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Day 1 at the GBR Nationals. Press reset please!

How many times do you hear ‘ Ooh, it’s not normally like this here!’ when you get to regattas?  The 2019 Worlds warm up event, the GBR Nationals, started with a bang.  In fact, a rather too big a bang in fact.  

In the case of these Nationals, held at the Olympic 2012 venue of Weymouth & Portland, the usual winds are somewhat lower than the current 32 knots+ of the last couple of days at this time of year.  A big Atlantic low arrived over the South West of the UK, something that is more suited to October than August.  But, on the opening day, the PRO, a distinguished former Tornado Olympian, decided to give it a go as it winds had not arrived as viciously as forecast.  Maybe he could squeeze a cheeky race in to get them all going.  What could possibly go wrong!

The day started reasonably.  Sailors had done their tweaking in the lovely large hangar out of the rain of the previous day.  Three sailors, Manuel Calavia, Stevie Brewin and Dave Shaw, went out at about 9am for check setups and trims, spending an hour or so flying around in all trims and directions in a good 17-18kt breeze.  Then back in for the briefing.

The notice was given that is was happening.  Sailors scurried about getting their boats readied for rigging and changed into their armour.  This was going to be a big one out there.  About half the fleet elected to stay ashore though.  Probably expecting to see some spectacular action from the veranda and bar.

The flags for allowing them all on the water were raised and sails started to go up masts.  The wind was slowly clicking up though.  Shore crews, WAGS and non-sailing sailors gathered around the launching areas rather in the manner of sailors to wave off the first aircraft launched from their aircraft carriers on a mission, possibly not expecting to see some of them again.  The first off was Dave Shaw.  A bit of a monster in a blow.   Next up was the youngest GBR sailor Oscar Lindley-Smith, and NED sailor Thijs Visser.  Both shot off out of the harbour entrance like scalded ferrets.  Next up was ESP Micky Todd.  He had a posse of 5 holding his boat down before he was afloat.  Then came Mischa.  He was flying a hull on the water before he even got on the boat.  A few others launched as the other sailors, already rigged, awaited their turn not wanting to clutter the ramp in such conditions. Next came the GBR Sailor Neil Kalbe. He launched and immediately his rudder came off in his hand, leaving him in the rather interesting situation of having a boat with no boards down, only one operational rudder and a massive gusty wind in a restricted area.  But, he finally heroically got it back on, securing the anti lift pin this time after realising that was the issue, and belted off into Portland harbour.  

It was then that a typically polite British ‘After you’,  ‘No, after you sir, I insist’ conversation was starting at the ramp top.  Glances were exchanged, comments passed.  Local boy Paul Larsen, a man whom has stared death in the face on Sailrocket, looked over and grimaced.  It was getting stronger by the minute.  Surely we can’t race in this?

The final straw for most people was seeing the Big Swede, Alberto Farnessi, shooting back into the harbour entrance with a stunned look on his face.   That did it for everyone else.  If it’s too much for Alberto, it’s basically game over.  A minute later the guard rescue crew came inshore with the cut-throat sign and the racing had been abandoned.

The rigged sailors pushed their boats back and dropped the furiously flagging sails, then it was all hands on deck to catch the intrepid lead sailors starting to appear one by one outside the entrance.  

As they came back in, they were directed to just sail right at the shore to be caught by other sailors before their boards hit.  Thijs shot in really fast, but from a totally different direction for some reason, before rounding up and being finally caught on the ramp.  Mischa arrived with half of his undertramp hanging off.  Then Oscar came in grinning and saying he’d been over twice already. Finally, Dave Shaw came in, and commented that it was rather brisk out there now.

But in the end, no breakages or injuries.  Lesson learned by the race committee now that despite the 22kt class limit, they would probably be wise to call the race off at a slightly lower limit in future.  In the end, kudos to those who launched, and semi-kudos to those also prepared to die for their sport but didn’t launch.

So boat were all put away, strapped down and eventually sailors assembled for free beer and pizza.  Tomorrow is still a windy one, but at a more sensible forecasted level at about 17-18kts.  Such fun!