We really lucked out that we were racing at Weymouth as it is one of the few places on the South Coast where you can still have a good day’s racing in a cool north-easterly wind. The position of the OTC/Pura Vida centre allows racing in almost every wind direction and the restaurant and warm showers of the adjacent National Sailing Academy meant that we could keep warm all day.
Lining up for the first start of the season is always very exciting, as there are new faces as well as the regulars on new kit. I felt optimistic that I could raise my game from last year, as I had managed to get out quite a bit on my new Starboard and Severne kit in the previous couple of weeks, and it was feeling fast and comfortable.
Within the finals of the pro fleet there is never any room for error at the start. This time the line was biased in such a way that it was going to be very advantageous to start at the downwind ‘pin’ end. That meant all the big guns were aiming to start there. Psychologically it is tough when you are up against reigning champion Ant Baker, who you know will be banging out another of his trademark ‘in the right place at the right time’ starts.
Final number one, I was a fraction cautious and got left in the dirty wind and wake and behind Kev and Ant. Luckily for me Sam Latham had gone over early and there was a general recall. On the re-run I managed to get off the line in the best position with Ant just upwind of me. As we drag-raced towards the first mark I could hear the chatter of his board right next to me. I started to feel the power going from my sail and my heart sank as I thought that it was him overtaking me. He didn’t come flying past and it became apparent that it was just a lull and I made to the first mark in the lead. I pumped away from the mark and managed to keep it together round the rest of the course. It is a nervous business leading the pack but, if you can keep your nerve, then the clean wind and undisturbed water mean that it is a lot easier sailing than if you are behind.
The pro fleet remains super competitive this year, and there are at least half a dozen sailors who can feel that they have a decent chance of winning a final this season. It is also great to see that more younger sailors than ever have stepped up to the pro fleet, like Sam Sills, who are becoming genuinely competitive.
The great thing about slalom, is that there are so many aspects to achieving a good result. Setting up your gear to go fast, picking the right kit for the conditions, timing the start, gybing reliably under pressure, the psychology of keeping the nerves at bay when you are winning are just a few. Even for those at the top of the pro fleet every slalom event is a learning experience which makes it so rewarding.
James Dinsmore is sponsored by Starboard and Severne.
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