The 2013 Canadian National Championships was a fully subscribed event this year with a waiting list. Of the 34 boats competing 13 were from the United States with boats coming from California, Texas, Washington and Oregon. Two boats from Ontario made the trip as did three from Alberta with one Vancouver boat rounding out the Mainlanders.
Of the Islanders, the Big Island supplied six while Hornby had five, leaving Saltspring fielding three boats. Unfortunately the Kiwi entrant, Ian Vickers, who we were all so looking forward to meeting had to cancel at the last minute, very sad for us as he had just beaten the reigning World Champ when he won the US Nationals. The field, however, was still rife with talent, including Peter van Rossem, defending champ, George Pedrick, who won two years ago and Graham Herbert, who won the Western Championship last year with a long string of first place finishes.
For every event I set myself a list of goals, for this one I had decided to start with “Have Fun” because in the fleet were friends that I have race against for 40 years (mostly in oversized boats). The second goal was to try to make “The Top Ten”. With Ian Vickers dropping out I secretly decided to be cheeky and added (under my breathe) to beat everyone there in at least one race. And so, let the games begin!
Our fleet has had many talks over the years about what we could do if the wind came over the hill blowing in swirls away from the dock. We never came up with a workable solution and always ended up just hoping and praying for the best. On the first morning our worst case scenario came true and was compounded by the wind being wicked and sending great black blasts of wind racing across the water. The strength and direction were unpredictable and changeable making matters worse yet. Our race officer, Lawrie Neish, set about making the best of an impossible situation and managed to make it work. Philippe Erdmer was kept very busy all day resetting marks as the wind shifted. They both worked like dogs yet kept a cheerful attitude and the racers, seeing them try so hard, gave them full support. It set the tone for a wonderful event put on despite the challenges.
I got to watch the first seeding race, which was typical in its excitement. George Pederick won the start at the lee end of the line in good wind and worked out a good lead by the first mark. As the first group of boats rounded a black ball of waves indicating a great gust bore down on them. Graham Herbert came racing out of the group with spray flying as other boats rounded up or buried there bows under the water. George watched those still upright charging down on him then the gust slammed into his sails and the boat leapt into action, then staggered and buried her nose, the rudder coming almost out of the water. The gust was vanished as did half his lead. Gybing at the offset mark and heading down the long broad reach to the next mark, three more blasts saw Graham draw up alongside just before the mark. Another great gust and the two struggled for control and the bow of Graham’s boat tapped the stern of George’s. George moved back into the lead as Graham did his penalty turn and then the boats started up the beat for the second round. More mayhem ensued with Graham taking the lead and then on the reach doing a spectacular wipe out and knock down. Looking back expecting the fleet to be catching him he saw a sea of hulls, rigs flattened to the water. With a shudder his boat righted herself and he sailed on to win with George holding second and Bob Wells taking third. Then it was my turn to be thrown into the washing machine. I managed to sail the first half of the race quite well and was battling with Julian Laffin for 4th when I picked up a weed on my keel quite far out from the dock. Last year that would have sunk my race but this year I have been practising throwing the boat head to wind with sails eased off and backing away from the weed. It worked and I managed to hold on for an 8th place in that race, just enough to keep me in A fleet. Roger was 12th in his seeding race and was relegated to B fleet. It was hard to get promoted out of B fleet as boats fought for the top six spots and a chance to race with the big dogs. It was easy to get dropped out of A however and in the second race I got a scare as I was called over early at the start and had to re-round in last place. Over the course of the race I was able to claw my way back up the fleet. That settled me down and in the third race I managed a sixth place and added five of the hot shots to the list of boats once beaten. Two more races solidly in the top ten and I picked off Brig North, the fast Texan, in the fifth race leaving only two boats that I hadn’t beaten at least once. Then a second over early call and as I tried to slow down I was slammed from behind and driven down on Peter van Rossem. You always hate to bang into anyone, especially someone in contention for the crown, but I was pinned against him for several agonizing seconds before we could break free. Then it was a return to the start and a penalty turn for me to put me seriously in last place. Down to B fleet.
The two fleets are very different races because the focus is different. In A fleet the boat handling is much better and the collisions and fouls much less but the intensity is much greater. You are fighting for the points that you are going to get. In B fleet you are fighting for the top six spots or the right to be promoted. First and sixth are tied as none of these boats are scored. They stay in the water and get their score when they finish the A heat. So the focus in B fleet is to stay out of trouble, keep clear of the poorly handled boats that are unpredictable and once you are in the top six don’t take any chances, just protect you position. It is still a great thrill to win a B fleet race, but it doesn’t show up on the score board.
Day One ended with Peter leading followed by Graham, Brig, Jerry Brower and Julian in the top five with Gary and George snapping at Julians heels. The places from 8th to 15th were also very close setting the stage for a great battle for the last three spots in the top ten. I was having fun, I was in tenth place, just. And I only had two boats out there that I hadn’t beaten in a race, the great Peter van Rossem and the Californian Gary Boell. I was, however, completely exhausted. I skipped dinner and went straight to bed.
The morning wind was building before the start and the fleet was doing tuning runs en-mass which was great fun. Then just before the start the wind dropped and all the tuning was no longer valid. There was a scramble to get the boats in and retune before the “one minute hold”. Roger found his tune and sailed his best race to date, breaking in to the top ten. I lugged around the course, strapped in for wind and going very slow. This caused me to take chances to try and stay up in A which didn’t work at all so down I went to B fleet. The good news about this is that I sailed three heats in a row and found my speed, logging a fourth in the next race just one place behind Peter van Rossem, now the only boat I had not beaten. Peter sails very calmly and cleanly and always stays in the hunt. In a long series like this it is your bad races that determine your overall position and he just doesn’t get them. It is a joy to watch him sail. On day one Brig North had two bad races but on day two he sailed much better and moved up to second. Gary Boell also had a good day with a win and a long string of seconds that vaulted him to fourth. George Pederick also moved up while the Hornby boats slipped slightly. They had three in the top ten at the end of the first day but only two remained as the dust settled. Your local boats moved up with Roger vaulting six spots into 22nd while I crept into 9th.
Aileen Neish marshalled many volunteers while Roger, with the aid of Patrice Pothier, cooked a lovely meal at the club that was enjoyed by a very happy group of sailors. Aileen’s group also provided lunches each day which kept us going as we marched up and down the dock in pursuit of our craft. I have been to many events in this class and I feel that we are lucky to have a venue and the volunteers who set the tone for a very enjoyable regatta.
On Day Three the wind started to co-operate and although we were finishing early so that competitors could find there way off the Island the Race officers still managed five excellent races. The team of Lawrie Neish and Barry Fox just kept the flow going, making sure that boats promoted or relegated were where they should be. Graham Herbert came on strong on the last day winning three races in a row, regaining second place and closing in on Peter van Rossen. The Californian Gary Boell also sailed well and moved into third place passing the fast Texan. For the SISC sailors it was a good day with Roger sailing well and moving up three places to 19th. It was my most consistent day of sailing, finishing every race in the top ten. In the 17th race I managed a good start and stayed near the top to finish fourth. This combined with Peter catching a weed allowed me to reach my third goal and beat every competitor at least once. I ended up ninth overall and was pleased with that result.
Thus ended three days of the most intense racing to be found in the area. The winners universally thanked our club for its hospitality and expressed how much they enjoyed coming here. Many of our club members also provided help with Philippe and Gyle doing great work on the mark boats. A special thanks to Larry Shetzer who moved slips with Vic Childs of Anacortes, and to Vic himself for opening his Yacht for the relief of the fleet. We all had a lot of fun and our IOM fleet has received a shot of adrenalin. The next big race in BC is the Western Canadians on Hornby Island in October. In the mean time we have been racing from the luxury of Ole’s dock on St Mary Lake.