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IOM European Championships Torrevieja 2023 - The Racing

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

In summary, racing was extremely tight which you would expect with some of the best sailors in the world with small margins for gains or losses.

We sailed under the Simple Heat Racing System (SHRS) scoring system, more of that tomorrow and we packed in 24 races over 5 days which represents 96 heats (nearly 20 races a day). I think we could have achieved 30 per day if the wind had not switched off in the middle of the day.

The progressive qualifying racing was interesting. You moved from group to group depending on finishing position and the aim I guess was that we got to sail against everyone. To get into Gold fleet you needed to be an average top 5 result in all the qualifying races.

If you have looked at the videos of the starts you can see how competitive they all were. Give an inch and your race was done.

Of course, success was all about starting in a clear space and sailing fast and high enough to avoid boats to leeward. The key skill to have before the start was the ability to hold your boat stationary as close to the wind as possible without going head to wind. I can hold a boat stationary but there were many who could hold their boats closer to the wind. Building a gap to leeward was so important in these very tight fleets. Once you have your position and gap to leeward, the next challenge is to accelerate on or just before gun. A moments hesitation or a forced or accidental luff could designate you to the second rank and a game of catch up during the race.

If you missed them, here are the links to the videos from the event

Drone footage

Gold fleet

In the morning the wind blew offshore straight along the pier that we were standing on which made for great racing racing with starts from right to left off our control area. The water was flat and wind between 4-8 mph. With a starboard start, the port end boats had to consider tacking for the pier and the lighter wind and extra chop nearby. There were significant shifts and bands of pressure which if used correctly could result in big gains.

The morning race course starting area

Once underway there was always the compromise of pointing high to escape the leeward boat or drive hard over the boats to leeward. Sometimes the angle of the boats from the platform made it very hard to judge.

On the first beat in the morning breeze there were chances of both significant port lifts on the left and starboard lifts in pressure on the right. You could not plan for these but just had to keep a sharp look out for the bands of pressure emerging from the shore. Sailing the boat whilst being able to scan to top end of the course was a useful skill to have.

There was no windward mark but a gate which you round outside to in and had the effect of keeping the fleets extremely tight as boats could round 2 at a time. There were many gains to be had on the runs as a result of the tight fleet. Finding pressure and sailing the right angles was key. These boats are very sensitive and if the jib show signs of flapping you are slow downwind. Boats sailing a good angle always showed better speed. One more thing on the run. The Croatians and some Spanish were able to gybe the jib from goose wing to goose wing instantly, a technique that could often gain an overlap at a leeward mark. More on this in a later blog on innovation.

The leeward mark was a traditional in to out gate. Once the first lap was done, there were opportunities for shifts at the extremes of the course. You just had to keep a very sharp look out for them.

Most heats we sailed 2 laps. The RO tried 3 but it took too long.

Every day around 11-11.30 the wind died and we waited for it to blow in the opposite direction providing a different set of conditions. 6-10 mph with an interesting chop and sailing left to right of the control area, opposite to the morning. The starts were harder as the boats were sailing away from you and you could not see the tell tales so you had to sail by feel. I personally found the afternoon geometry harder than the morning but that's a personal thing. There were fewer shifts with the afternoon sea breeze putting even more emphasis on starting, holding your lane and getting whatever shifts there were on the first beat right. As a result the fleets could remain bunched for the whole race and at least on one occasion presented a challenge for the finishing scorers when 6 boats crossed the line close together.

Watching the leaders, the level of skill in the top 10 was impressive. Are they doing anything different. I think the answer is they train more, do two boat testing, better precision on boat and rig set up, outstanding skills holding the boat stationary on the line, developing a small gap to leeward and pulling the trigger to get in the front row off the start line. The other skill they have is to recover well from a bad start.

Here are the results of the top 20 over the qualifying and fleet races. The yellow squares are the discards. I think the first thing to note is that it does not matter what design of boat you have on the list below but it must be immaculately prepared and tested. The Spanish and French teams were particularly strong but sadly the Brits all finished outside the top 10.

But look at the results in more detail.

This qualifying series was all about consistency. If you look at the right hand columns in the table below, they tell the story. The top 23 players have similar number of results in the top 10. Then look at the results outside the top 10 and you can see the top 3 in silver fleet bar 1 were just a bit weaker. The number of results in the top 5 show where the winners would come from with the top 7 particularly close along with 10th 11th 13th and 16th all similar. At the end of the qualifying period there was only a small gap for 11 or so boats. To show how close the racing was, the top 3 in the silver fleet missed Gold fleet by 6 points or less after 15 races.

Now looking at gold fleet after 24 races I ran the same analysis and it was clear to see in the number of top 5 results who was going to win. Zvonko's story was about consistency, recovery from bad starts and avoidance of bad results. Watching the racing, he was not faster than anyone else at any time but did have the ability to climb away from boats to leeward off the start line although I put this down to the way he sets his rig up having watched him do this a few times. He is particularly thorough on measuring his settings. At the start of the day he lay his boat flat on a table and measured all his boom angle and twist settings and then carefully looked at the rig in the breeze before each race.

An impressive set up on Zhonko's boat

Regarding the boats, the Venti and Sedici was popular with the French, Spanish and the Italians. It was great to see a V11 up there. Juan did a brilliant job getting the Alioth to 9th place and of course the Brits had their Britpops. Spars were predominantly PG, As far as I could tell, BG and sailboat RC dominated the sails but the 3d moulded sails used by Sailboat RC looked superb.

Of course the one thing I cannot comment on is how each of the competitors felt. Are they relaxed, do thy feel the pressure of the event or do they feel excitement driving them to outstanding performance. Sadly we will never know, only how we individually felt at the time

What does a winner do between races.

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