Sometime in the spring of this year, I received an email from the German importer of the Fremantle XSP 505’s, Michael Honsol, asking if Carl and I were interested in sailing one of their boats at the Worlds in Denmark in the summer. Carl and I chatted and as we had not really considered going to the Worlds with our boat this kind offer had us interested. After some more discussion we decided that the plan would be to go and sail one of the boats at the Riva regatta at the end of May and see if the boat was good enough to do the Worlds in.
After many logistical challenges and Volcano related travel delays Carl, Jacks and I arrived in our tiny rental car in the picturesque town of Riva at the northern end of Italy’s Lake Garda. As always seems the way when you turn up at a regatta a large amount of time is spent catching up with old friends and adversaries. Finally we found our boat that had kindly been brought down from Northern Germany by Jens and Johannes atop their very impressive trailer that cleverly housed their boat inside and had ours on top. The trailer could also double as living quarters and storage for spare equipment and most impressively a location for beer.
So with beer in hand and a new boat to set up we began the work of making the boat as similar to ours as possible. I had spent some time prior to the trip documenting all the settings and positions on our boat and duplicated everything as much as was possible, certainly without drilling and gluing! We had brought our own sails and the boat was reasonably simply set up so it wasn’t too long before we were ready to go afloat; however before sailing came time for some Italian food.
Our first sail was short. Nothing much was working, lines were the wrong length and a number of items needed to be changed. Back to the dock and make a list. Time to scrounge tools (we had none) and set to the list. Unfortunately by now the weather was not cooperating and the rain was coming down, ah well, food, beer and an early start in the morning.
After three days of racing a lot of changes to the boat and a long list of items still to change we were reasonably satisfied. We finished 9th out of 60 boats despite a DNF when we were doing well when the Ram pulled off of the mast and another race where the spinnaker lead pulled out but in general the boat speed seemed good and we had a long list of improvements that needed to be done before the Worlds.
Unfortunately the boat we used in Riva would not be the same boat that we would use for the Worlds, we would have a brand new, unused boat for Denmark but they would incorporate all of our input from our Riva experience into the rigging. Big gulp…. Vacation time was short for both Carl and I so we had a very tight plan for the Worlds, basically fly out the day before the Worlds. So 400,000 of my air miles dropped us in Frankfurt at 7AM the day before and you would think my knowledge of European geography would be reasonable, but the drive took a lot longer than anticipated and we finally got to the Yacht Club far later in the day than we planned. We soon hooked up with Michael Honsol the importer and supplier of our new boat and set to unwrapping our new toy! I have to say the boat looked good, lovely finish and sharp looking. Our notes with all our numbers came out and we set to getting the boat as close to our own as we could. It seemed we had done this before! With the help of too many people to list we got the boat rigged, modifications done, through measurement and ready to sail in record time. A can of beer to christen and name the boat and off we went for an evening sail in a rapidly fading breeze. Our sail consisted of a couple of gybes and tacks and back to the harbor to make a very long list. Ah well, nothing like preparation!
Day one of the Worlds dawned and we were at the harbor early to prepare and get through as many items on the list as we could. As always on the first day butterflies were present and we were excited to see a forecast for good breeze. One of the jobs that we had not got to on our list was fit out our own rudder to the boat; this as it would turn out was a major oversight, as were some others…
So we, along with130 other boats set out to the distant race track in a breeze close to 20 knots. We were about half way out when our first problem hit. The jib Cunningham had snapped. Off to the bow I go in a nasty chop to lash it together with the supply of string I have in my life jacket pocket, part of the spares “kit” that Carl and I always carry, along with a gerber, shackles and spare block. Problem solved we carry on to the race track, get upwind of the start area and set the kite. Whoa, I can’t steer!!! Boat will not respond to tiller input…. Splash. Kite away, boat up, try again, SPLASH, AGAIN!! This is not good, what is going on? The breeze was up, but not really windy and the sea state was ugly, but not SF ebb bad…. The whole rudder, tiller assembly was poor with way too much movement between each joint and a woefully small blade – resulting in trouble. A quick tidy up and we were into the start sequence and we haven’t even gone upwind, preparation!!!
The gun goes and the gate opens. We have Howie and Andy above us and random Euros beneath, no problem, happy with that, Howie will go high, we will foot, all will be good. That doesn’t happen… We are slow, Howie is fast and we are spat out the back. I go hard to string pulling and try and dial back in some speed and bit by bit we get the boat rolling, height and speed come back. By the time we roll to Port we are back on the front row and moving well. By the top of the beat we round 2nd behind Ramsbeck and Saugman. Downwind we take no chances and keep the weight way back and the rudder dug deep, losing a few places. But the boat is flying upwind and we quickly pull through into the lead before our day starts taking turns for the worse. With the wind now building nicely the main sheet block on the case tops disconnects from the swivel and I am left playing the main from the boom at 3:1 with no cleat or ratchet. Trouble. We let Pinnell and Mitchel past by the top mark and have a crazy wild three sail ride before having to drop to make the gybe mark. After turning at the gybe mark and going for the reset, the rudder issues come back with a vengeance and a wild leeward wipe out is the result. Quickly back on our feet we decide to try to reattach the block in some fashion and pull out the string again. Repair effected I am concerned at the amount of forestay sag. “More shrouds Carl!” Mistake. The 6:1 in the boat has no washers and pulls out of the back of the case, the shrouds go slack and the mast over the bow. Instantly realizing what has happened we go head to wind, use some more of our string supply and pull out as much slack as we can to hold the mast up for the sail in.
Back on shore and with a long list we set to fixing issues. Number one, add washers, number two, replace rudder for one that steers, luckily we have an excellent one made by Pegasus Aeromarine in the Pacific North West. Aided by a few cold beers and plenty of advice from numerous other teams that have letters not numbers for scores we plough through and get the boat ready to race again. Frustrated that we would have had a good day with the boat, but for some small details that turned to major problems, we are now starting to lose interest in boat work and call it quits, heading for town and some food.
Day 2, a one race day and the boat is back together. Wind is moderate and we put in a satisfactory performance racing in or around the top ten for two hours finally finishing 12th. Although we don’t understand why, we always have a lot of water in the boat and have to sail with two bailers open the whole time. Back on dry ground, well not that dry, we seem to have arrived during Denmark’s monsoon season we have a few jobs still to complete before we hit the tent for pasta and beer.
Day 3 and back for 2 races in lighter conditions, but with a distinct problem. Copious amounts of water are filling up the boat. What is going on??? Turns out that we have a dime sized hole in the front of the case that had been especially lengthened to take our Waterat 480 board. We filled it with chewing gum for the day, a crude but effective solution.
A lay day follows and we are in no mood for boat work, but we have jobs to do… Holes to fill, lines to shorten etc before we adjourn to wander Aarhus in the rain.
Race 6 and 7 are up next and 6 is a good one for us. With just full wire conditions we are fast from the get go and round the top mark with 5 or 6 boat length lead, a lead, to our complete amazement we extend on the first run. Our speed is enough up the second beat to hold off the hungry pack behind of Pinnell, Bojsen-Muller and Saugman and despite some pressure on the reaches we are never passed and have a 100 yard lead at the last top mark. We go square down the last run with everyone following and our lead slowly increases and with 400 yds to go I feel safe. The breeze then builds a couple of clicks and the boats behind dial up and wire, going wide on both sides of us. We are hit by indecision, stay low? Wire right? Wire left? By the time we make our mind up we are past on both sides and drop to fourth, a good finish but so disappointing, really would have been a good result to get a race win for the XSP boat.
Going in to the final two days our goal is to claw our way on to the first page of the results, we have been moving gradually up from the our place firmly at the bottom after the first two races and page 1 would be some small redemption. Race 8 turns out to be one of the more bizarre days of sailing I can remember. The first attempt gets abandoned 2 hours in when they post the wrong bearing for a new mark and for a long time we drift in no wind waiting for a re-sail. When we finally get the race away in a light breeze, nobody has any idea what is coming. By the top mark the breeze has come up significantly as a big black cloud moves in. The all to familiar Danish rain comes pouring down and we are racing in fairly extreme conditions. According to the GPS tracker we rounded the 1st mark in 67th position, ouch and its now breezy, double ouch. Spurred on by the likely embarrassment of a bad finish in a windy race we give it all we have and have moved up well a lap later, piling in to the top mark in a 45 degree righty. A fast, first reach, that is now essentially a run, in less than a 100yard visibility is followed by a tight reach to the leeward mark. In the chaos of rain and wind the race committee has not been able to realign the course and the “beat” is now a one tack power fetch. We fully have the “bit between our teeth” now and get to the top in tenth. It is now a gybe set and another spinnaker reach back to the leeward mark and we are lit up, getting to the bottom in 3rd, right on the tail of Hunger and Kleiner who are just leading from the Gorge brothers. This is looking good. However, the ride is over and the wind drops as quickly as it came and we are left with a final short beat in next to no wind. Brian and Ted sail brilliantly to win and we fade to 10th. Wolfgang and Julien cross in 2nd giving them the title of 2010 World Champions.
The last race is sailed in light breeze again and we have the job of pathfinder, not the best of places to be with the fleet set up high in the light stuff and a frustrating end to our weeks racing. However we have done enough to get on page 1 of the results ending up in 21st overall.
Over the years I have owned and raced every hull shape out there. Starting with Parkers, through Kyrwoods to a Waterat then a Van Munster and now a Rondar so adding the XSP to the picture was interesting. The boat is significantly cheaper than a Rondar and the saving have to come from somewhere. It shows in several places, some of it is in the construction, they are using vinylester not epoxy although plenty of carbon and we felt they were slightly under constructed on the centerboard case and on the transom, both areas that they intend to address. They have also cut corners in the fitting out, with some silly things like none or too small a washer, non ball bearing blocks in a couple of places and what Carl and I considered under sized fittings. They have taken our comments on board and should be addressing them too. All of that aside the boat was good, clearly capable of winning races at the highest level and at the end of the day that is probably what matters. The boat felt stiff and light sailing and felt particularly fast when deep running in lighter conditions, I guess we sail lower in the water than some and that may be a factor of waterline length!
The conclusion that Carl and I came to was the boat was perfectly competitive, had conditions and points of sail that it excelled on and others that it seemed less able, par for the course I think. Given more time to prep the boat we felt we would have done better, particularly day one when the breeze was on and the boat felt fast, the big question, would we have done better in our own boat, well we will never know!
A big thank you to all the people who made it possible to do the Worlds this year, Michael Honsol for supplying the boat, Jeff Miller and Genencor for sponsorship, numerous people for tools and Annette and Jacks for letting us go.
Robert Woelfel II Thomas Hurwitch Tyler Moore Mike Holt Duane Delfosse Tim Murphy Aaron Ross Craig Thompson Bryan Richardson David Shelton Howie Hamlin Adam Lowry Mike Martin Eric Anderson Reeve Dunne Chris Pittack Ted Conrads Sol Marini Andrew Forman Blaine Pedlow David Burchfiel Curtis Hartmann