We’d all thought Wednesday was the high point of full on A-Cat racing. How wrong we were! The forth day of the European championships began as usual. The days had settled into a pattern now, as they tend to do at longer events. For most it consisted of fixing what had broken the day before. Checking those boat park or beach repairs, seeing if the resin and carbon had cured, chewing the fat with the other sailors and sitting in the beachfront café drinking that delicious Italian coffee in all its incarnations. Little did they know what was ahead on those azure waters.
The Race Committee had again decided, for reasons only they knew, to send the Open foiling fleet out first again. The Classics were somewhat miffed at this because they had sailed 2 fewer races and were expecting to catch up today. This was to prove a somewhat influential decision.
The Open fleet set off towards the usual race area, halfway towards the town of Malcesine. This is on what they call ‘The Border’ as it is the point 3 Italian provinces meet. The nature of Garda is that the Southerly winds at about 12:30pm are starting to get up, and this is more in the North end of the lake than down on the race area and this also sucks in many board sailors as a result. It can be a daunting prospect to set off upwind into what looks like a full on sea with breaking waves and a 3ft swell running. But, be strong, my lovelies, for it will soon pass!
Once at the start area, the wind and water conditions were noticeably nicer. A decent 14-15kts, so pretty much in the zone for these guys. At the gun of Race 8, the now traditional Port Flyers shot across the fleet towards that windy side next to the cliffs. However, as the wind was a few degrees further to the East, and was starting to build, the gains were reduced, although the advantage of being usually one tack less could still be worth the risk. The rest of the fleet started to tack right over the next few couple of hundred meters or so.
At the top mark, first round was the Polish Ace, Kuba Suroweic POL 41. He was being chased by Darren Bundock AUS 88, Mischa Heemskerk NED 007, Stevie Brewin AUS 4 and tymuk Bendyk POL 15. These guys are all good upwind foilers, getting over 27 kts at times. They pull ahead of the rest of the fleet, at even by the first leg, the fleet is over 1 km long. They all rounded the marks and set off downhill after gybing and going down the same lanes at they came up. This must have been a disquieting sight for the lower end of the fleet, to have these hotshots having head on crosses with closing speeds in excess of 45kts.
All was going well, until one of the Spanish sailors, who wished to remain anonymous, so we shall just call him Abdon Ibanez Marti, for the record… wiped out at the Zone Of Death point, as they turn downwind to the Spreader. He maneuver was carried out with such precision, that he managed to hook his rig, at the hounds, under the propeller mechanism of the GPS controlled mark, rendering the thing unusable. A certain slow panic then seem to follow – this is Italy after all, it is seen at totally normal here. Various ribs then descended upon the scene in an attempt to free their little inflatable friend from the clutches of the evil Spaniard. As the lead boat, by now Stevie was fast approaching again, it was finally decided that Plan B should be deployed, as the spreader was drifting away.
This is where the controversy started. There was a spare mark, a yellow one now, that was being towed into position, but Plan B was for a rib flying the M flag, so essentially looking like it was driven by a Scotsman blowing a whistle, and be driven into roughly the position mid-way between the mark and the spreader’s former position. The old mark and attached A-Cat had now drifted someway off. However, Stevie rounded the mark at pretty much the same time as the M flag was raised by the driver, but before it was in it’s final position, driving closely crossing Stevie’s bow from left to right as it did so, inadvertently putting him on the wrong side of the replacement mark. The Aussie, carried on and rounded this newly arrived yellow mark as he’s assumed this was the new spreader and headed downwind away from the screaming.
The next few leading boats following, just rounded the whole mess. But there was a gap to the next bunch, led by Tymuk. Unsure of what to do, but having in his mind something about when a spreader is removed, just treat it as a single mark, he led his group of half a dozen boats though the gap, treating it as a gate, but in fact going inside the spreader. All clear? Maybe you needed to be there…
The next group to those were led by a sailor who maybe had read the small print in the Sis, and recognized the situation, although a few still slipped inside, rather like those odd sheep escaping being put into a pen by a sheepdog.
The remaining lap was achieved without much controversy. Stevie crossed the line first, followed closely by Kuba, with Bundy in a good third.
Race 9 had the wind go up a notch. Most managed it around the course, many relishing the opportunity to race in a high level international event, alongside Olympic and America’s Cup sailors. And a few enjoyed Bundy’s elegant nosedive at the spreader (yes, that thing again) as he overcooked the downwind turn. Note to sailors, if you plan such a stylish move, please ensure the photographer is correctly positioned to capture said move in it’s glorious hi-res imagery. And it must have been something in the water, as several other attempted similar crowd pleasers at the same point.
This race was a bullet for Kuba, Stevie just couldn’t pass him on the final downwind leg. Third was a resurgent Mischa who had a couple of non podium finishes in the last couple of races.
Next into the Garda Coliseum were the Classics. By now the wind was a good 18+kts. Only 9 boats had made it though to the start area. On the shore, at the beach, Scott Anderson AUS 31, was to be seen desperately trying to prevent the race committee, and other sailors from allowing boats to launch into such conditions. It is a testament to this former Olympic and Class World veteran, that he was trying to prevent people potentially breaking their boats. But eventually, he launched himself, arriving at the start a few minutes after the gun.
This race was one where all the sailors were in survival mode from the go. Just try to get around with everything intact, ideally staying on the top of the tramp too. Fortunately, the Classic is the better of the two A-Cat categories at the ends of the class envelope, so could cope better in these conditions. And the self selecting group of sailors who started, were the ones who can cope. Them being slightly larger gentlemen certainly helped too. The smaller fast guys, such as that little German Fox, Mortiz Weis, who dominated so comprehensively on the opening races, decided to live to fight another day by not venturing out.
They all set off, and just continued to the left of the course. No point in going right into potentially even more wind today. Minimize maneuvers was the watch word now. Reduce the number of points where you can go massively wrong. Tacking a A-Cat is a decided art in the high end. Those long light bows, so good for preventing you nose diving when your weight it on the rear beam downwind, can be a menace tacking if you don’t go into the tack with pace enough to get them though the wind. You almost have to stall turn the things, like an aerobatic plane, to get them around. Then just getting back out onto the wire can be fun. Waves seen determined to smash your feet from the hull side, so pick carefully when you finally swing out.
The upside of such conditions, is because of the massively reduced field, even the last place would get you a 10thposition at the very worst. It’s like a bonus for the brave. The bullet went to Scott Anderson, despite everyone else getting at least 6 minute head start, that old wolf will still eat you. 2nd was Enrique Cornejo ESP 5 and 3rd was that ‘Big Swede’ Alberto Faressi SWE 59.
Amazingly, a second race was held. Same conditions, try not to die, even though you are doing what you love, was the main thought in their heads. Again it was the Scotty Show, and Enrique in 2nd. 3rd came Marek Zebrowski POL 2, who probably found the conditions just like being at home in Sopot. The only casualty was GBR sailor Owen Cox GBR 72, who’s mast just snapped following his last downwind gybe. Massive bad luck for this personable sailor.
Back at base though meanwhile, the protest committee were somewhat busy. The top mark shenanigans were being challenged by those sailors who got DNC in race 8. These included Stevie Brewin along with the Tymuk group. His protest of the mark flag being raised too late was rejected as they were just doing things by the book. The flag went up, it’s not their fault he didn’t actually see it happen. Harsh decision, but probably the only one they could have made following the rules to the letter. In the end the win went to Kuba and Juan Luiz Paez ESP 19 promoted to 3rd. Lesson learned – must read small print in the Sailing Instructions.
Most sailors are now licking their wounds, including Bundy, who felt his Achilles tendon in this left ankle ping a bit at his first tack in race 8. He was examined by our own qualified bone and ligament specialist, the Big Swede himself. Alberto said he couldn’t feel a tendon break, but tomorrow it will either feel the same as now, or you simply won’t be able to walk on it. Hopefully it’s the former and we wish him well.