Regatta Reports

2011 Worlds: A Memorable Experience

By May 6, 2011 December 8th, 2018 One Comment
“It’s never like this…”

We arrived at Hamilton Island to find the expected tropical climate, but the fresh breeze was blowing out of a non-typical northwest direction. “This is very rare, but soon it will change,” the locals promised. “Just wait; when the wind blows out of the southeast, there are no islands to block the waves. You’ll have some fun then!” As we unpacked and set up our boats, we looked out over the water and thought this little island paradise will be a great place to hold a world championship. As long as we pile on the sunblock, drink enough water, and jump into the pool every five minutes, the heat and humidity won’t be a problem.
Wild parrots come by to welcome us.
Hamilton Island is a fantastic community, with all levels of accommodation, stores, restaurants, etc. Wild parrots are everywhere. Most of us were issued electric golf carts for transportation (note: if we all drive electric cars in the future, the world will be much quieter!) The locals were prepared for us, SAP brought their incredible special events team, and registration and measurement was organized and efficient.

Each day, the northeast wind would fill in lighter and later. “It’s never like this; just wait till it blows from the other direction.” We sailed the first two pre-worlds races in beautiful 10-15 kts., but the next day things began to change, as predicted. The southeasterly filled in, and although we started in a pleasant 8 kts., the wind was sporadic and unsettled. Eventually the wind shut off altogether, and we headed in, confident that the two-hour time limit could not be met. But the race committee fooled us and finished boats at the bottom mark with one lap to go. Oh well, these are practice races, so who cares? A new weather system was approaching, so conditions were likely to change. With two days off before the real racing, we had time to finalize things as well as take a cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef. Dead calm at the reef; perfect for snorkeling, but what about the seabreeze we were promised, and what about all this overcast?

Conrads/Haines chase Hamlin/Zinn. ©Christophe Favreau

The beautiful weather wouldn’t last. ©Christophe Favreau
First day of racing

Well, the wind did turn around and blow from the southeast; 15-20 kts. with big waves. The locals weren’t kidding; when the wind fills from that direction it’s an exciting place! With the breeze up, we decided to start early. Best to get going and avoid problems up the line. Big mistake. We got a continuous lift and before we could get back to the right side we found ourselves back in the 50s. We made some gains, but each place would be hard fought, and so we finished 31st. Not a good way to start off the series. The next race we tried to start late to take advantage of the current on the right, as did most of the fleet. The gate was open for three minutes, and nobody started within the first minute. I set up to start a bit too high, and killed my speed rounding the gate boat such that we were hosed immediately. No problem, just tack and take some transoms to the other side, right? Only there were so many boats wanting to start late that when the gate boat stopped at three minutes there were 30-40 boats that hadn’t started yet, so there was a wall of starboard tackers that couldn’t be crossed. So we had to tack underneath them all and wait for our chance to clear our air. Needless to say, it was another sad performance as we scraped together a 34th. Meanwhile, current world champions Wolfgang Hunger and Julien Kleiner showed they weren’t just light air specialists by taking two bullets, while Mike Holt and Carl Smit were locked in a 3-way tie for second with hotshots Ted Conrads and Brian Haines from San Francisco and veterans Sandy Higgins and Paul Marsh from Adelaide.

Jeff Miller and Mike Smith start race #1. ©Christophe Favreau
Mike Martin and Geoff Ewenson ©Christophe Favreau
Mike Martin and Geoff Ewenson—front of the pack in race #2. ©Christophe Favreau
Day 2: Cancelled!

The wind was up early, and the seas were even bigger than the day before. So big that the race officials decided that it was too dangerous to send us out. So they postponed the race for a few hours until it was decided to cancel for the day. Wind was gusting to 35 knots, and seas were over six feet. I was actually a bit relieved, because these are the kind of condition that break boats and people as well.

Day 3: Cancelled again!

They had us prepare for a 10am start, hoping the conditions would be favorable, but it was not to be. Once again 30 kt. winds with 10 ft. seas and heavy rain squalls meant we would sit on the beach. As the day progressed things got worse, and the changing tide meant current would be running against the wind creating even bigger waves. The rain poured down in the way the tropics are famous for, and all we could do was shake our heads in amazement. “It’s never like this!” we heard, over and over. Still, the officials were confident that more races would be held; we could race on the scheduled layday. But all we could do at that point was wait for Mother Nature to give us a break.

Day 4: The storm continues!

Once again the weather kept us on shore. With winds above 30 kts. and dangerously large waves, the race committee was forced to cancel for the third day. The torrential rain squalls caused us to huddle under the tents, and most of us were wondering what to do with ourselves since outdoor activities were all but out of the question. Mike Martin and Geoff Ewenson went out for a demonstration sail that morning, and concluded conditions were survivable but not suitable for racing. Three days cancelled? “It’s never like this!”

Mike and Geoff video

Day 5: We need to get some races in!

The racing got going again after the storms backed off a bit. With only periodic rain squalls, we left the beach and encountered 15-20 kt. winds and big seas. The first race saw most of the fleet favoring the left side of the course after the start, opposite to four days earlier, presumably because the tide had changed by then. But tide was not as big a factor as the shifts, and Higgins/Marsh figured that out to lead at the first mark with Hamlin/Zinn close behind. By the bottom mark Hamlin/Zinn had worked into the lead, Hunger/Kleiner had moved to third with Holt/Smit fourth. By now the fleet had figured out to play the shifts in the middle of the course, as Higgins/Marsh moved back to 1st at the top mark, Hamlin/Zinn were 4th, Holt/Smit in 5th, and Hunger/Kleiner 7th. The situation didn’t change much until the final beat, when the fleet split and places changed several times. Holt Smit came out on top, rounding first and holding on during the final run to take the bullet, with Hunger/Kleiner 3rd. Mike and I found ourselves in the middle of the pack again, scoring another 31st.

The next race seemed like a replay; the wind seemed a little stronger, and the waves weren’t getting any smaller. Higgins/Marsh rounded 1st, never losing that position, Hamlin/Zinn 2nd, Conrads/Haines 3rd. By the bottom mark 2nd and 3rd had switched, and Holt/Smit had moved from 7th to 4th. Aside from Higgins/Marsh, the top five switched around throughout the race, when on the final run Conrads/Haines pulled off the big gainer, moving from 5th to 2nd, while Hamlin/Zinn dropped from 2nd to 4th.

After four races, the scoring system allows everybody to discard their worst race, which didn’t help us much as we ended up sitting in 31st. Holt/Smit put together scores of 1,3 to keep them in second place behind Hunger/Kleiner, who now needed that throwout, having turned in scores of 3,15. Close behind were Higgins/Marsh with 5,1 and Conrads/Haines holding on to 4th with a 10,2 for the day.

Day 6: Two more races

With an early start, the race committee decided we could avoid the tidal current pushing against the wind and causing the big, steep waves. But the breeze was still up, and the periodic rain squalls continued. The first race saw a healthy 25 kts. and the big waves that characterize this venue. The day marked the return of the Fast Danes, Saugmann and Ramsbaek, who rounded the first mark 4th, then moved into 2nd behind Aussies Cameron and Mortensen, but dropping to 3rd behind Higgins/Marsh before turning in a spectacular last run where they gained a minute and a half to take the bullet. A minute and a half! Hunger/Kleiner, Holt/Smit, and Hamlin/Zinn all worked up through the fleet to take 4th, 6th, and 8th, respectively. We managed to finish 15th. By the start of the second race another rain squall materialized as the wind picked up to 30 kts. with gusts above 35, and waves as big as houses, making for one of the most epic races in world championship history. Holt/Smit were in their element; I’m pretty sure I heard them giggling as they rolled us not long after the start, and they left us all behind as they went on to win by more than two minutes. But that next boat was Hunger/Kleiner, who showed off their heavy air expertise as well, and that may have been the performance that won them the championship. All they needed to do now was stay close to Holtie in the final race. Hamlin/Zinn were a close 3rd, while the Fast Danes finished 4th. We had done a good job on the first upwind leg, rounding the first mark third and we held that position on the downwind leg. But the wind shifted a bit on the next upwind leg, and five boats moved past us. As the race progressed we maintained good speed, only to capsize on the final downwind leg, causing us to drop some more places before righting the boat. We finished with a mildly disappointing but respectable 15th. The good news is that our consistent finishes boosted us from 31st to 22nd place overall.

Day7: The final showdown

More windy and rainy conditions, with no end in sight. “We haven’t seen weather like this in 25 years!” “Why didn’t you guys hold this event in July?” While most of us were laughing at the absurdity of the situation, we couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for the organizers, who had worked so hard, only to have Mother Nature try to spoil it. But the air was warm, the water was warm, and by then we were used to it. We got out to the race course for another 10 am start, but just after the warning signal a wind squall hit, and postponement flag went up. Seemed like a good 35 kts. with building waves. We went into survival mode, but capsized anyway, and after a few turtles decided we didn’t need to be out there. We would use our discard here and end up with 23rd place overall. Another mistake, because the wind dropped to a manageable 25 kts. after about 30 minutes, when they started the race. There was a showdown developing; Hunger/Kleiner had to finish 10th or better, and stay within 3 places of Holt/Smit. And Higgins/Marsh could win if they won the race and Holt/Smit finished worse than 5th and Hunger/Kleiner finished worse than 9th. As the race unfolded, Hamlin/Zinn moved into the lead and were never threatened. Holt/Smit were sailing well with a solid 2nd, and Higgins/Marsh were back in 9th. But Hunger/Kleiner were holding onto a very safe 4th, so Holtie decided to take action on the last beat by turning around to plant a full facial on the four-time world champion, trying to drive him down in the fleet. The ensuing tacking duel up that last beat was working, as both boats slowed and the rest of the fleet started to catch up. But there weren’t enough boats and there wasn’t enough time, and Wolfgang Hunger won his fifth 505 world championship, and Mike Holt and Carl Smit once again came oh-so-close.

Overall, I have to say it was a memorable experience; despite the weather we had some great racing in exceptional conditions. And how many championships have we had where the weather didn’t exactly cooperate? Seems like most of them. And in the face of a difficult situation, the race officials always seemed to make the right call, balancing the conditions with safety considerations and the need to hold races worthy of a world championship. The organizers put together a spectacular event, the weather added an additional adrenaline-inducing factor (aren’t we all adrenaline junkies?) and the final awards banquet was as close to a Hollywood award show as you can get. I’m really glad I went.

Boats launch as another squall line approaches.

Mike and Carl pour it on. ©Christophe Favreau

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