It has been a tough few days down in Barcelona at the ILCA Worlds. The autumnal conditions have been testing for the race committee as they run a day behind schedule with the wind just refusing to play ball. But when it does, you just have to marvel at the sailors and just how they are sailing the boats. It’s the result of hours and hours on the water and endless coaching sessions by hugely dedicated individuals but what we’re seeing is top drawer competition and unbelievable boat-handling skills. They just make it look easy – and that’s a huge compliment.
As someone who’s firmly, wholeheartedly caught the Laser/ILCA bug as I enter middle age (or Masters as we get called), I pore over the videos angling for a tip or two, I zoom in on the stills to look at control-line set-up and wish that I had the guts to call up John Emmett and ask him to give me some pointers. I’m angling for the nationals next year – I won’t win, I’d be lucky to be in the top 50 but it looks like a lot of fun.
As the most basic of boats, the Laser should be a cinch but oh no. Before I went afloat at the weekend I was busy reeving the Robert Scheidt toestrap adjuster system where you loop a bowline back on a retaining rope and have a modicum of adjustment. I attempted a new kicker arrangement but for the life of me can’t work that one out and I’d love a pointer on the rudder downhaul. It’s all in the detail in the Laser but then again, it’s all in the detail no matter what you sail.
The ILCA Worlds is tighter than a mackerel’s backside at the top of the standings and overnight is being led by Elliot Hanson, Britain’s representative at this year’s Tokyo 2020 Games (if that makes sense?). Elliot’s sailing like a dream and very much to his potential after a chastening Olympics where he couldn’t quite get into gear.
What’s great to see though is his bounce-back and my goodness, if he wins the World title he joins a pretty eclectic bunch of Brits to have scooped that title: Lawrence Crispin, Ben Ainslie, Paul Goodison and Nick Thompson. That’s not many since the first Worlds in 1974. A Brit winning is rare. It’s such a monumental achievement and as Micky Beckett found out yesterday, you can be top of the pile one moment and then a DSQ arrives served on a silver platter and your championship is effectively done. Fine margins all round in the Lasers. Here’s the latest event video, brilliantly curated by the class’s peerless video scribe, John Emmett:
Equally fine margins are being found on the Transat Jacques Varbre with Louis Burton and co-skipper Davy Beaudart limping to St Malo last night with their damaged boat Bureau Vallée having dropped the rig in the Alderney Race – not where you want to be snapping carbon masts as anyone that’s been that way will well attest.
“We had just passed the Raz Blanchard, we were arriving north of the island of Guernsey. What was surprising was that despite the spring tides, the sea wasn’t too bad. There was 15 knots of wind. We heard a big noise half an hour before we dismasted. We wondered if we had hit something. We checked everything including the stacks but nothing had moved. We were under full mainsail with a headsail. Our speed was 18-19 knots when it broke. I was in the cockpit trimming, Davy was sailing. The first sound was like an explosion, the mast didn’t fall down, it imploded. Then there was a cracking sound and we heard a crash on the deck. Then we realised that the mast had fallen down.”
I tell you, these offshore sailors are tough with the most incredible seamanship skills. We’ve almost become blasé to ocean going races. Yes we had PRB sinking in the last Vendee and that was the most remarkable rescue executed by Jean Le Cam but in a general sense, the boats get around and they weather the most horrendous conditions. It’s a dangerous sport, let’s not forget that and the pressure these crews are under is intense. It captures and rivets us as spectators with the sheer romance of sailing beyond the horizon and every day, I just marvel at the tracker and the distances they’re covering. It’s quite unbelievable and is the stand-out discipline in our sport for human endeavour.
Every year the boats get more extreme and the boundaries of technology are pushed. The enclosed cockpits are an absolute necessity and I often wonder what it must be like to coop yourself up in a carbon cocoon and blast out to sea. Terrifying I would imagine.
I was lucky enough to sail onboard one of the Artemis yachts (I think it was the 70) one Cowes Week and it made the Solent feel like a playground. “Oh look we’re at the Nab Tower already…oh is that Hurst Castle? Gosh we got there quickly.” It was like a sensory Rubik’s Cube – everything you thought you knew was scrambled beyond reason. Remarkable machines and yes, given half the chance I’d leap at a trans-Atlantic crossing on one. Probably faster than commercial airlines at the moment what with the Covid queues…
Bureau Vallée was the first to retire, they almost certainly won’t be the last. Brutal racing but absolutely electric to follow.
Chapeau to every single one of those skippers. Amazing.