by Andrew Tarboton & Graeme Willcox
It all started last month when, with great excitement, we accepted our invitation to the Weymouth round of the sailing world cup. This event was by invitation only and is only open to the top sailing teams in the world. With some trepidation, we headed down to the regatta last Monday knowing we ranked 15 spots below the lowest ranked boat on the entry list, and a good 40-50 spots below the average team. However this did put us in the unusual situation where we had nothing to lose, and an opportunity to race in close quarters with the fastest teams on the planet and come away with as much knowledge as we could.
The first day of racing dawned with a stiff North Easterly wind blowing. This is an unusual direction for Weymouth, with the wind coming just off the land, and then having the Easterly ground swell wrapping around the headland and into Weymouth bay. This made for a difficult day on the water from a boat handling perspective, so while making sure we were fast and in the right place on the course, we had to keep the mast in the sky and not do any swimming. We managed this, and came away with a long list of lessons learnt. The number one lesson being that we need to pay closer attention to any item which is showing any sign of fatigue. On the first tack in the first race, our trapeze lines broke. This put Andy and I in the water quickly, leaving me to tie them back up while getting a good salt water wash with each wave over the head. We managed to get this done, and get the boat around the course within the time limit! This is no mean feat, because in modern 49er racing the time limit to finish within, after the first boat has crossed the line is only 10 minutes! We completed the next 2 races of the day with the jury rigged trapeze line and then headed back to shore to fix the trapeze line and to replace the starboard one too.
The second day of racing dawned with a very similar feel to it, we were second flight of the day with the FX fleet setting off at 11:00, and we were scheduled for a 13:30 start. With only a 30 minute delay we were off to the start and ready for the second day of tough “washing machine” conditions. We had decided to push harder in the starts, and make sure we fought hard for our spot on the line and defended the gap to make sure that no one came in below us. This was done 2 out of three times, with the one start, Aus 3 came in at the last minute and made a perfectly executed start. This is to be expected of a Gold medallist, but still means we have a bit to work on with defending our gap. Thursday saw us have our worst day as far as results went, but again with no swims during racing, and some great upwind speed and placement saw us well up on the leader board during some of the races. The forecast for Friday was looking lighter with the chance of some rain, so after a couple of days of really lumpy conditions, we were looking forward to some less “survival” conditions.
Friday Dawned with a light Easterly breeze. We were scheduled for the 11:00 start, so headed off to the race area for the start. Once we got there we found a dying breeze, so after changing the rig setting to match we did our pre-race pacing legs and returned to the start line for the start. With the boat feeling good, we set off at the start with a great start. Hit the line at pace and on the gun with the world Champion just above us. We had opted for a start near the committee boat as there had been a large right hand shift before the start, and then found at the starting gun, the race committee pulled the General Recall flag up to bring us all back. After waiting for half an hour for the wind to settle, we were went off again with the weather mark moved 5 degree to the right. We got squeezed out in the first 30 seconds of the race, but due to another 35 degree right hand shift, we were stuck going in the right direction, but one row back. Eventually, with a short tack out, we cleared ourselves, only to round in the bottom third of the fleet. With a short leg on Starboard, and then over to port gybe for the long leg to the leeward mark, the wind went further right and the race was then abandoned. We waited around until 14:00 when the RC called it a day for us and we then got a tow home from one of the rescue boats. Funnily enough we were the only team out there without a coach RIB, so had the luxury of choosing the fastest RIB home!
During Friday night, after some heavy rain, the wind swung to the prevailing South Westerly breeze, and piped up to an average of 15 knots with gusts near 20, AND wall to wall sunshine. These were great conditions for the final day of racing out in the bay. The first race saw some big gusts coming through the course, and the fleet arriving at each turning mark in one group. Nothing like 40 49ers arriving in one place to keep you on your toes. This makes for some great opportunities to make up some good ground by cleaver positioning to make sure mark entries and exits are clean and fast. And conversely, even the slightest slip and you are at the back of the pack waiting for your next opportunity. We had 2 good races in the first 2, having some great racing in the pack trying hard to minimize our mistakes and keep it as smooth as possible. With some hard thinking after a week of lacking some downwind speed, we made some changes and found that we were much more competitive downwind on the Saturday and this coupled with our good upwind speed we have found that we are moving in the right direction. Events like these where you are stretched beyond your natural comfort zone make you look at ways of improving and help you learn with little “tricks” that much quicker.
In Race three, after a great start and pushing the leaders hard up the middle of the first beat, we found our cap shroud, the wire rigging which connects to the top of the mast, had come away from the mast and was swinging in the breeze. This meant an instant throttling back to make sure we didn’t damage the mast section. With a slow and careful sail back, we got back to shore with no damage being done, but then found ourselves with a retired and a DNC to count for our last 2 races.
As the only team in the regatta who have day jobs which take us away from sailing the 49er every day, I feel we came away from the event much richer. Getting the opportunity to race these teams in intense racing conditions is the only way to learn some of these lessons, but at the same time it shows you how the smallest of mistakes is punished.
Our next event is Keil Week, which starts on Saturday, 20 June, in Keil Germany. So we can put this newly learnt knowledge to good use.
Watch this space!