctly.
Tymuk and Stevie were already powered up fully and getting on their foils. The gun went and they blasted right across the rest of the fleet in the direction of the windy corner tacking zone. Tymuk, a heavy wind lover, was pointing high and fast, but Stevie footed a little more and was just outstripping him, blasting at speeds over 27kts upwind on his foils. The rest of the fleet by then had seen their success and had all tacked in hot pursuit.
By the top mark Stevie had pulled out an impressive lead over chasing rivals Tymuk, Mischa Heemskerk NED 7, Kuba Surowiec POL 41 and Darren Bundock AUS 88. He rounded a good 45 seconds ahead of Mischa. They all gybed right around the spreader and got onto the foils after their reconfiguring settings for the downhill leg, gybing in that windy area again. The rest of the 60+ fleet followed suit
Bottom mark rounded, the leading pack headed upwind to repeat. Stevie was pulling away from Mischa still. He’d realized after looking at the previous days photos, that he needed a little more outhaul. This did the trick. They tacked and blasted up the starboard layline. The wind was slightly increasing too and the top guys started to push the sound barrier. Then it happened….
Stevie just got it too loose and high in 29kts upwind, the foils let go, in true Sail GP style and he buried the nose, throwing himself around the forestay like a game of Swingball. How Mischa’s heart must have leapt! But the lad isn’t a champion for nothing, he had the boat back up and going again within 60 seconds and at the top mark, although Mischa was in the lead, only 10m separated them. Further down the pack, Bundy reached the same area as Stevie had his incident, and bizarrely did exactly the same thing, only this time he managed to prevent a full capsize after standing on the leeward hull and managed to drag himself onto the dry side and carry on.
The top pair battled on but Stevie was just too fast even for Mischa to hold onto him. At the finish, Stevie had a fair lead, and Mischa was now fighting to stay ahead of the World No. 2 Kuba, but the Polish lad was not quite fast enough.
Now, I would have though all would have learned something from the two hotshot’s start. A few did do, as at as race 2 got into the sequence, about 8 boats had decided to copy Stevie’s port flyer antics. Had they not been sailing such a Formula One style boat with such pace, the result could have been carnage. But at the gun, and as a result of the considerable port line bias, the fleet rebels all made it across the starboard starters with good space to spare, and they all tacked and the chase was on again.
Very much a similar race then to the first one only Stevie led from start to finish. But Kuba was battling his Sopot clubmate and lifelong friend, Tymuk, for the 2nd and 3rd slots. At the close finish, Kuba pipped him to get second.
By race 3, it became rather trendy to be a Port starter. This time maybe 15 boats gave it a go. Again, off to that corner, but this time the board sailors and wingfoil sailors had started to emerge, like mayflies. This presented rather interesting obstacles for the boats to negotiate. However, it was not quite as bad as on the first day, and the tacking and gybing points tended to be further from the shore than yesterday due to that wind direction change.
By now, muscles were beginning to get tired. Sailing a foiling A-Cat, particularly for those who have cracked the holy grail of foiling uphill, requires massive physical effort and the sheet load are high and need playing constantly. Inevitably, even in the top sailors, things can go awry. Half way up the second beat, Mischa stuffed his bows into a wave, very much in the Bundy style, but again managed to clamber back aboard. Kuba misjudged his trapezing top spreader bear-away and flicked himself around the front, dragging his boat over onto the mark. But for sheer crown pleasing action, Paul Larsen AUS 51, clearly having flashbacks of his World Speed record, got the boat rather too loose as he approached the top mark and really planted it in bows first, again being thrown around the forestays. Fortunately his WIP helmet saved his head when he bashed into the port hull. He’s has worse though – just Google for his Sailrocket crash!
At the finish Stevie took the bullet again, Mischa 2nd with another good Dutch sailor Thjis Visser NED 33 getting the final podium place for the race.
The Classics were then on the stage, they had a couple of pretty incident free races, but most still came back with grins on their faces. These are much easier in the arms than the full on foilers of the Open fleet. But, the racing tends to be closer and more tactical. Veteran former World Champ, and Mr Fibrefoam, Scott Anderson AUS 31 ruled the waves with two bullets. Today was not quite so good for the young German Fox, Mortiz Weis GER 121, whom they were all chasing yesterday. He scored a 2nd and a 5th, but still leads Scotty by a single point. Spaniard Gustavo Doreste ESP 72 was a model of consistency with a 3rd and a 2nd, and remains in 3rd place on countback.
This ended the day. Paul repaired the head shaped cracks in his boat last night with a headtorch and the help of Robin Maeder, the Schuerer manufacturer and all was right with the world.
There is a good short video from Emilio Santinelli on the official event website www.a-cat.eu site and it gives a good feel for the action. Worth a couple of minutes of anyone’s time!