Report by Julian Bosch
It's not every day that you get to race against the fastest sailor of all time.
Despite the pleasant forecast, the event resulted in all conditions being covered. From the moment we launched, the race looked as though it would be a drifter. Myself and Paul Larsen were early to set off, and I was eager to see whether foiling the boat would even be possible! After a short while of sailing around with patches of inconsistent foiling, it was time to enter the starting area. During the time leading up to the regatta, I had been practicing my starts, and aimed to hit the line at the committee boat end in the first row. As the start gun went, I was exactly where I wanted to be and after a quick glance over my shoulder, I saw Paul directly behind me. The first beat saw a light upwind leg with little trapezing, but plenty of shifts and lead changes, as well as a slight wind increase as we approached the windward mark. After the mark rounding, I was able to get onto the inside of Paul and begin the slow drift downwind as is customary in sub-foiling conditions. Before long however a few larger gusts started to come through, and being over to the right, Paul was able to catch the gust that narrowly missed me, and sail the boat all the way downwind on the foils! I sat and watched in desperation, hoping for a similar gust to try and catch up. Before long, the wind did begin to fill in, and I got the boat foiling nicely, however at this point I had lost so much distance, I knew I would struggle to catch up. The remainder of the race saw me attempting to pull back any distance I could, while avoiding the ever-looming wind shadow of the f18s! In the end I was unable to catch back up to Paul, however I was not far behind, and was now feeling good about the second race.
The second race began with a more average start, but the wind had filled in nicely by now, and we were flat wiring upwind. For the duration of the first beat, I remained biting at the heels of Paul, and even around the top mark, I wasn’t losing too much distance on the downwind. Unfortunately, due to the slightly stronger winds, the curse of the Z10 foils began to impact my downwind. I would see Paul pop up onto the foils and cruise away, while the Z10s would randomly crash down, and I would need to head the boat up to maintain foiling. As luck would have it, after the gybe, my boat seemed to perform exceptionally, and I was able to gain back the majority of the distance I had lost. The next few laps were similar, until I rounded the mark on the last lap. Paul was about 300m ahead, and I believed I may be able to catch him. I gave it everything on the downwind, and pushed the boat hard. I chose to gybe slightly late in order to avoid other boats and maximise speed into the bottom mark. The boat stormed into the bottom mark, touching speeds in excess of 25kts, and once I rounded, I was metres behind Paul! During the final sprint to the finish, I doubted I would catch up, however as Paul went for the tack, his boat rather gently capsized, right behind the finish line! Soon after, I threw in a tack, squeezed in behind the committee boat and crossed the line. I was in disbelief, I couldn’t believe I had managed to stay that close, let alone beat Paul in a race! This was the highlight of the day for me, and I knew I had given it my all. Even if my other races were disastrous, I had managed to beat the fastest sailor in 1 race!
For races 3 and 4, the wind had increased further, and waves from ships in the channel were getting surprisingly big. Being a mainly lake sailor, I wasn’t used to dealing with any sort of sea state, especially with foils! As a result, more than once did I launch the boat from the foils straight into the back of a wave. The spray crashed over the tramp, but I managed to keep the boat upright and sailing. Despite having good starts in both races, I was unable to keep up with Paul upwind, due to his masses of experience and upwind foiling ability, which I found was definitely an aspect I wanted to work on for the future. Both races saw some incredibly fast downwinds, and sketchy mark roundings, however at this point I started to feel exhausted (mostly due to my less than perfect sleep in the tent last night) and was unable to beat Paul again in one of the races. Despite this I was happy with my overall performance and lack of swims in these races.
Overall, I had a fantastic time at the event, especially as I was able to meet Paul Larsen, and learn a few secrets to getting the boat around a racecourse quickly, and have the opportunity to race against one of the best! Despite the racing being cancelled on the second day, the first more than made up for it. The conditions were fantastic, and the racing was close and exciting. A huge thank you to Weston sailing club for hosting the event, and to the photographers whose photos were truly stunning!
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