97 WORLD CHAMPS:
A report by Arthur Gatland.
I had decided to have a go in the World Champs 6 months ago, partly with the aim of finding out how I rated against the worlds best, but primarily just to enjoy the experience of racing against the worlds top sailors. I entered the Formula 42 Class because this was what I was used to in NZ, and felt reasonably confident I could acquit myself reasonably well, at least on the longboard part of the "2 boards" permitted. Two rule changes affected me significantly - the age limit for grandmasters was dropped from 50 to 45 years, which now included me. However I didnt decide which division to enter until after arriving in Perth. Secondly, the Formula 42 rules recently changed to allow any 2 boards with the same 4 sails, maximum of 8.5 sq metres. Many sailors turned up with two short boards, however the Kiwi contingent chose to stick to the one longboard, one shortboard combination.
The Formula 42 World Champs attracted 44 men and 13 women competitors; slightly disappointing in total numbers, but a high quality field that included several World Cup sailors. Once bonus was that we would all race together, and get an overall result as well as our individual division places.
As I said previously, many sailors chose to race with two short boards; one very light wind course-slalom board with a wide tail, including a few of the radical "flapper" boards becoming popular in the US. They have a virtually square tail with a "flap" out the back which prevents cavitation and spin-out of the fin. The half of the field who had longboards were hoping we would be raced in very light winds - unofficially the wind minimum at the start was 8 knots, although officially there were no wind limits. World Cup sailor Steve Allen (Australia) turned up with 2 shortboards, and his 4 sails consisted of three 8.3 sails, all designed for different wind strengths, and one smaller sail of 6.2 as required by the class rules. Most of us were more conservative; my high wind options were an AHD 285, and Neil Pryde VX3 7.4, 6.6 and 5.9m sails. We had been told to expect the "Fremantle Doctor" sea-breeze to produce around 25 knots of wind, and my gear was designed for this. Unfortunately this never happened!
The courses were mostly a windward/leeward course (colloquially known in NZ as the sausage), either 2 or 3 laps. The upwind beat was usually around 3 kilometres. On one day an M course was set, with 2 laps. Fremantle has little ocean swell, being fairly shallow till well off-shore. However the south-westerly sea breeze, when it gets stronger, whips up a fairly vicious chop which makes the downwind runs quite interesting.
DAY 1: We were sent to the start line in around 8 knots of wind for 2 back-to-back races, and longboards proved the correct choice. Shayne Bright picked up a 1st and 2nd, I was 7th and 10th out of 44 which was a good boost to my confidence. However, this was badly knocked in race 3 after a lunch break. The wind had picked up to shortboard conditions of 18 knots. The problem was WEED! The course was liberally spread with stringy seaweed which you couldnt avoid, and while longboards werent too badly affected, shortboard performance was killed - and the weed was getting worse. Many of the sailors came prepared with weed fins - high aspect fins raked at 45. I stopped about 15 times to remove weed, and got flicked twice after weed caused uncontrollable spin-out. 28th in this race, but I still finished 9th overall for the day. Shayne had another good race and leads the field after day 1, and Barbara Kendall leads the women.
DAY 2: Race 4 looked like being around 15 knots but dropped off just before the start, causing a scramble for longboards. A good decision as it dropped to 6 knots for the first lap of the sausage course, but picked up rapidly to about 17 knots as the "Doctor" kicked in. Shayne had another 1st, I was happy with a 7th. After the break, 2 back-to-back shortboard races. After a discussion with Shayne and Barbara, I decide it is better to plough on dragging weed unless it gets really bad - and try to keep my cool and not get annoyed and I had in race 3! The wind stayed at around 18 knots, my 7.4 and 285 board not quite matching the 8.3 and 300 boards, certainly not with weed. A 23rd and 24th for me, Shayne finishes in the top 10 to lie 3rd overall, and Barbara retains her lead in the womens division. Aaron White, who is sailing in Formula 1 (one board, 2 sails), is understandably struggling in the light, but has a couple of good results to start working his way up the field.
DAY 3: Very light winds meant no racing until 3pm. The morning was interesting. Four Danish sailors had protested race 4 on a technicality about repositioning the top mark, and the race was thrown out. Shayne and Barbara led a counter-protest and after a prolonged hearing the race was reinstated with some scoring adjustments. When we finally got out on to the water, the wind couldnt make its mind up whether to stay light or to fill in. I opted for my longboard and 8.5, but struggled when it picked up to around 18 knots. Those on shortboards did well, while I finished mid-fleet in 22nd. There was time to change to my shortboard for race 8, but once again the weed was troublesome. The previous evening I had driven to Perth to buy the only powerbox weed fin available, but it was a bit small unless we got 25 knots plus. I persevered with my 400mm course fin - the result was 6 stops to clear weed and a disappointing 26th. After day 3 I am lying 15th overall, and engaged in a close struggle with Joseph Roth (USA) for the grandmasters division.
DAY 4: Another frustrating day. The race committee set an M course, 2 laps, for the first time. There were 2 problems today - we were sent out in 10 knots of wind, and then made to wait for 30 minutes before the start, during which time the wind picked up to around 20 knots. This became a struggle for those of us with 8.5 sails. The second problem was WEED, which was now over the entire course and became a real hassle for those without weed fins. I stop at every gybe mark to clear my fin, and occasionally during reaching legs as well. Barbara and Shayne manage to borrow weed fins, but I still cant get hold of anything suitable. I finish 24th and 25th, and go into the final day in 18th overall, lying 2nd in the grandmasters by 10 points.
DAY 5: Final day. The forecast is for lighter winds, and the Kiwis are looking forward to some longboard racing. One good race will see Shayne move from 3rd to 2nd, Barbara would overtake World Cup sailor Karen Jaggi to take 1st, and I would pass Joe Roth to win the grandmasters and move to around 11th overall. We wait, meanwhile watching an impressive freestyle competition in temperatures of 39.4C! At 2pm the sea breeze starts, and it is announced that racing will start, with the Mistral Open fleet followed by Formaula 42. At 3:15pm an announcement is made "All Formula 42 racing abandoned", although racing can start up to 5pm. We cannot believe it! The wind is 6 to 8 knots and quickly rises to 12 knots over the next 2 hours. Some shortboard sailors are planing around the course. The race committee apparently decided that the wind would not come up, reportedly influenced by some shortboard sailors who didnt want to race, and cancelled racing to the utter disgust and disbelief of many F42 sailors. We didnt come all this way to go home early at the whim of some Aussie official. A good series racing finishes on a sour note.
Shayne Bright finishes in 3rd place, Barbara Kendall is 2nd woman, Aaron White is 17th, and I finish in 18th, and 2nd in the grandmasters. Day 6 was supposed to be the grand marathon finale, but 42 and 5 knots of wind caused this event to be cancelled as well.
The final frustration was to come at the prizegiving, where we discovered that a correction to the scoring had moved Shayne down to 4th - a similar thing in the Olympic Class had slid Jon-Paul Tobin from 3rd to 5th overall. However, it had been a good event for NZ, with Aaron McIntosh becoming World Champion again in the Olympic Class, and excellent results by all our represntatives. Despite several frustrations (worsened by the adrenalin of the occasion) I thoroughly enjoyed the whole atmosphere, the racing, and meeting some great fellow competitors.