Four Dart 18’s made the short trip from The Catamaran Club (TCC) in Bronkhorstspruit to Stilbaai Yacht Club on the Vaal. This helped swell the SA Dart 18 Single Handed Nationals fleet to 29 boats.
Since Stilbaai YC are the hosts for the Dart World Championships to be held in December this year, the stated intent of the TCC group was to ‘learn what we could about sailing at the venue’. We wanted to observe the locals apply their local knowledge, and learn every lesson that we could from them.
Arriving early on the Friday I enjoyed an afternoon sailing in company with Ben Mienie and Foxy in a gusting force 3-4. A small island just off the Stilbaai YC shore together with a bouy located off the Western side, provided an impromptu windward-leeward course that took us across the bay and back. Ideal for getting a feel for the choppy water and also for last minute rig tweaking.
My boat, ‘Close to the Edge’ felt okay and I immediately discovered the substantial lift encountered on starboard tack when approaching the clubhouse shore in a north-easterly breeze. Note number one written into my black book of Stilbaai local knowledge.
I got little sleep during the night, continually interrupted as it was by wind that flapped my tent around mercilessly.
Saturday morning dawned freezing cold and wet. That’s right… winter rain on the Vaal!
Racing was scheduled to start at 08:30 and with a decent wind blowing, we launched and headed out after the committee boat.
The first race start and with three minutes to the gun, the wind backed by about 18 degrees. No one else appeared to notice, so alone I headed for the pin end of the line, all the time wondering what the locals knew that was stopping them taking advantage of this bias. I was left to execute a perfect port start. Unhindered and in wonderfully clear wind, I crossed the fleet moving straight into a substantial first place. From that point on, I only had to apply the basic rule of class racing – ‘Stay between your opponents and the next mark’. By the time ‘Close to The Edge’ was approaching the downwind gate, we had extended our lead on the fleet. Then, in the distance away to the west, thunder rumbled. This threat prompted the bridge to abandon the race and we were sent ashore.
No ‘electric storm’ materialised and after an hour and a bit of shore leave, racing got under way again. The break was welcomed by me because I could add on a few layers of clothing to fight the cold. It also ensured that Greg, who had arrived late, did not start carrying a DNS.
In the subsequent starts the fleet kept a closer eye on ‘Close To The Edge’ and I did not get the freedom to do my own thing again. Instead, I was tightly covered in race 2 and ending up having to fight hard to try to escape the covering pack. I managed to wiggle my way to 7th place. This was excellent practice for the sort of fighting tactics I expect will be needed at the World’s – exactly the sort of learning I’d hoped for.
Race 3, and with my escape techniques coming back to me – I improved to land a solid 2nd.
I say solid because, as we approached the gate to end lap one, Kyle Boman was leading with a small but comfortable lead over a group of following boats that included mine. The bridge shortened course at the downwind gate, and in accordance with an amendment to the RRS contained in the Sailing Instructions, ended the race at the existing offset finish line.
Anticipating sailing another lap, Kyle tactically chose the gate mark furthest from the finish line. The trailing pack (including me) approached the gate on the opposite gybe, fully intending to gybe and follow Kyle around the further gate mark. As Kyle, the fleet leader, arrived AT the further gate mark, the course was shortened. Now, alerted to the shortened course, I and the rest of the trailing pack simply altered our plan held our gybe and sailed through the gate to cross the finish line ahead. Kyle on the other hand had to perform an about-turn and then sail the extra distance from the further gate mark to the finish line. As a result, Kyle dropped from first to something like 5th through no fault of his own. Conversely, I jumped from 4th to 2nd as a result. I felt it was a tainted result.
But, we were here to learn and we were – and learning fast.
In what turned out to be the last completed race of the day, the identical situation played itself out. This time I was lying in second with another boat just ahead of me. Exactly as Kyle had done, the lead boat headed for the further gate mark (again the correct strategic decision). But, gambling on the race being shortened, I headed for the gate mark nearest the finish line. Lo and behold, my gamble paid off and this race was shortened too, allowing me to sneak over for a ‘stolen’ win.
One further race started, but mid-way through it, a proper electrical storm came through. It was an ‘interesting’ experience to feel and hear our boats buzzing with electrical charge.
This time when the abandonment flag went up, we were truly grateful to head for shore – out of the rain and lightning.
I somehow ended day one at the top of the leader board with a 7th, 2nd and 1st. Kyle was comfortably poised in 8th place.
Sunday arrived with glorious warm sunlight, hooray! No freezing cold rain like the Saturday.
Following the bridge boat out, the TCC group fully expected normal service to continue. We had ended the first day confident that we had both speed and height on the majority of the fleet, and that we were no slower or lower than the top contenders were. This left us feeling that we were right in it.
But – oh no we weren’t!!!
The conditions were now moderate, not enough to trapeze in and no concentration demanding drifters either.
From the offset, I was in trouble. Despite winning the start, I was suddenly sailing substantially slower and lower than the entire fleet. Part way into the race I saw that I was not alone experiencing this issue. Two legs of the course down and I and two other TCC boats occupied 3 of the bottom 4 positions. The gods smiled on us and that race was abandoned due to an error while moving the top mark.
Back we went to restart the race. I couldn’t work out what had changed. Was I tense and not sailing properly? The race was re-started and the same problem existed. I was some 8 degrees lower and slooooow!!
Despite applying myself to the problem, I could not properly define the fault let alone find a solution. I quickly realised I was now out of contention for honours. This did not concern me as much as it would normally do, because I recognised that I could re-focus on the original purpose of my attending the event – to learn what I could. Knowing we had a competitive fleet, I switched into experimental mode and set out to answer questions like does a single-handed Dart sail faster dead downhill, or does it pay to reach? And, does the ‘wildthing’ really work? Had I been in the hunt for honours, I would not have risked experimenting and instead would have sailed conservatively. The advantage? I now have the answers to many of my questions – real value.
All this while Kyle Boman was going really well and improved to 2nd over all.
On the weekend after the Nationals, the TCC competitors got together to share their experiences and local knowledge observations. This exchange allowed us to clearly identify what had gone wrong on the Sunday and more importantly – to solve it.
What went wrong and how can it be fixed? We will tell you after the worlds.
The other lesson learnt was the issue of the Dart course/finish when shortened at the gate. In discussions with the SA International Dart Association, we have instituted measures to ensure that no sailor is compromised in the future by such a shortened course.
Lots of valuable lessons were learnt so objective achieved. And, a wonderful event hosted by Stilbaai Yacht Club. Bring on the World’s.
1 Kobus Holtzhausen
2 Kyle Boman
3 Alan Levin
4 Markus Funk
5 Vernon Brown
6 Ben Mienie
7 Iuan Gray
8 Johan Slabbert
9 Manny Raposa
10 Herman Koninghofer
11 Laetitia Minnie
12 Bradley Ledvin
13 Richard Cook
14 Wolfie Neumann
15 Jaco Mienie
16 Andries Swart
17 Vihan Feldtmann
18 Bob Kleyhjan
19 Brandon Kruger
20 Ian Stewart
21 Greg Hart
22 Brett Webb
23 Carel Schoeman
24 Volke Munster
25 Pieter Wissekerke
26 Derrick Joubert
27 Con Meyer
28 Michael Wisserkerke
29 Stephen Mac Donald
30 Lawrence Haw