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International Canoe World Championship at Pwllheli - Overall

by David Henshall 25 Aug 2017 18:22 BST 19-25 August 2017

Race 9 Wind 220 degrees 15- 18kts, decreasing 13-15. Mainly grey and overcast, weak sun later.

Sea State: Seriously rough for Lap 1, then more moderate (though still rough)

Hwyl i bawb ohonoch, dewch yn ôl yn fuan.
(Goodbye to you all, come back again soon)

With the Championships decided by the failure of Chris Maas's sliding seat yesterday, Robin Wood was able to thank his lucky stars that he could sit out the final day's single race held out on Tremadog Bay.

The Welsh like to sing a song that talks of "keeping a welcome in the hillsides" but the hillsides of today were the waves that were sweeping in from Bardsey Sound out to the west. These started not more than 200m off the beach and even before the start area, were cresting, steep and occasionally very big. Little wonder that the capsizes and gear failures were a feature of this race even before the start. Having seen that a number of boats were still struggling to make the start area, the Race Team allowed a short time under AP, then once again set things up for a clear start. Half way up the beat the waves took on a new dimension, making tacking into a parlous activity. Most of the boats wisely chose to hit the corner and thus only have to tack twice in total – that limited the capsize opportunities to two!

At the windward mark the wind was a steady 17-18 kts, but the leading boats seemed to be happy enough as they rounded the mark and took off along the reach. After his win yesterday Alistair Warren clearly had a taste for the front of the fleet as he led the chasing pack of Maas, Twigg, Caldwell and Charlie Chandler out towards the gybe. The instructions given to the Race Team by the Canoe Organisation are quite specific; if there is breeze the legs have to be set at 1.1nm in length, which gave time for the sailors to enjoy the thrills but created a logistical problem for the Race Team. With boats hitting both corners, even the very well provided rescue cover was stretched across more than 1.5 miles of beat, plus there had to be rescue boats in the middle for those sailing down the run. Special mention has to be made about the sailing technique employed for sailing the sausage today. The order went something like... first bear away, trying not to capsize. Then move aft of the sliding seat and assume a praying position on the knees, as far aft as you dare go. It may not have looked all that dignified, but it worked!

At the windward mark, second time around, Warren was still leading, Chris Maas was hard charging in second, with Gareth Caldwell again going very quickly in third. He then disappeared from the race courtesy of a self destructing mast, sadly his second DNF, a result that would dump him down the rankings.

The Taifuns had again wisely decided not to sail but the asymmetric fleet was out in force with the exception of Stephen Bowen, who like Robin Wood could afford to sit this one out. Most decided that discretion was better than a lengthy capsize and kept their spinnakers firmly in the chutes, though one brave soul with a blue spinnaker was spotted on one of the runs, his fate is as yet undetermined! In the absence of Bowen, the AC's would do their rounds and finish intact, with Roger Holwell getting his first win and in doing so, condemned Andy Gordon to yet another 2nd place. With John Robson finishing in third, that set the overall results as Bowen, Gordon and Robson.

The Taifuns had only sailed 6 races, with 4 wins and a second Cladius Junge won this fleet, from Andreas Steiman. Mention here goes to 3rd placed Ole Junge and Antonia Reyer- Gloe; the rules for this class dictate that up to the age of 19, crews sail 2 up. There are certainly some IC sailors in the making here!

The fleet may not have appreciated the kindness shown to the them by the weather, but as the race entered it's final stages the wind had moderated somewhat to 13-15kts and the sea state had eased noticeably. With boats strung out around the course, the Race Team wisely started finishing back markers with the W/Whiskey Flag, before Alistair Warren happily crossed the finish line for his second consecutive win. Maas crossed next, a tale of what so nearly was, then Charlie Chandler scored his best result of the week with a third. Fourth over the line was Todd Twigg, who like clubmate Maas must have been thinking about earlier results. After a first half of the event in double figures, Twigg has a very strong second half, carding a 3, 5, 3, 4 and was demonstrably quick enough to finish higher up the fleet. Another strong finisher was Peter Ullman, who was very, very quick at times but was sometimes slow turning the corners.

Warren's second win lifted him into third overall, just a point behind Chris Maas whose potentially Championship winning score was spoilt by a 12th place in the light airs race and his finish line disaster of yesterday. That left Robin Wood, sailing for the UK, as the 2017 World Champion. Other mentions must be made of Germany's Emma Grigull, who showed real skill, a lot of class and has provided the event with what is probably the most iconic of photos. Also noteworthy was Michael Brigg, sailing the 50 year old Torment canoe, who finished all of the races and in the lighter conditions, was seen ahead of some of the modern and up to date designs!

In terms of the designs being sailed, the winner was sailing a Morrison 2, which at times simply went faster than anything else out there but, as Chris Maas pointed out, Robin Wood is a very skillful and fast sailor. With the last two days breezy with waves, Chris Maas might well have created tense final day had his sliding seat not snapped, yet in his favoured conditions, he had to give second best to Alistair Warren in the Warren Dragonfly. To this observer, one of the differences between these boats has to be in the way that the bow develops lift, either dynamically or via buoyancy. The Dragonfly seemed to handle the wave conditions more easily and was maybe giving the helm more confidence to push harder. The Maas SSTs all seemed quick, with Todd Twigg, Gareth Caldwell, Colin Brown and Peter Ullman all showing enough straight line speed to front run. Maas meanwhile was in the latest iteration of his design philosophy with the Maas BB; I was left with the feeling that this was a boat that was in need of a T-foil rudder, as too often his trim looked to be bow down Out afloat the Race Team, under the watchful eye of Mike Butterfield, had a very good Championships. To add to the well laid courses and spot on start lines, they consistently made the right calls at the right time and kept the event running on schedule and without any undue fuss. The rescue cover was generous and more than capable of dealing with the various situations that the fleet posed for them from day 1 across the week! Plas Heli, the Welsh Academy Centre, did the International Canoe fleet proud; there was real Welsh warmth in the welcome, the food was good, the drinks sensibly priced and when something needed doing, Neil was there to action it.

Finally, this World Championships has benefited from the very best of media coverage. Andy Green of www.greenseaphotography.co.uk was on hand to capture some memorable images, whilst VRSport.tv were out on the water every day taking video that was edited and uploaded at the end of each day. Also afloat all of each day was YachtsandYachting.com, who have been responsible for the detailed daily reports of not only what was happening in the racing, but what it was like to be here. That three very different media types could all work so closely together must surely suggest similar coverage at other high profile events around our shores.

I'd finally like to add my own personal thanks to the International Canoe fleet for giving me so much material to write about, the Race Team for welcoming an embedded reporter into their midst and the happy souls from Plas Heli who looked after me for more than a week, even though I have still to learn how to count past 2 – in any language.

Hwyl fawr a diolch i chi - Goodbye and thank you.

Final results will be available here shortly.

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