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Champagne Sailing on Day 4 at the Worlds

I’m sorry, but Epic can be an overused word. But that is possibly the only word we can use to describe the events on Toulon Bay yesterday. And to think, it all started so serenely too.

Day 4 at the World A-Class Cat Championships started, as it seems to do, with pretty much a flat calm. Early morning paddleboarders slowly glided about the azure blue sea. Muscular tanned men paddled furiously these outrigger canoes that seem to be found here. Attractive and beautifully stylish slim people and their friendly dogs frolicked on the dog walking beach across the cove from the Yacht Club Du Toulon. The smell of fresh French coffee and newly baked baguettes wafted across from the club café and into the nostrils of the assembled sailors awaiting news of when they can be expected to move their boats to the beach and set off for the Bay. But the D flag, indicating sailors allowed onto the launching area, very much a feature here, remained steadfastly in it’s box. Then at 11.59, the order was given to raise the flag. Everything then suddenly sprang into life and withing minutes the beach was full of rigged boats and rigged, but sweating sailors. It was soon to be showtime.

At the race area, the PRO wasted no time in getting the races off. 3 for the Classic fleet, into a building Sou’westerly breeze of about 12 kts. The Open fleet go their 2 rounds a bit later. Course set, everything in position, sequence countdown done and away the 80 boats in the non-foiling section shot off. The pin was nailed by Andrew Landenberger AUS 308 the reigning Champion, who had not had his best regatta by his standards, was languishing in 8th place. Him, and several of the other top sailors had figured that the previous few days technique of tacking straight over to the right side early wasn’t going to work today. The wind direction was further from the west though, and arrived from around the peninsula, and was predicted to veer further during the day.

Coming down to the bottom mark, it was clear that that Olympic medallist Landy’s previous few days form was behind him. The wind was going up, and so was he. His Exploder Ad3 blasted downwind, him trapezing like the Aussie wizard he so clearly was and shot around the right gate buoy as though he were on rails. A proper masterclass of high-speed Classic A-Cat sailing. He was followed around several seconds later by young Moritz Wiess GER 121, and then the European Champion, Gustavo Doreste ESP 72, another German Ace, Lars Bunkenberg GER 31 was fighting with Landy’s son Andreas AUS 300, and finally in that bunch, former World champ and fleet leader Scott Anderson AUS 31, All good roundings but none as smooth. By now, many had realised that the right side was the best side and a short while later the rest of the fleet arrived and set of upwind on their chosen route.

The next two laps just saw him just extend that lead, but a good battle for places shook out at the line, with Gustavo maintaining second and Scotty getting the better of those younger men to finish third.

Race 7 saw the wind go up a few more clicks to 16-17 knots. Off they shot again, and all too the same route as before. Down they all came, Landy well in the lead and simply loving the rougher stuff that the wind and shallow water produced. All the leaders went around smoothly, and the rest of the pack arrived a minute or two later. Then the MarioCart game began. Boats started coming from all angles, each with their own game plan in their heads and which mark they wanted. However, this was rarely shared with others, so they suddenly found their plans in disarray and having to suddenly gybe, or weave in an out in order to get to that bottom mark. But the real fun started when Matthew Verrier SUI 44, missed his gybe point and was then forced into a slow tack by two others going for the left mark. His resultant loss of speed, coupled with the now pretty rough water, had him slowly capsize, but not before one hull sewered the radio-controlled mark. This then lifted it clean from the water accompanied by much screaming from the two other boats involved in the mele’ and boats wanting that mark needed then to round the whole mess. After several minutes he managed to push the thing off his hull and get his boat righted. The mark then dutifully scooted back to it’s GPS position with vaguely disturbing determination. If these things ever develop self-awareness, we are in trouble. Again Landy won, by literally a quarter of a mile, next was Gustavo then Mortiz.

Their final race of the day was a little tamer as the wind was dropping slightly, and the robot marks still hadn’t risen up against their evil YCT overlords. The finish was the Landy, Gustavo, Scotty show. However, that result chopped Scotty’s lead, and Gustavo was now equal on points in the lead, with Landy climbing to third. On discussing his slow regatta start, he said with typical Aussi drawl, ‘ ..well, it’s a long way to get off the farm…’

The Open battle was also close. Mischa Heemskerk NED 7 and Kuba Surowiec POL 41 were both on equal points, and Darren Bundock AUS 88 was just a point behind them. The race start was delayed as the wind had veered onto its local prevailing direction, for the first time in the last two weeks. This unfortunately required a physical relocation of the course. The new one would be orientated more towards the port area and naval base. Also it involved a bureaucratic consultation as they were changing official race zones and needed official permission to use the new area, so yet more delay. The new area was much nearer the town and seafront, so beachgoers were spectating and speculating on what these weird flying vessels were, but seem to enjoy it just the same. The Rugby World Cup is also in town, being the base for the South African team. A few hugely overdeveloped men with nasal disfigurements were also seen watching.

5,4, 1 Go! These foiling speedsters shot off for the top mark in a reduced 12-13 knot breeze. Mischa in the lead, rounding it in less that 8 minutes. But Kuba was in the hunt and sensed blood. He overhauled him just before the top and told me later that rather than reconfigure for the downwind mode, he just thought fortune favours the brave, do or die and left in the same settings as he bore away to the spreader and then downwind. This made the boat less stable and was a high-risk manoeuvre. Any sudden wind increases, and the watching fans would be treated to a massive nosedive and wipeout. But he just held in there and the boat just went up another gear leaving Mischa in his wake. 32.2 knots his speedo showed after the race.

Kuba finished with the bullet, The former triple World Champ, Stevie Brewin AUS 4, had worked his way well into second, and the reigning Champion, Ravi Parent USA 76, came in a close third. Mischa became a victim of the new race area’s main problem. Not the shifty, lake-like wind and mismatched wave conditions, but FOD damage. He picked up a couple of plastic bags on one of his foils, the resulting drag stuffed him around the front of his DNA F1x and he stopped. This was a not uncommon occurrence in these two races in this zone. The port waters look to be more detritus strewn than out back in the old bay area unfortunately.

The final race started and the Dutch DNA sailing team’s Thijss Visser NED 328 became a man possessed. He rounded the first mark ahead of the field, but then was mercilessly hunted for by the 30 year old Polish Ace Kuba, and then by his teammate Mischa, but he help them off for a while. By now the wind was dying a little more, but the shifts and holes still existed. These were testing conditions now. Any mistake tactically or technically would spell lost places. At the finish, Kuba, Mischa and Thijss was the order.

The day ended with some big changes in the rankings. Many of the bigger sailors relished the conditions, particularly in the large Classic fleet, and some jumped up many places as a result. Landy is within easy striking distance of retaining his crown if it blows again for most of the remaining 4 races, but Scotty and Gustavo may have different ideas. Kuba now leads from Mischa by 3 points and Bundy remains in third but is still in with a shout. Not over yet race fans.