It was a big and blustery opening race that kicked off the Nacra 17 World Championships today in Clearwater, Florida. The first race started in a fairly benign 11-12 knots, although the 43 crews probably had an inkling that something big was going to happen when the breeze suddenly shifted 30 or 40 degrees to the left with less than a minute to the start gun.
This played nicely into the hands of the defending World Champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) who had been fighting hard for position at the left-hand of the start line. The French put the hammer down out of the line and tacked on to the layline for the top mark, and they never relinquished the lead. Somehow, even with the big wind shift, a number of the usual suspects still found their way to the front of the pack, with the Swiss team of Matías Bühler and Nathalie Brugger chasing the French around the track, coming in second ahead of the Spanish pair of Iker Martinez and Julia Rita.
As the race progressed, the breeze built and built, with the shallow waters of Clearwater kicking up a vicious, steep chop. This created perfect conditions for high-speed pitchpoling and it caught out a number of teams including the top Kiwi crew of Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders who came a cropper towards the bottom gate. “It’s a shame because we like the big breeze normally,” said Jones. “But we fell in twice today. Not good.” The capsizes dropped the New Zealand duo out of the front pack and back to 25th at the finish.
The Australian team of Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin were one of a number of crews who had come down to the boatpark this morning to discover that some of their kit had either been damaged or disappeared altogether. Stormy winds and a high tide had washed the water high up the beach, with a few boats actually afloat on the shallow sands. Some teams’ sails were buried below the sand, there was damage to some hulls, but for the Aussies their sail and equipment box had floated away completely. Fortunately it showed up in a marina further down the coast and Waterhouse was able to use his waterlogged equipment to notch up a fourth place finish.
With the breeze whistling up to over 20 knots, and the waves becoming more treacherous by the minute, the race committee was forced to abandon any further racing for the day. So only one race complete, and even then the results remain in doubt after some teams have submitted protest forms claiming that most of the fleet failed to go around the spacer mark at the top of the second windward leg.
The race committee had moved the windward mark to take account of the big wind shift, but most of the sailors failed to see the small spacer mark that had been situated nearby and assumed that there was no space mark at all. One coach commented: “The only reason why some of the boats towards the back of the fleet went round the spacer mark was because they couldn’t bear away properly.” The implication being that it was only boathandling incompetence that led to some boats going around the spacer mark by happy accident.
Tomorrow’s forecast promises more moderate and manageable breezes, and the sailors will be hoping they will be able to catch up on the schedule and get some solid scores on the board.