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International Canoe World Championship at Pwllheli - Day 1

by Dougal Henshall 20 Aug 2017 22:25 BST 19-25 August 2017

Race 1 - Wind 210 degrees changing to 175 degrees. 6-9 kts

With a forecast of yet more miserable weather, some slick Race Management saw Race 1 start on time, with a clean start for the main fleet. Shortly afterwards, the second fleet, which comprises the Asymmetric Canoes and the Taifun Canoes from Germany also got away first time. In some of the better wind crews were fully planking, only to find the pressure fading away; there was a lot of 'in and out' on the sliding seat which is hard work in a Canoe.

The pre-event favourite for many of the sailors, Chris Maas from the USA made a classic good start, coming out of the middle of the line with speed and height. However, not long after the start the wind kicked left and seemed to stay there, leaving anyone out to the right with a great deal of work to do. Robin Wood, from Llandegfedd played the shifts to perfection and had a comfortable lead at the first mark that he never looked like relinquishing. In contrast to the normal dictum of "if in the s***e go right", the right hand side never paid and many of the faster boats found that they had a lot of traffic in front of them at Mark 1.

In the Asymmetric fleet, it was the battle of the blue spinnakers of Andy Gordon and Phil Allen, with these two boats seemingly joined at the hip for much of the race. With a number of very different genres of Canoe out on the course, along with a wide range of sea sailing capabilities in the helms, even on Lap 1 the fleet had spread out considerably. There was just time for the Race Team to move the windward mark to a new location before the leading boat reached Mark 3. However, the display of a 'Charlie Red' board (Flag C+ Red, indicating that the mark had been moved left) with repeated sound signals, confused rather than aided some of the later mark rounders. Nothing would interfere with the progress of Wood who took the first race gun ahead of Maas.

In the Asymmetric fleet, Gordon won his private battle with Allen whilst the only two up crew of Ole Junge and Antonia Reyer-Glow were the first of the Taifuns.

There then followed something of a farce, as the fleet simply decided to sail to the shore! Code Flag T had been clearly displayed on the Committee Boat, indicating that racing would take place back to back. The sailors had other ideas and headed for the beach leaving the Race Team with an empty ocean. Time for Plan B; racing would restart at 1430hrs.

Race 2 - Wind 170 degrees, swinging sharply to about 140/135 degrees late on. 6-8kts, Poor visibility and heavy rain

With the wind struggling to settle, some of the competitors had rather dawdled in leaving the beach and rather than split the fleet, the Race Officer allowed a short postponement. That gave the boats time to make the start, but by then the weather was on the change. The Race Team realised that they could no longer see Abersoch and as if on cue, the rain arrived. In the last minute, it looked as if a port tack flyer might win the day but the line had been set true and the two boats that were shaping up at the pin ended up having to bail out.

Once again Maas came out of the middle of the line but conditions were tough. Afterwards, Maas spoke of the difficulty of getting the Canoes to go to windward in the light breezes and short, messy chop. He said that you really had to steer around the worst of the waves, but with its long, narrow hull the IC isn't an easy boat to sail in this way. Meanwhile, Robin Wood was sailing superbly in the tricky conditions to again be leading at the top mark, this time with Peter Ullman of Germany close behind him. Maas though was showing excellent boatspeed in the offwind legs and at the end of the triangle had climbed to 3rd from 6th at Mark 1.

There was a change in the leaderboard for the Asymmetrics with Stephen Bowen leading ahead of the still feuding pair of Gordon and Allen coming down the run, with these three boats clear ahead of the rest. Behind them, Andreas Steiman was leading the Taifuns, thought these boats were already a long way behind the speeding Asymmetrics.

There were now boats on every leg of the course, meaning that when the wind suddenly started tracking hard left, the Race Team were unable to do a mark shift. All that was left to them was to shorten the race at the finish of the third beat. Wood had rounded Mark 3 in the lead to start his final beat with the wind still at 175 degrees but for the boats behind him, the freeing wind allowed them to power up towards the finish without having to tack. Maas made the best of the change in conditions to finish first but there was a nail biting final 50 metres for Wood. He ended up low on the finish and needed a very short hitch to get him over the line but Peter Ullman was powering in with pressure and sheets eased. Woods held his nerve and to take second by less than the length of a sliding seat. In the second fleet Bowen won from Allen to leave the top of the table tight in all classes.

It has been an interesting first day here at Plas Heli. The weather may still be rotten but the event itself is running well, with good race management afloat and plenty to eat and drink ashore in the warm and dry.

There is plenty for the Canoe sailors to be discussing, not least the blistering pace of the latest generation ICs. One has to question if their performance here at Pwllheli will signal the beginning of the end for the Asymmetric fleet or if Pwllheli will be their swan-song!

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