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International Canoe World Championship at Pwllheli - Day 5

by Dougal Henshall 25 Aug 2017 00:05 BST 19-25 August 2017

Race 7: Wind 240 degrees 11-15 kts. Grey and overcast at first then sunny.

Sea State: A long, sweeping swell from the west, a chop running at 30 degrees to the swell.

Diwrnod anhygoel, rhyfeddol ond dramatig ar Bae Tremadog
(An awesome, amazing but dramatic day out on Tremadog Bay)

Or, for Marit and the friendly followers from Germany,
Ein toller, erstaunlicher, aber dramatischer Tag auf Tremadog Bay

After the near lay day for the fleet yesterday, it was back to a full day of sailing, with another two races scheduled. Because of the lighter airs earlier in the week, the course size had been reduced, but now with a moderate breeze blowing, the legs were the full size of 1.1nm.

Although sun had been promised, when the fleet set out for the start it was very grey and overcast, with the waters of Tremadog Bay taking on a menacing colour more akin to the local slate that is quarried at nearby Porthmadog. Although the start pretty much co-incided with high water, there was already something of a confused sea state as the steep, short chop was running at an angle to the longer, more kindly swell that was rolling in from the west. This sea state, when combined with a very well set line saw yet another clean start, with boats powering away up the beat with their helms hiking hard off the very end of the sliding seat.

The front of the fleet had a very familiar look to it, with Robin Wood, in his green Morrison 3 design showing both speed and the all important stability. This latter point is also crucial, for coming up the beat very quickly was Germany's Peter Ullman. Tacking was another matter though, with the waves catching Peter and many of the others out; at best, the boat was stopped dead – at worst, it stopped dead, the rig stalled and then the whole thing fell over. None of this bothered Wood who had taken off at speed down the first reach. Missing at this point was Gareth Caldwell, the star of yesterday. A broken kicker at the start saw him struggle up the beat but the offwind legs would have been impossible, so he joined the steady stream of boats heading for the beach.

By now the asymmetric fleet had reached the top mark and were starting their banzi ride back downwind. Hoisting the spinnaker is one thing...

Now I must confess here to a bit of a Murray Walker moment. Thinking that maybe I'd not spent enough time checking out the asymmetrics I was determined to correct this by watching more of their race. This was easier said than done, for they were now fully powered up, even though they weren't far from running dead downwind. Keeping up with them in the RiB was difficult, with each gust of wind they'd shoot forward in an amazing burst of speed. Significantly heavier than the new rules IC's, it was interesting to watch to see if they proved the theory that an asymmetric provides life as well as power. What I saw was the AC's going so fast that they simply speared through the back of the waves and out the other side, it was certainly impressive to watch. They even gybed safely, before continuing the wild sleigh ride down wind. And now we get to the Murray Walker moment; they were going so well that the fact that the bottom mark was now hard on the beam seemed to escape them. When they finally realised their mistake they had to drop, gybe, then harden up to close reach back to their mark. None of them seemed to manage this without a capsize, which rather shuffled the result to the point that I was unable to determine who was actually leading.

Then, as if to relent, the sun suddenly broke through and transformed Tremadog Bay into a sailing paradise. The scenery was breathtaking, the sailing awesome and even the waves, now blue, flecked with white seemed kinder. In all this excitment I'd not forgotten the ICs, where Wood was having a day that was so much better than yesterday. At the bottom mark at the end of the second triangle he was 2 mins 4 secs up on second placed Maas, who was another minute ahead of the third placed boat. It would be another 7 minutes before the pack would finally reach the mark to start their last leg.

Wood was content to sail a conservative final beat to take his fourth win and with the discard kicking in, get one hand on the Championships. But no more than one hand, for with two races to sail and only one discard for the event, Chris Maas, who finished second, was still in the hunt. Third was Alistair Warren and fourth Colin (the consistent) Brown.

After completing their laps, the order was still somewhat shuffled in the AC fleet. John Robson would take a well deserved win from Stephen Bowen, with Andy Gordon finishing in third. The Taifuns looked to be having fun in the conditions and for a while, when the AC's went on their trip around the bay, might have been leading on the water for a while. It is now very easy recording their results: Cladius Junge won again from Andreas Steiman.

The leaders were already sailing for the beach, but for the pack and later, the boats suddenly found that both the wind and sea state was increasing, making the last beat a bit of a slog. They then had a hairy ride back to the beach with just enough time for lunch and any running repairs.

Race 8: Wind 20 degrees 10-15 kts, decreasing to 12, then increasing to 17 with the occasional gust of 18. Brilliant sunshine then very late on, cloud.

Sea State: A long, sweeping swell from the west. But today was top of springs and with the ebb building, a strong current flow creating an unpleasant wind over tide chop on top of the swell.

The pressure was now on Chris Maas. In the conditions out in the bay, there was little he could do to stop Wood, who with the discard was the clear leader of the Worlds. All Maas could do was sail for the front and hope for the best.

In terms of races to decide a Wolrd Championships, they just do not come any better than this. The setting was picturesque, with the scenic views of Snowdonia the perfect backdrop to a racecourse that was going to be demanding, but sailable. Some of the sailors had already (and probably wisely) decided that this wasn't for them. In this group was the Taifuns, who decided en masse not to sail. The wind itself wasn't that strong, but the waves were certainly catching out the great and the unwary in equal numbers. Another on time start on a spot on line saw a clean start, but then, you'd not have wanted recalls today. As the fleet cleared the line Maas was obviously going for it big time, for the black bow of his boat could be seen sending up a curtain of spray. The fleet then started to tack back towards Pwllheli and in a flash, the bigger picture had changed. Wood was in the water and as the leaders approached the windward mark, he was only just getting going again. The trickiness of the conditions became apparent when the leading boat, Phil Robin in his Dragonfly decided not to lead the fleet around the windward mark by capsizing instead His place was taken by another Dragonfly, this time in the hands of Alistair Warren. Hot on his heels were the chasing pack; Maas, Todd Twigg and a bit further back, Gareth Caldwell, who with his boat now repaired, was again looking impressive.

Given what was soon to happen, it is important to record at this point that a rather spread out AC fleet finished their full quota of laps with Stephen Bowen joining Robin Wood in the 4 wins club, with Andy Gordon secoring yet another second place. The big winner of the afternoon in this fleet was Roger Howell, who had only completed one race so far, he would finish third.

In the main fleet, the leaders had now survived the run as as they rounded up for the thid beat, Warren was still leading though he was now being hunted down by a pair of US boats, as both Maas and Twigg were close enough for the slightest mistake to be a race changer. Now it was Caldwell who was 'getting a wiggle on' as he passed Twigg to move into third. With just the triangle to go, the betting had to be on Maas winning and with Wood back in the second half of single figures, this would again open up the Championships. By the bottom mark for the last time, the three leading boats had dumped Twigg and were out on their own, meanwhile Peter Ullman had worked out how to play the waves and was letting his speed pull him into the back of this leading group. Warren then went hard right whilst Maas, correctly calling the tide, went left.

As the two boats closed in on the finish line Warren still held the narrowest of advantages, but he had misjudged the line and would have to tack. Maas meanwhile looked to be slightly overstood was was coming in fast in a cloud of spray. Warren went for the tack, then hit a lumpy wave and seemed to stall for a moment. Maas was racing in and just had to harden up to win, when with a crack that could be heard over the wind and outboard noise, his sliding seat snapped, dumping him into the water. With his seat gone, Maas couldn't even limp across the line, instead he was fated to drift away downwind as Warren, Caldwell, Twigg then Ullman blasted across the line in delight. With Maas now DNF, this elevated Wood up to 6th and with only one race scheduled for the final day, the Championships.

For Maas, this had to be the bitterest of blows, as from my position, I'm sure that he would have crossed first. For the rest though, the minor places are still all up for grabs and the points very close, so tomorrow will be a real D day once D flag is flown. The real winner though was the whole Canoe fleet, for this was a day that will be talked about at Championships for years to come. Top marks to the venue, to the Race Team, the fleet itself and Tremadog Day for making today that rarest of commodities; - a true classic!

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