Dave Hackford reports on the National Cup Series…
Adrenaline – that’s what first kicks in when driving along Chesil Rd towards the 2012 Olympic venue. The corridors of the Sailing Academy are festooned with pictures of our medallists, and sitting in the café you spot coaches and celebrities from every class. It really sets the mood. There are fellow competitors you are so keen to see as friends, yet deep down you wish they hadn’t turned up! These are the ones you know are your direct rivals. Wherever you stand in the fleet these ‘friends’ are with you. In my case I was so pleased (and upset) to see Rob Kent and Marc Carney. The forecast was for light winds and these two zapped me last year in such conditions.
The first major race of the season is always difficult. Who is going to be fastest, what training have they done? The race officer was recording just 6-7kts. In these conditions lightweights should have a slight board speed advantage. But today the wind was from the north, so tactics, fitness and board handling would also be the key to success. The start sequence gives you five minutes to sort yourself out so that you arrive on the startline smack bang when the whistle blows. During this five minute period your thoughts become so focused, nothing can distract you. Did you lock the van? Is it sunny? Did you text your mate back? None of these things cross your mind! With 30 seconds to go you cannot make any mistakes. Sailors jostle their way into position in confined areas, and some of the hardened racers cherish this time to be vocal. Chris Gibson and ex World Champ Mark Kay use every goddamn rule in the book to try and psych each other out before the start.
The whistle blows. The upwind leg is going to be crucial and establishing a clear lead would be a very smart move, but not easy. Paul Leone, who happens to be the chairman of the Raceboard Class, is on form and pulls away from the line fast. He is sailing an F2 and specialist lightwind sail. By the first mark Mark Carney sailing his Fanatic Cat and production RS:X 9.5m race sail was sweeping to the front. Mark deserves a feature to himself. Back in the day when well over 15 manufacturers sold longboards, he was a member of the prestigious Mistral/Carlsberg team. He competed at both National and International level. Now he has three kids, two of which are aspiring Olympians.
Back to the race. Mark had a slight advantage – he was familiar with his kit. Throughout my years of competing I’ve witnessed far too many racers turn up with new equipment who’ve done little or no preparation. The consequence is that you witness them fiddling, pushing, and pulling in an attempt to get tuned. The likes of Marie Buchanan, Paul Simmons and Paul Robinson were all still finding the ropes. One or two sailors were encouraging mast tracks to move with colourful language. I’m no exception – going around the windward mark and onto the first reach I reckon I had my daggerboard and mast track arrangement in around 2,452 different combinations!
The following eight races continued with a mix of conditions and results, but I’ll jump to race 11 because it was the winner of this race that was going to throw the championship into a very exciting final day. In fact, just two points separated the top five sailors. The increasing wind was starting to favour a few more sailors. Andy Mexhome who was mastering his Starboard Phantom and Demon sail suddenly slotted right into the groove. By sailing upwind 5 degrees lower than most racers his board speed was sending him upwind like a train in the breezier conditions. Andy found this amusing and on most occasions made his presence verbally known as he overtook. The spirit in the fleet is good – and even better if you are winning! He won two races back to back.
Five races on Sunday left everyone exhausted, but most had enough energy to crawl to the bar in the evening. The UKWA had arranged for two of the UK’s best sail designers to present a talk about tuning and rigging sails. Ken Black from Tushingham and Matthew Burridge from Demon gave away a few clues on how to make sails go a little faster.
The Bank Holiday morning arrived with light winds but with a forecast to pick up to 16 knots by the afternoon. Rob Kent, current National series champion sailing a Phantom and the new Tushingham sail fought with me for 1st and 2nd respectively. By the third race of the day one more sailor decided to make his presence clear in the rankings – Tom Naylor. He had new kit, but was getting to grips with it in the stronger winds.
Race 16: five sailors could still win. That is highly unusual for most regattas, but the varying conditions were helping. Tom had to win and leave Rob Kent and me behind in fifth or sixth place. Rob needed to beat me by one point, and Andy needed to win and have a gap of three points with Mark Carney, who needed a win and had to be in front of Andy, yet Tom needed to be between them both. What? Yes it was confusing, so I think everyone just locked down into the windiest race of the weekend and hoped for the best! Tom did perform the best and won the final race. But it wasn’t quite enough for him to take the event.
The women’s fleet was also a closely fought affair with both Marie Buchanan and Annette Kent sharing 1st and 2nd positions during the weekend. Marie however managed to clock the most consistent set of firsts and clinch the title.
This long weekend was windsurfing at its best and a great social occasion. But most importantly there was no hanging around waiting for wind!
1st Dave Hackford
2nd Rob Kent
3rd Tom Naylor
4th Marc Carney
5th Andy Mexhome
1st Marie Buchanan
2nd Annette Kent
3rd Gillian Humble
4th Janet Pain