We had the team arrive in Garda on Monday, 2nd of July. This enabled us to receive our charter boats for the regatta 2 days before the official measurement day and 3 days before the first race day.
This event is a long haul with 6 fleet race days and 2 scheduled team race days. If we were to make it to the team race finals this would mean 11 sailing days including our 3 training days.
Tuesday, 3rd of July, we received 3 brand new charter boats, two Blue 2 optimists and 1 Nautavela. Elisa used Chiara Freut´s old boat which was reregistered with a SA measurement certificate. After receiving the boats it takes a fair bit of time to get the boats set up correctly. Rake settings, Toe strap length, shock cord lengths, sail ties and set up on the spars.
Tuesday afternoon we got out with our chartered rib and got two long windward leewards in with a Rabbit start. The kids needed to get used to the lake conditions with short chop and get their heads around a different boat. We finished the day with a short video debrief.
On Wednesday we got two sessions out on the lake with the objective to test both sides of the lake. The first upwind of the race course is on one side of the lake and the second upwind is towards the opposite side and the wind is very different from side to side due to divergence off the mountains on either side of the lake.
At this stage we could already see the trends between the kids. Nicola sails the boat very upright and in a high mode. Sean sails lower and faster. Elisa was somewhere in between and Theo being just a little big for the boat, similar to Elisa but a bit slower.
Thursday we got the boats measured and got a quick afternoon session in to be ready for race day.
We made good use of the time available to be as ready as we could be for the first race.
For race day one, the fleet was split into four groups, Yellow, Blue, Red and Green. We had to share a rib with the Ecuadorian sailing team who had 5 competitors. We would tow all 9 sailors for around 40 minutes to get to the race course area. This would give our Yellow fleet starts a 20 min opportunity to get a feel for the breeze.
The coach boats are restricted to stay in the waiting area 150m behind the start line from the orange flag at 10 minutes to the warning. With sailors in all fleets the best I can do is paint the picture pre-start of what I could see up the course in terms of wind, line bias and course axis. We also have the start line divided into 4 imaginary zones 1, 2, 3 and 4. I could give the sailors an indication well in advance of their starts which zone or zones where the best options to start. For the less confident starters, Theo and Elisa, we worked on a zone that may have an area of low density to help them get off the line. For the stronger starters, Nicola and Sean, I could give them the ideal zone to start based on what I could see and they could deal with it based on that information.
From the coach boat I could see the starts but could not see any part of the race other than sometimes seeing the bottom gate rounding of the Blue and Red fleets providing that all the starts got off cleanly. Once the last fleet had started, the first fleet would be finishing and heading back to the start line to intercept the coach boat for water and food before their second race.
To understand what happened in the race as a coach you had to piece information together. The sailor feedback, the tracker and what you could see happening with the wind would be used to come to some sort of conclusion. Not so easy.
For the first 3 days, the qualifying series, things went as I was expecting. Nicola sailed consistently to be placed in the middle of gold fleet. Sean had some good moments but did struggle a bit with holding a lane which made it a bit tricky with a one sided race course. Elisa and Theo struggled to get to the front row of the start line in the first few races but improved immensely race by race.
It was tough, due to the high standard of the fleet and also because lake sailing is so specific with very little plan B options. The reality is they actually sailed very well.
So going into the fleet split, there was a little disappointment with possibly higher expectations but the reality is the placings were about right. Sean probably could have been a click higher up but one gold, one silver and 2 emeralds is sort of what you would be expecting, all things considered.
With two days of team racing scheduled we must admit we wondered if we would even qualify in the first 48. Turns out we qualified 41. That was cool by itself. With zero expectation we raced on Wednesday against Hungary as our first match. A loss as expected but they did a good job of keeping it close and it was not a white wash. Next up, against Germany, we expected to be going home as you can’t lose more than one match before you´re out. The kids did a marvelous job and out of the blue, sent Germany home and we had to race again. Our third race of the day was against the Netherlands. We lost this one but with a great effort. It was a successful day!
We sat out the second team racing day for the finals. No one other than the team racing teams were allowed on the water.
The final 3 days were tricky, to say the least. We had some unusual weather with some thunderstorms. The traditional southerly breeze was a bit mixed up.
The first day, we only got one race. With heavily pin end bias start to even out the start line and a must go right race course. Things were different. Not a lot of options. Nicola struggled with these starts with her normal conservative approach. Sean had some good starts but again struggled with holding his lane and getting forced in a direction he didn’t want to go sometimes. Elisa and Theo had some good ones. Elisa consistently chipping away, both of them struggling when the breeze got light. As we had wind ranges from 6-13 in some races and even on some legs of the course. Theo did well, the aim was to beat the boats he could and get back the 10 points he was behind to get off the bottom of the table, which he did very well, one step at a time.
Out of the 5 races in the final we had 2 Northerly, very switchy, races. Normally referred to as a casino. Roll the dice kind of thing. The other 3 races in 8-14 TWS. These where average races for us. In a championship like this you do need things to swing your way sometimes. To get one or two glamour results that catapults you up the result sheet. I think the team got good but average results. This meant we ended the regatta in a respectable standing. Just missing the odd standout race.
At the end of the day, we did a good job of representing SA Sailing and SA Optimist sailing. We got respectable results, we acted well as a team, and we all wore our SA uniform with pride throughout the regatta. It was an experience that no one will forget and will be a stepping stone in each one of these sailors sailing careers, for sure.
Well worth it!
Just a note of thanks to our manager Stefan. Who, with his experience with this kind of event, helped make sure we had sandwiches and signed the team in and out, with no penalties. He handled the commercial side and just did a great job of giving me the opportunity to do my job properly as a coach and the sailors the opportunity to fully focus on the sailing in a well prepared and relaxed environment.
Mark Sadler July 2021