Words: Carlyon Knight-Evans
Sam is due to turn up on Thursday and had ordered a new boat, which had been delivered to the venue a few days ago. The good samaritans that we are, this morning was decicated to getting the boat set up, so that Sam can simply step on the boat as soon as he arrives (sound familiar?). This was done in an hour or so and then we turned to getting our own boats ready for the racing ahead.
With a low tide at around 2pm, we had to get the boats in the water early (it impossible to launch 2 hours either side of low tide) and pontoon on a nearby jetty. With the AP hoisted onshore and little sign of wind, it was feared there would be little racing, but Wind Guru was proved right and by 1.30pm boats started to stream away from the Club out to the race track.
Under the same blue skies that we had had for the Practice Race and a light breeze (5 - 8 knots) the race officer got the fleet away for the first race after two general recalls and the successful start under a black flag. The line seemed to be heavily biased to the pin-end boat, but that seems to be way things are done in France.
There was not too much drama for the Hong Kong boats which finished 27th and 31st from the 49 boats competing, with Howard & Joe having HK bragging rights. To our surprise, Alan Bax finished 29th - between the 2 HK boats.
For the second race with the wind building to around 10 - 12 knots at the start and another biased start line, surprisingly the fleet got away first time. Howard had a better start and soom found himself in very good company at the front of the fleet. The wind kept shifting to the west throughout the race and was very shifty around the finish. Howard lost a couple of places in the shifty wind, but still managed to hold on for a very respectable 15th place.
I had trouble difficulties on two drops and lost a number of places each time, and despite the noble assistance from my Kiwi crew (Graeme Robinson), ended up quite far down the fleet in 36th place.
As we headed in the fleet came across a poor cold and clearly upset German boy out on windsurfer and waving wildly for assistance. The front of the fleet clearly thought he was cheering them on, so it was left to the tailender from Hong Kong to go to his rescue and bring him safely ashore.
We gathered at the "cidre" tent to discuss the days racing and get the download from Lucy, who again was on the Committee Boat keeping an eye on proceedings.
So at the end of the day's racing, Howard sits in 22nd place, with me down the order in 37th, but with a discard on offer if we get all six scheduled races in over the three days, all still to play for.
Although the sunny blue skies that we had enjoyed for the previous two days of racing had gone, this had no impact on the positive attitude of the Hong Kong fleet, with Howard and Joe keen to build on their 15th place from Day One and Graeme and I determined to cut out the mistakes that were costing us places and keeping us in the 30's.
There was little wind in the morning, but with no sign of an AP being hoisted the fleet started streaming away from Club from at around 11.30am, heading for Race Area One. The wind was starting to build and it was clear there was going to be more breeze than we had had on Day One. The wind had clocked round to the west and at the time of the first warning signal was up to 12 knots.
After words had been shared on the previous days biased start lines, the Race Officer had finally set a true line, which had the expected result of a clean getaway for Race Three of the French Nationals (the first of the day), with no need to threaten the fleet with a black flag.
Both Hong Kong boats had good starts and after solid first beats rounded the top mark in the top twenty. Howard chose the north side of the course for the run and this paid off and was well placed as the boats came back up the course for the final beat. I had chosen the southerly side and with less pressure meant we were now in the 30's and struggling to retain a respectable position.
As the wind continued to build, we were enjoying surfing conditions to and from the gybe mark and boat speeds picked up. This presented passing opportunities and both Hong Kong boats enjoyed tussles with nearby boats. I was able to claw back a few places on the final run to the finish to put some shine on what had ultimately had not been a great race, finishing in 35th place. Howard had stayed in the 20's securing a 25th in a very competitive fleet.
For Race Four the Race Officer had clearly been trying to keep us away from Club and avoiding problems with trying to retrieve boats at low tide and had set the longest possible course and had also extended the beat to 1 nautical mile. So a long race was ahead of us and the expected rain had finaly arrived.
We started in 14 knots and with another unbiased line again got away cleanly. Both Hong Kong boats again had good starts and made good progress up the first beat. The first sign that this was not going to plain sailing started with me being forced onto the top mark. Fortunately I was able to round the mark and took my turn between the top mark and the separation mark, so not losing much time, although at the top end of the fleet this did still mean dropping 5 - 6 places.
Howard again took the northerly side of the course on the run, caught a big wave and surfed 3981 into a very respectable top-10 position as they went through the gate. Then disaster struck and his outhaul pulled out from the boom. With his main bulging along the boom, he lost all upwind power and had to try to reattached the outhaul. After struggling off the wind for five minutes a temporary repair had been affected, but by then they had fallen into the 40's and after a quick consultation with Joe, Howard decided to retire and head back to the Club.
I was battling back up the fleet on the second beat trying to take back places but as I came up to the top mark I got boxed in and hit the mark again! After a repeat pirouette down to the separation mark it was clear that more places had been given up and we found ourselves competing with an aggressive Irish boat which was not happy to be behind a Hong Kong boat. At the wing mark there was a lot of shouting and screaming, but Hong Kong had rights and the Irish boat had to yield.
As we surfed down to the bottom mark, it should have been clear that with eight boats fighting to get round at the same time some strategic thinking was in order, but with all thoughts on keeping the Irish boat behind me, I dived for the mark and found the door was well and truly closed. With four boats screaming at me I could either a) hit one of them, b) come up hard and miss the mark or c) hit the mark and hope to get round without hitting anyone. In a split second option c) was selected, which was executed to perfection, and after our turn headed left into the stronger breeze while our combatants headed up the right side of the course.
After an uneventful beat (and fortunately a rounding that didn't involve 3979 touching a mark) and run, we just had one more beat to finish. Having hit three marks, we were sitting uncomfortably in the low 40's and needed some inspiration. Seeing the Irish boat a few lengths ahead of us was our incentive and with some healthy competition from Saltheart, Australian boat 3800, we set off up the final beat in a motivated mood.
Picking the left side of the course again and picking the shifts at the right time meant as we neared the finish we were able to comfortably cross in front of the target boats and we set about seeing who else we could pass in the hundred or so boat lengths to the finish. We finally crossed the line in 34th place, which while a satisfying result from where we had been, left us thinking if only we hadn't hit those marks!
With two races to go and the discard now being counted, Howard was able to discard his retirement which leaves him in 26th place going into the last day or racing. Despite results of 30th (Race One was corrected), 36th, 35th and 34th, I am now in 39th place, so at least one good race is needed from the final day.
The third and final day of the French Nationals looked to be a carbon copy of Day Two, with overcast skies and the threat of rain ever present. We had 10 – 12 knots of breeze and had moved onto the second race course, which was more exposed and had no geographical features to shape the course.
Moving into the last day of the regatta the top competitors were all clearly highly energised and wisdom would suggest that it best to keep out of their way unless you are also challenging for one of the top spots. I foolishly ignored this wisdom at the start of Race Five and we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves as we slid into a very tempting slot on the front of the line near the pin end. Our move was quickly followed by some angry shouting and realising which boat we were coming up under, we continued to move down the line to find another slot. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that this was met with a similar reaction as the leading boats in the regatta tried to close off the gap.
After four attempts we finally found a ‘safe’ slot and prepared for the start. However, despite getting a good slot, the whole fleet though was clearly over the line and the First substitute was immediately displayed.
With a 5 degree bias on the line, the fleet bunched up again towards the pin end for the restart with the same result. As we were going through the starting sequence for second re-start it was clear that the Race Officer had had enough and the black flag was hoisted.
Howard had a cracking start on the left end of the line and was in very good company as he headed up the first beat. Our own run of good starts had just come to an end and we found ourselves having to tack onto port to get clear air and ducking so many transoms that it was clear we were now near the back of the fleet. Not a good feeling!
Howard rounded the top mark in the teens and after a productive first beat we had caught back a number of places to at least be in the high thirties. Having decided that a more cautious approach would yield better results after Day Two’s experience hitting marks, we had an uneventful run and beat and ended up finishing 34th. Howard had maintained his position towards the top of the fleet and finished a very credible 14th.
For the start of Race Six the wind had moderated to 8 – 10 knots but with low tide back at the Club meaning that boats could not be retrieved for a while, the Race Officer set Course 4, the longest available. This looked set to be a long afternoon on the water.
Both Hong Kong boats had good starts and after solid first beats Howard was again in the teens and I came through in the low twenties – the softer conditions clearly favouring the Hong Kong fleet. For the second time in the regatta Howard chose to tack right in front of HKG3979 – he had apologised after the first incident – and he still maintains he didn’t know we were there!
After the turn, Howard again went down his favoured left side of the course and we ignored the fact that this had generally paid off and went right. Neither route paid off in the end with the boats that gybed down the centre getting the most consistent breeze available. The wind had further softened by this point to 6 – 8 knots. The second beat was quite shifty with much higher tacking angles and both Hong Kong boats started to slip down the order.
The Race Officer seeing the dying breeze thankfully decided to shorten and at the finish Howard had recorded a 20th place and we were 30th.
We arrived back at the Club to be greeted by Sam and Albert as they headed out to sea-test Sam’s new boat and Michelle, who had just arrived from the UK ready to crew for me the Worlds, which starts on Saturday.
So at the end of the French Nationals, Howard ended up in 21st place and we were 39th. The overall winner was Graham Vialls, the current world champion and hot favourite for the Worlds.