The ‘All boats allowed on the water’ flag was flown on day 3 of the A-Cat Europeans a little earlier than usual. The Race Committee had decided to get the Open foiling fleet out to get a 12:30 or so start. It was pretty calm in the North of the lake area around the Arco launch area, but looking south to the racing zone, one could see a clear line on the water where the wind was somewhat stronger. What an odd place Garda is at times.
The fleet assembled and headed off. However, the wind seemed to be coming from all over the place. People who sailed on some German lakes, or on lake Bala in Wales where it seems to blow from both ends at once, suddenly felt at home for a while. Around the start area it was looking pretty gnarly and strong gusts were coming up from the south. However, over on the right of the course, in the area around the usual tacking point, it was blowing a nice steady Northerly. Oh, this could be fun we thought.
So the fleet waited, and floated about like ducks do on a windy day. No-one tried testing their set-ups, it was too weird. Eventually, after the threat of a storm subsided, the winds settled into a steady southerly 13kts or so, but was looking to build throughout the day.
Lining up at the 5 min gun, the fleet started to assemble well shy of the line. It be OCS in any Cat is game over for that race. A small and exclusive little group of sailors, all initiated into the exclusive ‘Garda Port Flyer Brotherhood’ had begun to assemble on the left of the line. This group has grown somewhat since the founder members of Tymuk Bendyk POL 15 and Stevie Brewin AUS 4 started the trend on Tuesday. There were now some 15 ‘members’. The port start at the pin is such a game-changing tactic, it’s a wonder they don’t all have a go, yet all the rest still seem welded to the Committee boat
Flag down and away. Most of the flyers cleared the fleet successfully, and went immediately into the lead. Mischa Heemskerk NED 7, on his easy to spot Kingfisher blue DNA F1x had join the club. Darren Bundock AUS 88 and Kuba Suroweic POL 41 blasted ahead of the pack, Bundy pointing higher, but Kuba tracking faster. A little way back the rest followed on, in a slowly building breeze. All except Paul Larsen AUS 51. He started well after his spectacular upwind foiling cartwheel the day before. He was just behind Henri Demesmaeker BEL 1 and was planning to go under him to leeward. Powering up to do this when suddenly Henri dropped his mainsheet, dumping him in at speed, he went around the back and the boat capsized right in Paul’s track, the mast coming down like a carbon car park barrier. Paul quickly crash-tacked away, to avoid running into his sail but it cost him many boat lengths before he was back on track again.
Top mark, Bundy just led Kuba and the followers led by Stevie and Mischa, all foiling fast upwind, chased around some 25m later. The Open fleet tends to split into those who can foil successfully upwind and those who have yet to learn that superpower. Although, in these conditions, bigger chop developing etc. is not the ideal classroom environment
At the bottom, Bundy still held off Kuba, and was going well. But Mischa had gone up a gear and was slowly hauling them in. Back at the top he rounded first, Kuba chased and his Sopot clubmate, Tymuk, who just eats these conditions back at home, was also closing despite being unhappy about his rudder adjustments. Back down for one more lap, boats crashed, people fell off, things broke. These sorts of races test man and machine to the limit. Preparation and gear checking at crucial, if it looks like it may last another race, swap it! Last downwind leg, Mischa becomes uncatchable and takes the bullet. Bundy, discovering his legendary form eventually, came in a good 2nd, but the two Polish lads battled like mad for 3rd. At the finish, Kuba just wins by a nose, half a boat-length, from his bestie. They both collapse onto their tramps laughing although inside Tymuk as crying. This is what this sport can do sometimes.
Race two, again port flyers dominate, only this time Stevie was going better, found a better lane. At the top, Stevie rounded just ahead of Kuba, maybe 10m in it. At the spreader, Kuba turned inside him as they both gybed around. Then set off downhill, Kuba utilizing his special skill of being able to get up on the foils stupidly fast and started to pull away. However, Stevie sailed lower, got foiling and took the lead back by the bottom.
By now, the conditions had gone up a bit. Sailors became tired, mistakes were being made. The spreader was a favourite place for this. The first of the big guns to fall to this was Thjis Visser NED 33 on his glorious ‘fingernail purple’ DNA F1x. He was blasting past Emmanuel Dode on FRA 2, full on the wire, before deciding to go ‘down the mine’, pitch-polling elegantly in front of the French World No. 6, much to his Gallic amusement. This happened a few times at this point from then on. At the finish, Stevie was the victor, holding off Kuba in second, and his training mate, Bundy had a 3rd, so a good day for the old lad
Next up was the Classic fleet. And the wind was clicking higher. These non foilers, in the right hands can be as fast as many foiling boats in these conditions. The foilers just want to take off, even with their boards in 0 degree lift, they are a real handful. Classics just lap it up though, powering through the waves like E-boats.
Their 5th race started and most of the fleet decided to go to the left, rather than the usual ‘Garda Tack’ to the right. But this seemed pointless as looking for extra pressure at that cliff was pretty pointless in those conditions. However, the veteran former World A-Class champ and AUS Olympian, Scott Anderson AUS 31, decided otherwise. He tacked off and ploughed his own furrow up the right of the course. At the top, it was difficult to tell if it was a tactical success, or just his supreme skill, but he rounded a good 50m ahead of the guys coming in from the left. They all made it round, Classics are less loose in these conditions so no crowd pleasing nosedives here.
Then the wind went up to 11. Pretty much up to class limits in the 20 kt range now. Survival mode was engaged, just get around and we’ll worry about the positions back in the bar! At the finish it was Scotty, followed some way behind was Enrique Cornejo ESP 5 and the ‘Big Swede’ Alberto Farnessi SWE 59, who and really use his bulk and the fact he sails a Marstrom M5 to great effect in these conditions in 3rd.
The Classic second race was canned, as conditions became just too extreme. All managed to return safely, a tricky ask in such conditions.