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Zhik 2024 March - LEADERBOARD

Wetsuit Outlet and Zhik International Moth World Championship Day 5

by Mark Jardine for IMCAUK 16 Jun 2023 23:07 BST 12-18 June 2023

It's time to clutch at straws in Portland Harbour as the wind continues to frustrate all. It taunts, as a reasonable breeze blows across the marina outside the Weymouth & Portland National Sailing Academy, and is high enough most of the day for foiling within a hundred yards of the marina wall, but then fades just further north - it's like adding insult to injury.

Today the wind was from the South-East, and the forecasts showed a brief time when it would be above eight knots. The big question was how long this would be, and how many races could be completed in this time. In the end it was just the one, with Blue fleet catching up with Yellow fleet on races completed.

The sailors are playing their part to perfection again in helping get the races done, with another clean start at just after 1pm. That's not to say the start wasn't fiercely contested, and the squeeze at the committee boat end was intense. Some chose to come into the line on port tack and weave their way through the fleet, which in a counter-intuitive way may have been the safer option.

The priority was to get to the right, as the Portland side of the harbour was where the breeze was strongest, and of course the highest priority was to stay on the foils, making manoeuvres critical. Sailors can be excused the odd expletive when a gybe or tack is slightly fluffed, and they splash down into lowriding mode. After days sitting ashore, it takes a quick switch of mindset to get fully into race mode, and they're doing it admirably.

The conditions may be extremely tricky, but the form sailors once again rose to the top. New Zealand's Jacob Pye, who was winner of the UK Open last week, added another win to his bullet on Wednesday, keeping his perfect scoreline. The 17-year-old was happy, but also realistic about the situation:

"It is going well, but unfortunately it is only two races. We've been here for, oh I can't remember how many days! The wind seems to be coming in and out, so it's proving very difficult for the race committee to pick when to run racing.

"I managed to get off the start line quite clean, and break away to the right quite early, which really paid off. It really showed because the boats that were leading the race to the top mark were all the boats that went right. It got very, very light at the top mark."

Jacob had practiced time on distance into the committee boat end of the line during the pre-start, and it looked like he was aiming to come in at speed and tack away at the first opportunity:

"That was the plan! I didn't get to execute it as much as I'd liked to as obviously there were other boats that got in there too, which always makes it a bit more exciting. A good struggle and a good race. There were very slight differences in pressure all over the course. The further you went right the steadier it was - until you went too far! It was very patchy, still."

Another young sailor who continues to impress is Frenchman Enzo Balanger, who finished second which, added to his seventh in Wednesday's race, cements his position in the top ten overall:

"A tricky race, but I'm really happy to finish second. I was a bit scared; the first tack of the race was really freaky in the light wind, but it went OK. I hope we get some more races, to validate the championship.

"There are two plans: you can start on port - it's a good plan, but the last gybe on the left of the start line is tricky, so I prefer to start by the committee boat and create a lot of speed - then tack and fingers crossed!

"It's all about timing: get close to the committee boat, hike hard, pull the trigger and create speed!"

The USA's Richard Didham is up to tenth overall with his third-place finish in today's race, which he was understandably happy about in the testing conditions:

"Third is definitely a keeper! That was a super stressful race.

"There was a lot of stuff that was tough to call about that race, the start being one of them. I saw the pin was super favoured, but there was very little breeze over there. I actually went over to the left side of the start at 3 minutes to figure out if I wanted to do a pin end start, but since there wasn't much breeze, I figured it was kinda risky, so I planned to start on starboard and sail down the line and tack right at the gun. I feel like this was a pretty good balance of being conservative, but also starting well. So I was happy with how that went."

On the importance of that first tack Richard added:

"You have to nail it! I'm pretty confident in my boat handling, so - for me at least - I feel this was still a conservative race plan. If I wasn't as good with my boat handling then that definitely wouldn't have been as conservative a move to make. Having a lot of space was important because a lot of people were very late for the committee boat; so I had to nail that."

Once the start was executed, it was a case of looking around, keeping clear breeze, and watching out for other hazards as he explained:

"Head out the boat, yes. The other big thing that was really tough was there is still a decent amount of weed on the course. I actually got a little bit of weed on my main horizontal during the second half of the first upwind leg; I was looking around at all the breeze but not looking in the water enough! I had to make a really tough call on how to manage that: when should I decide to clear it, or should I keep sailing with it.

"I had to round the windward gate without clearing it, because the breeze was pretty light there. Then I sailed to the right of the course and actually did a tack, on the downwind, to clear the weed. There's never a good place to do it, but I figured since there was a lot of breeze on the right side of the course, I could clear it and get back up in a puff quickly. I think that was the right call, based on the circumstances."

American Olympian Helena Scutt had a strong game plan for the start which she executed to perfection, and was happy to be back out sailing:

"At long last! It was good to get out there today and double our races for the regatta so far! It was a tricky race for sure, but at least we have another one on the board.

"For the start I saw a lot of the fleet was setting up at the committee boat side, and I decided that the pressure by the pin was alright, and it was going to be way less crowded. At around two and a half minutes I thought that was the play, and knew I just needed to stay foiling, with gybes and no tacks. I ended up starting on port at the pin and I crossed almost everybody, having to duck a couple, but in this fleet it's no big deal as you want to be sailing in pressure and foiling."

On the situation in general, Helena was pragmatic, but also thankful to all those who are trying to make the event as good as possible:

"It's tough. It's no-one's fault of course, and I'm super-grateful for everyone who has made this event happen: the organisers, the organising committee, all of the volunteers, the race committee. So many people have put a lot into this, and I just want to say thank you because it's their time too, it's not just the competitors. We'll just keep trying to make the best of it."

Hattie Rogers was having a great race until she took an unscheduled excursion from the back of her boat as she describes:

"At the leeward end I went round the left gate mark looking downwind, and thought I was setting myself up for a really good second lap, heading to the right where the pressure was, ready to gain back some places. But the plastic bit at the back of my toestrap snapped in two and sent me absolutely flying, and in the process I snapped my tiller extension as well, so I landed in the water as well with half a tiller in my hand, which is not so good, but I guess these things happen."

It would of course be unfortunate for Hattie if we just so happened to catch this moment on video...

There's no getting away from the fact that two races for each fleet in the five days is cataclysmic for an event of such a high stature. We all know as sailors that we're at the mercy of the weather, but what we've seen this week is so far out of the ordinary. I'm trying to avoid the phrase which is always said when the wind that a venue is renowned for doesn't show up, I really am, but it's never normally like this. Never.

Full results so far can be found here.

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