I was really looking forward to the Raceboard worlds this year. Last year I was not able to compete in either the Worlds or Europeans due to work/university commitments so instead I committed to doing the full UK tour for the first time. Fortunately, the worlds this year didn’t clash with any other commitments. Unfortunately, it started 4 days after my final exam, which came at the end of a really busy final year at university, particularly late March-late June was pretty full with writing my masters thesis and studying for my final exams. The result was driving off to Poland with virtually no training! Luckily I had managed to find time to enter the Round Hayling Island Race, and the first UKWA event of the season, which was good preparation. I just had to stay calm, not put too much pressure on myself, and enjoy the event in the knowledge that my technique and kit was well ready after 2 seasons of getting faster and more tuned up. To be honest, I would have been disappointed with anything outside the top 10, and set the same ultimate goal as I did for the 2013 worlds: a top 5 finish.
On the startline at my last worlds in 2013 (photo by Martin Hales)
I walked out of my final exam, and after a brief celebration for completing my degree, got straight on with packing. I was to drive to Sopot, Poland with Lewis Barnes and Chris Willetts the next morning. I received a text from Chris saying that he’d injured his leg and couldn’t really walk on it, uh oh! That meant I’d have to drive all of the 1200 miles (1900 km) myself, as Lewis doesn’t have a driving license. I just had to get on with it I guess.
Lewis in training
We weren’t in a rush, camping near Gent and Berlin on the way, and with a huge stack of CD’s and Lewis’s ability to talk for a few hours at a time, the miles ticked away and we finally arrived at my friend Jan’s house in Gdansk on Sunday evening. It was really nice to be able to stay at his house by the forest at the edge of the city, and 20 minutes from the sailing club: close enough to be easy to get to every morning, but nice to escape the sailing club every day and relax away from the racing area.
Monday was registration day, and me and Lewis got out for a bit of training. It was and onshore breeze, 6-9 knots and fairly choppy, really useful training, as we did quite a lot of racing in these kind of conditions, and I hadn’t sailed my raceboard for a while, especially in light wind conditions.
Starboard Phantoms registered and ready to go.
There was a healthy entry, with 70 men (unfortunately a little lower than the 103 competitors in 2014), and 11 women. 6 from Argentina, 2 Australians, 11 Czechs, 1 from Denmark, 7 from Finland, 3 from France, 2 from the UK, 17 Germans, 5 Latvians, 20 from Poland, 1 from Portugal, 1 Swiss, 4 Slovakians. As is usual for an international event, most competitors registered a light wind 9.5 and a strong wind 9.5, I registered, as usual, my Tushingham XR Race 9.5, and Lightning 8.5. I use the XR Race in all wind conditions, and with the forecast looking pretty terrible, I didn’t see myself needing the 8.5!
Lewis and Louis rigged and ready (photo by Lewis Barnes)
The first day of racing looked like it would have the best wind of the week, with a 10 knot forecast (yes the rest of the week really did look that bad!). By the end of the day the wind had built nicely, and we got 3 races in, two of them planing. I started my event with a conservative start in the middle of the line, and finished 11th, quickly realising that playing it too safe wouldn’t be enough if I was going to challenge for the top. With everyone going so fast, and a relatively clean and consistent wind strength and direction, getting a good start was really vital to get in front and stay in front. I put this right in the second race, and pushed for the pin end. I had decent speed and finished a solid 4th. Nothing really went wrong in the last race, but I just felt tired and unable to get the speed that I wanted upwind, but finished 8th.
Max Wojcik and Piotr Nowacki, showed that they were the ones to beat in the event, getting 3 firsts and 3 seconds respectively. Fabian Grundmann of Germany was also really fast in the planing conditions, as was Juha Blinnikka of Finland.
I ended the first day in 9th, but the top 10 were really tightly packed with just a few points separating us, so it was a good start to the regatta, I just had to keep getting consistent top 10 and top 5 results.
Reaching to the finish (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
The wind was more or less the same direction for the second day, but lighter, mainly non-planing conditions of 6-10 knots. I initially struggled to get a good angle upwind, but changed my setup a little, and then felt really competitive both upwind, and downwind, where keeping the board surfing down the swell/chop was really important. After a bad first beat, I was fighting my way back up the fleet in race 4, but finished a great 5th place. In race 5, it was the opposite, I started the second beat in a good position, but played it too safe up the middle of the course, and lost some places because of that. Without much in the way of gusts and shifts, you really had to have good speed and commit to one side in clean air without loosing distance by tacking too much. I got a perfect start, great speed, and good tactics in race 6, and finished an awesome 2nd, I was really happy with that.
Max stayed dominant at the front, and Piotr was still comfortable in 2nd, but the rest of the top 10 had a little shuffle as Fabian and Juha, who were flying on day 1, struggled a little in the light wind. Meanwhile, Daniel Blinnikka, myself, and Jan Maszkiewicz had a solid day, ranked 3rd, 4th, and 5th respectively at the end of the day, with just two points separating the three of us!
Tight mark rounding (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
Day 3 looked a little different, with flat water and a cross-offshore westerly breeze, which lead to two races in almost unbelievably gusty (5-14 knots in the same race!) and shifty conditions. This made it really tough: tactically because you had to manage risk and try and stay on the right side of the shifts and in stay in the gusts as much as possible, and physically because you had to pump like crazy downwind in the lulls, and hang on to a lot of power upwind in the gusts. I was glad that my sail is so versatile and tunable, and I was adjusting my downhaul and outhaul continuously during the race (even sailing upwind with the outhaul rope in my hand).
It was hard to be consistent, but Daniel and Fabian were super solid in these conditions with two 6ths, and a 2nd and 4th respectively. Piotr wasn’t so in tune and finished outside the top 10 in both races. I was consistent enough, felt quite fast but found it really hard to get the gusts and shifts right. There were times when I’d look in an awesome position, but the round the windward mark around 10th, then jump up to the top 5 again, only to go down the last downwind stuck in no wind whilst a group of windsurfers were flying down the course in a gust by the shore.
Lewis was loving the conditions, I think it reminded him of lake sailing in the midlands! He was challenging for the top 10, and even the top 5 at times, and just lacked a little downwind speed compared to the top guys, but got awesome 13th and 9th, which was a great help after not finding his form in the choppier opening days.
We were sent in for lunch, and a nice 12 knot sea breeze appeared from the east. The race officer decided to run a long distance race. However, by the time we got to the start line and had a general recall, the wind was more like 9 knots, and by the time we finished it was about 4. I arrived to the windward mark in a good position, just behind Daniel. Max flew downwind, and Jan and Piotr also overtook us both, I arrived to the leeward mark in 4th, just ahead of Daniel. The last upwind leg back to the start line was very light and tricky, but I managed to round the final mark in 2nd, with Piotr and Jan breathing down my neck. I couldn’t really find a comfortable or fast way of reaching in these conditions, and lost my place to Piotr and Jan just meters from the finish line! 4th is still good, but 2nd would have been better!
I ended the day in 5th, tied with Daniel, and one point off Jan in 3rd. It seemed like there was very little between us, so the pressure was on for the final two days.
Shifty conditions made for a super tight reach to the finish. (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
The forecast for day 4 looked really bad, maybe peaking at about 6 knots if we were lucky! Luckily, we were extra lucky and race 10 got underway in a clean 11-13 knot sea breeze. I didn’t have a great start, struggled to get a good angle and speed upwind, and couldn’t make up for it downwind, so finished 10th, Daniel had a great race, and finished 2nd, Jan didn’t finish the race, I think something broke.
The sea breeze started to get very patchy indeed, with some big shifts as well. It was really difficult to see any pattern in where the holes were, but I got good starts and managed to stay in the gusts well and got two 6th places. Jan and Daniel did pretty badly, which lead to Daniel ending the day in 3rd just one point ahead of me, and Jan now out of podium contention.
In the mix off the start (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
The top two places were well out of reach, so I was ready for a battle for 3rd on the final day between myself and Daniel. However, it wasn’t that simple, as if we did badly, 3rd place could be snatched away by former world champion Patrick Pollack, who had been chipping away at the points, with a series of consistent top 10 results just held back by a couple of not so good discards, and Portugal’s Pedro Corte Moura who was really flying upwind in all conditions.
We waited for 2 hours for the wind to pick up to 6 knots, then had two races in really light conditions, right on the limit of what was race-able. The fleet pushed the start very hard, and we had a general recall with a black flagged second start. My start was quite good and I was in a good position, with Daniel buried in the fleet. He tacked off to the right hand side of the course, but I didn’t see and continued to the left. Daniel rounded in a good position, and I had a lot of work to do. I worked hard, and had a good second beat, then just managed to overtake Pedro at the finish line, finishing one place behind Daniel.
This meant that to take 3rd place overall, I would have to beat Daniel by at least two places in the final race, and ideally in the top 10. I started near to him and had a great start, then tacked with him, sailed to the layline and rounded with windward mark with several sailors between us. I again covered him up the second beat, but lost some places at the leeward mark. I almost managed to overtake Petr Kucera on the final downwind, but it wasn’t enough, and all I could do was rely on somebody finishing between me and Daniel. He was really pushing hard downwind and reeling in some places. In the end he finished just ahead of Patrick, only one place behind me, handing him 3rd place, one point ahead of myself in 4th.
Ready for the start (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
I’m happy with how I sailed, I didn’t make too many mistakes, managed to be fairly consistent, and was fighting really close for the podium right until the last seconds of the championship. We managed 14 races, which was pretty impressive given the forecast, and I felt quite fast most of the time in the wind between 4 and 15 knots that we had during the competition. I knew before entering that it could be a tough battle between myself and Daniel; he finished 3rd in 2012, I finished 3rd in 2013. It was an enjoyable and testing event, and I feel really motivated and ready for the rest of the national events this summer. I was not planning on heading to the Europeans in Cadiz this September, but now I’m a bit tempted, we’ll see. Anyway, the 2016 worlds are in Brisbane, Australia. I’m not sure I can make it to that, but I’m fully up for the 2016 Europeans in Brest, France, and I’ll train hard and push for the podium.
I should also say that my training and travel buddy Lewis found another gear and posted some more great top 20 results, even in his least favoured light, choppy conditions to finish in 21st, an awesome result for the 17 year-old in a senior fleet of his first international competition.
Congratulations to Max, Piotr and Daniel for their awesome performance in the championship. Thanks to the race officer Ewa Jodlowska, and all of the on and off water crews who made the event happen. And of course, Robert Hajduk for taking all the incredible photos
Mens top 3: Max Wojcik, Piotr Nowacki, Daniel Blinnikka. (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
Louis Morris GBR 730 – 4th (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)
The competitors (Robert Hajduk, shuttersail.com)