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International Canoe World Championship at Pwllheli - Day 4

by Dougal Henshall 24 Aug 2017 09:28 BST 19-25 August 2017

New York Canoe Club International Challenge Races 1-3 (only 2 sailed)

Sea State: Short wind over tide chop on top of increasing swell from the west = some very big lumps and holes deeper than the Nantgarw coal mine!

"Nid ydych chi wedi ennill y ras, os ydych chi wedi colli parch eich cystadleuwyr wrth ennill y ras."

(with thanks to Paul Elvstrom – who spoke Danish, a language almost as contorted as Welsh. We don't think he spoke Welsh but this would be what he would have said had he done so...)

As predicted on Tuesday, the Welsh weather gods served up the perfect day for the 'big one' – the Challenge Cup dates back to the 1880s and has been contested by – and won by some of the greatest names in the sport. Over the years the format has been refined and it is now sailed for by teams of three boats apiece, this time from the USA and UK. The winner really does take it all – the winner of each of the three scheduled races scores one for his country. First country to two wins get the Trophy – an antique silver jug that really is worth winning!

With so much at stake both teams fielded their strongest three boats, on paper it looked very well balanced. Both teams had a stand out performer, Robin Wood for the UK and Chris Maas for the US. But as the fleet launched into the building breeze and waves, it was hard for the odds to not shorten dramatically in favour of a dominant performance from the US sailors, who had been seeing facing West and praying for more breeze.

Race 1: - Wind 230 degrees 11-15 kts. Mainly sunny.

With an on-time start, there was the inevitable shouting as the International Canoes tried to play positional tactics, but once the gun went it was a straight-forward drag race away on starboard. By the time the boats started to peel away over onto port there were only 4 boats effectively racing, with one boat from each team capsized. The UK supporters must have had a few worrisome moments of concern as it quickly became clear that Wood – something of a talisman for Team GBR, was not only over but not recovering that quickly. They needn't have worried, as Gareth Caldwell had taken up the role of leading from the front. His rig seemed to handle the wave conditions better, as he demonstrated height and speed, despite the sea state. He was chased down the first reach by Chris Maas from the USA but here was an interesting contest, for the leader was sailing a Maas SST design. The British boat seemed to be able to keep the bow up more than the designer's boat, a Maas BB, a factor that become even more important when sailing down the run. The waves were big enough to surf down, but this counted for nothing if you sailed into the back of the next wave. Not only was this slow but it destabilised the already twitchy Canoes - not what was needed at that moment in time.

None of this seemed to bother Caldwell who sailed a careful race and let his boat speed do the work; that and keeping the masthead aiming at the sky saw him cross the finish line with a comfortable cushion.

Although the wind looked to be softening back towards the 10 kt mark, this was only a temporary reprieve and mindful that several of the boats had already capsized at least once, the Race Team very quickly set up for the second race.

Race 2: Conditions as for first race with maybe some bigger waves!

The pressure was now on the USA. With one strike down they couldn't afford any more issues. This presented something of a quandary for Maas: did he go with Wood, the current leader of the Worlds, or with Caldwell who in local parlance was 'hot' in the prevailing conditions. Maas chose Caldwell and for a moment it looked as if thing might get interesting, with the US boat trying to squeeze the UK boat out by the pin. Such tactics are all very well but if your opponent simply changes up a gear to sail clear, it is difficult to fight back. Caldwell led at Mark 1 with Wood in second, which meant double trouble for Team USA. Maas would use his windy weather skills to regain second spot but the leading British boat was already away down the run and sailing what looked to be a textbook race.

However, at the leeward mark, with just the last beat to the line needed for the UK to reclaim the Challenge Cup (that they last won at Weymouth in 2005) things would suddenly get interesting. The third USA boat, sailed by Todd Twigg had, as yet, failed to reach the windward mark once in either of the races. Having spent some time capsized, he had drifted rather than sailed some way down the course. Despite being the whole distance of the race behind, having finally righted, he tried to sail the leader off the course, then engage him in close quarter tactics.

Given the conditions and that fact that the British boat was there by virtue of good, fast sailing, this was a distasteful exercise of poor sportsmanship. Appendix D of the RRS, which covers Team Racing, had not been included in the SIs and even if it had been, it wouldn't have made what happened any more acceptable, or legal.

There were a few shouted exchanges between the two boats but Caldwell and the UK were not to be denied. With Caldwell's second straight win, the New York Canoe Club Challenge Cup is back in UK hands. For the record, Maas finished second, Wood third, though it is the format of the Cup that only the winning score counts.

With the Cup out of the way, normal business of the whole fleet sailing will recommence tomorrow at 10.55 for the first warning signal. Two races are scheduled, with the latest forecast suggesting that it will again be dry, sunny and with a moderate SW breeze. However, tomorrow is also the top of a spring tide and going on the evidence of today, that may create a more confused sea state. It won't be the Challenge Cup any more, but it will definitely be a challenge.

New York Canoe Club International Challenge: UK win 2:0/third race not sailed.

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