‘I understand there may be a 180 degree wind shift at some point today, what sort of time do you think?’ was the question posed to the rib driver, an experienced local sailor. He just looked at me for a while, ‘This is the Ijsselmeer’ he replied, ‘we have absolutely no idea!’ Such are the conditions of this Dutch lake, that it can sometimes produce it’s own weather that seems to defy the laws of metrology. It can be raining hard all day on the shore, but lovely and sunny a mile out on the lake – and stay like that all day.
Today the Gold fleet experienced its metrological sense of humour.
The plan was for 2 Gold fleet and 2 Silver fleet races, AM and PM as was the pattern. Thoroughout the night, inhabitants of campers and tents had been serenaded by the sound of rain for most of the night. It started to die off at about 8am. Then start again, but with added lighting effects now. At 9;45 the ‘delayed – stay on shore’ flags were hoisted, but an hour later it was squadron scramble as the Gold fleet were told to get to the race area. The wind was light, but enough for the better sailors to get a bit of foiling practice in here and there. Fleet assembled, marks laid, time to start the rain again.
The wind from the North was bringing in banks of cloud, but a couple of miles away onshore, a few lightning bolts were seen. Being on a boat with a 9m carbon stick is possibly not the best place to be in this situation, but it stayed over the land. So, the sequence was started, and at the 5 min flag, the rain went up another gear, and the wind rose up to about 12 knots. But by the start flag, the rain was bouncing off the water as the fleet set off for the top mark, or towards the area it was assumed to be in. A rescue rib accompanying the fleet decided to head for the top mark and wait, making it a little more visible in the murk. Then after about 5 mins the wind just switched off, and the rain stopped like turning off a shower slowly. At that point the PRO decided to abandon the race. The fleet returned to the start slowly. It was then that this windshift started. Within 10 mins the bottom became the top and after waiting for the direction to settle the committee boat sailed off to a new location with all the A Cats following like ducklings. And then the wind machine started up again with a nice 12 kt.
The U flag was hoisted to prevent any keen starters from crossing the line beforehand, further slowing the proceedings. And the 59 boats all got off to a good start. Many of the fleet opted to go right after seeing better pressure in that area, but at the first mark, 8 mins later, it was the ones who didn’t tack off, staying left than slotted in front before the mark and started to reconfigure the boat for the next leg – a bit off the downhaul, a touch off the mast rotation, and drop the traveller maybe a foot, then haul the board rake to that crucial predetermined angle, move back on the wire and get locked in, all as they round the mark. Daniel Philpott on NZL 262 got there first and chased by Alberto Farnesi SWE 59 and Rutger Krijger NED 14. The favourites of Mischa Heemskerk NED 007, Stevie Brewin AUS 4 and Darren Bundock AUS 888 were several boats back, but catching fast, as was Jacek Noetzel on POL1. The top spreader leg is usually the first time the boats get up to some proper speed. The A cat will slice upwind at about 16 kts in those winds, but this may now go up to 19 or so in that wind for many foiling guys upon rounding the top mark for the first time in the race, as the apparent wind swings around to the front.
Then the downhill speed ride begins. Sheeting and steering, steering and sheeting, the boats try to remain on their foils, whilst the sailors, or riders as we shall now call them, attempt to keep them as flat a possible using moves totally counter intuitive to a dinghy sailor on the same angles. Moving their weight up and down the hull, by leaning forwards or backwards with that rear foot firmly kicked into the rear toe strap. Occasionally someone hits a slight lull, resulting in the windward hull dropping and the rider is dumped upto his neck in seconds. If they get the position secure, the boat will regain its height again and drags them back up. If not, they will be knocked off balance and swing forward along the hull, before catching the shroud and remounting the boat. The unlucky ones will go around the mast like a swingball game and pulling the boat over on top in a cloud of spray and swearing. But these are the Gold fleet riders, so it tends not to happen like that often.
The fleet all chose to go down the left side, so the now familiar square shaped course developed again, as they reduced the number of gybes and tacks to a minimum. By now, Mischa, Bundy and Stevie were in front in line astern. Approaching the bottom mark, they reconfigure the boats for the uphill leg, reversing the settings done at the top. All this whilst still on the wire and going in excess of 18 knts or so. The boats can frequently rear up like a bronco at the bottom mark rounding if they are not careful, as the downward load from the rig drops as the wind speed and angle changes, but the boat speed initially does not. But they just ride it and then it settles down into the smooth silent upwind glide the A Cat is famous for. Repeat 2 more times.
In the end, Misha finished that one about 50 sec ahead of Stevie, and the grinning Pole Jacek a minute later. Bundy finished that one in 11th place after snagging a plastic bag on his rudder and 4 places behind was his wife Carolijn Brouwer.
The second race got underway first time too, but Mischa got stuck in a pack to the committee boat end. He elected to tack away to the right to clear his air. A few others followed, but the main fleet continued to the left. At the top, it was Mischa who rounded first, with Jasek following 10 secs later and 20 secs after him was Bruce Mahoney on USA 311.
Then as the rest of the fleet rounded the top, the wind machine started its wind down. Everyone came off the foils and switched to they low drag mode for a further 2 laps. The PRO brought the top mark down on 2 successive laps to reduce the distance. The race was again won by Mischa, who must have by now cemented his 2nd World Championship. Bundy was second and Jacek third. Stevie finished in a poor (for him) 6th place. The rest of the fleet drifted in, taking 32 mins after the winner to finish them all.
By now, the Silver fleet was on station for their race. But after a 10 min drift about, it was decided to postpone the race until tomorrow.
So now the Gold fleet has sailed a championship, but not yet the Silver. Tomorrow the schedule will be Silver at 10am, the the 2nd Gold race, another Silver and then hopefully the final Gold one. Muttering has been heard about the scheduling, but with only one course, this is the best they can do in reality.
Tomorrow, the winner is crowned and the analysis starts.