Fin Anderson reports on the 29er Nationals
Pwhelli, Wales, the 15th of August. Most of the fleet have their boats polished and rigged, ready for a few practice hours on the water. Ours is upside down on the trolley, we're already tired thanks to the lengthy drive this morning, and I'm having an argument via text with my sister about who put the juicy oyster scratches on the bottom of the boat after lending it to her for a couple of weeks. We're thinking that if we actually got ourselves organised, we might actually do quite well one of these days, but until then...
Still, a shandy or two before bed and next morning we're feeling (almost) refreshed and ready to go. A quick look out of the window gives David and I mixed feelings about what we can expect from our results today. There's not a lot of wind, but we've never quite worked out whether we're better when it's like this, or when it's really breezy. We're certainly one of the heavier crews in the fleets, so really we should perform better in strong winds, but in the past we've had good and bad results from both ends of the spectrum. If we can just find some consistency we should do well, so we set our aim for the day at top ten every race.
At the end of the first race of the day we're pretty disappointed. We're pretty much mid-fleet with a nineteenth. It was light, and we didn't call the shifts right, and didn't go well downwind. If it keeps on like this we won't make our goal of top 8 overall by the end of the week. We discuss what we've done wrong and try and get a couple of good results before the end of racing today. Luckily, we manage to do just that, and with some better downwind tactics we score two 5s in the next two races.
The next day is very breezy. In fact, once we get out there and we've capsized once or twice in front of all the other boats, we realise that we possibly should have tensioned up the rig a bit more to make the power a bit more controllable. We've recently had some good upwind boat speed in this sort of wind so we go for a clean start with not too many boats around and sail our own race. This seems to work well for the next two races but we keep losing out downwind, and we decide we have to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the slightest. Whilst attempting to make some gains on a couple of boats just in front of us in the last race, we find about 5 boats who rounded the mark just behind us cream down to the finish on a patch of breeze and we lose out about 5 places, giving us results of 8, 6 and 14 for the end of the day. Luckily, as no-one else has been particularly consistent (except for the two French boats, who have put in a very impressive set of races) we are still about 5th overall, and 3rd British boat.
Wednesday is choppy without much breeze to be had. The conditions are tricky as you can quickly lose all boat speed by digging the bow into an approaching wave. This is hopefully where our experience of sailing on the sea should give us an advantage; there are plenty of inland sailors out who don't often deal with this sort of thing. The first race seems to confirm our hopes. We get an ok start and have great speed, and go round the top mark in first. We hold off the other boats for another lap and go through the finish line in the same position, which is probably our highest profile win in any event. The next race doesn't go quite as well, but we stay in the top ten, scoring an eighth. The last race looks to be a disaster as we start awfully, firmly in the main pack, with very little clear air to be had. However, we concentrate on finding lanes and manage to sneak round in front of the main pack by the bottom mark. Another good upwind puts us in 3rd going round the windward mark for the last time, and it's straight to the finish. We manage to get slightly lower than the boat in 1st, but the boat in 2nd doesn't want us to shake them off at all. We gybe, and they go with us. Just before the finish line, we gybe again, and luckily it's a good one. We sail over the top of the other boat, and just in front of the boat who had been in 1st. This gives us another win, which considering our start, leaves us delighted.
With such a good day behind us, we are in 3rd position overall and 1st British boat going into Thursday. The forecast for Friday is awful, so the race committee have decided to try to get 4 races in today, as it's likely there could be no racing the next day. Racing is really up and down, with the wind nothing one minute, and loads another. We concentrate on consistency and manage a 7 and two more 4s. For the last race we need to stay consistent, and do nothing rash. Unfortunately there is a bit of weed around so with two minutes to go before the start, we heel the boat over to check the board. The water's murky, so we heel it over a bit further, and before we know it, we're upside down, which isn't really where we wanted to be! We manage to get the boat up just in time and work really hard, so after one lap of tricky sailing in almost no wind we are around 4th. The boat just behind us overall is winning, which isn't good for us, but we keep at it. All of a sudden, a squall comes through, the wind shifts massively and picks up considerably. It is now possible to make the finish line without gybing, though we don't realise this and allow two boats to get in front of us in the blast to the finish. We score a 6th, but don't think we've done enough to hold off the boat behind us overall. It's a nervous wait, but results finally show that we are in front of them by just 1 and a half points.
Naturally I don't get much sleep the next night, and it's tense the next morning when the forecast looks to be largely correct. It's blowing hard and there's lots of wind, sizeable waves as well. We hang around the race office for a couple of hours and finally someone lets us know that they have decided to cancel racing, leaving us third overall, and first British boat, making us national champions! The hours creep by until the prizegiving, and though I'm not the helm, David has asked me to make the traditional speech, which leaves my nerves almost as bad as they were the previous night. We haven't had too much experience at the top of the fleet like this, so when they hand us the trophy, I fail to realise the two separate pieces - the wooden base and the glass trophy itself - aren't attached. Thus on the big step up to the podium I manage to throw our newly won trophy onto the floor, making the marquee burst into laughter, giving myself a very red face, and making us probably the shortest holders of the trophy since it was made!
We decided to leave the 29er fleet on a high, and this is as good a high as any. Thus we are going to concentrate on the Olympic class 49er from now on, and so want to thank everyone who has helped to make our time in the fleet such a memorable experience. This includes first off our parents, as running a boat when at university is never an easy business, and they have always been there for us. Also Gul, and Allen Brothers of Burnham, who gave us huge support at the beginning of the year, and have been very understanding sponsors. Then finally all our friends in the 29er fleet, who will always be more important to us than getting our names engraved on (what is now just) a bit of wood!