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2007 Formula Windsurfing European Championships Event Report - Ray Smith

The Formula Europeans took place in Santa Pola, Spain this year between the 24 and 29 April, 2006, and it was with great relief for Christina and I to finally have my equipment on board and be seated on the Emirates aircraft to fly, via Dubai to Nice, in France. From there, we planned to take a long road trip to the venue that is located on the coast of the Mediterranean and about 3hours driving time south of Valencia.

The Journey

The regatta venue is about the maximum distance across the globe from New Zealand as is possible and it was our intention to stay with my brother and his family who live in Dubai, before I would compete in the regatta. Along the way, we hoped to maximize our experiences in the available time by taking in the America’s Cup action in Valencia, visit more friends in France and then do some general touring before our return home.

On arrival at Dubai, the temperature of over 35 degrees and jet lag kept us pretty quiet for a couple of days, although we did manage a visit to the local water park (with slides that allow human speeds in excess of 80km/hr). However over the following days, along with being a tourist, I was able to get some windsurfing time in from the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club.
This was the third time in about 7 years that I have been to Dubai and the development that has occurred there and is continuing, is phenomenal. It is alleged that 15% of the world’s tower cranes are currently situated there. This alongside the man made islands and palm tree shaped extensions to the coastline are pretty mind blowing.

Due to the heat, I found that it was a relief to sail several miles off shore into the Persian Gulf towards these islands. The view back to the city also provided another perspective to see what development was going on there. As I didn’t want to break anything before getting to Spain, I had to keep an eye out for large tug boat wakes, schools of jellyfish and the odd floating plastic bag. While I never saw any other windsurfers while in Dubai, kiting is very popular there, as the wind is normally thermally generated and mostly only about 8 – 12 knots.

After the next leg of our journey which took us to Nice, we picked up a hire car at the airport. I couldn’t get any with roof racks, but the rocker of my Starboard 160 matched the roof profile of the Toyota Corolla pretty closely and after loading up, I was able to tie my equipment through the door openings. This worked pretty well until later on the trip when during rainfall, water would be transferred through the straps and to the inside of the car, which didn’t make for happy passengers.

We were then able to follow the toll roads for 2 days through Valencia and onto Santa Pola. After driving through unfamiliar territory on what was for us, the wrong side of the road (with gears and hand brake on the right for the first time), I now have a new appreciation for the problems that Asian drivers face when coming to New Zealand. Incidentally, the toll roads in France and Spain have allowable speed limits to 130km/hr, which the majority of users don’t comply with.

In Valencia, as The America’s Cup racing had finished for the day, we were able to catch up with an old friend, George Jakich, from Team New Zealand. George was good enough to introduce us to Grant Dalton and provide us with a tour of the actual base. Along with a few Estralla Damm’s, we felt pretty humbled to be inside and it amazed us how well organized and tidy that the syndicate areas were being kept. It was also good to see that even after losing to the Mazcalzone Latino team the previous day, how quietly confident the team members remained.

The Regatta

Once at Santa Pola we checked into our accommodation, the cost of which was heavily subsidized by the sponsors of the Regatta. The Regatta site itself was located on a sandy beach, in a fairly shallow bay, so it was a relief to see that launching would be relatively easy with sea conditions not too technical, unless the wind picked up. The air temperature was also a pleasant 25 degrees and a large tent provided shelter and an area for storage of equipment just a few steps from the water’s edge.

For me, as there has been little interest in Formula sailing racing in New Zealand this year, it was good to finally register and spend the next 2 days tuning my equipment in varying wind strengths between 8 and 25 knots. I did become a little anxious though, when I saw that most of the competitors had the very latest generation of boards (Starboard 161 and F2 VX) with wide tails that can easily carry powerful fins and sails that are more tailored for light wind sailing. The sails had also increased in power from last year with 11.8’s and 12’s (of boom lengths of nearly 3m and luff lengths close to 6m) now being common place as the biggest sail choice amongst most competitors.

On the eve of the regatta, we attended the opening ceremony meal which was really well organized and I lost count of the number of courses presented to us. The Spanish tend to go out late and a little overboard on presentations and this night finally finished about 2.30am. Although racing was programmed for 11am the same day, many sailors were the worse for wear at briefing, as the alcohol was also free.

Due to the number of competitors of approximately 100, the men’s fleet was split into a blue and yellow division with the woman being in a separate pink division.
In race 1, each fleet completed a standard windward/leeward course with gates in 7 – 10 knots with lighter patches. I was in the Blue Fleet who had the first start and only just over half of my fleet finished in the cut off time of 15minutes of the first finisher. Sadly for me, after a very promising start that should have been my best result, I was becalmed with a large number of others, on the wrong side of the top mark and couldn’t record a finish in time.

Standouts on this day in the Blue Fleet were Steve Allen (Gaastra/Starboard) of Australia followed by Wilhelm Shurmann (Pryde/Starboard) of Brazil and Ross Williams (Gaastra/F2) of Great Britain. The Yellow Fleet race was won by Julian Quental (Pryde/Starboard) of France followed by Jesper Vesterstrom (Pryde/Starboard) of Denmark and Gonzalo Costa Hoeval (Pryde/F2) of Argentina. The woman’s race was won by Agnieska Pietrasik (Naish/ Starboard) of Poland, who was the only official finisher after the remaining women failed to finish within the cutoff or were disqualified after starting early.

For the following 3 days, numerous attempts were made to start races, and although we had up to 10 or 11 knots at times, it was interspersed with 4 – 5 knots and wasn’t stable or holding long enough to complete a race. Daily news from up the coast in Valencia, indicated that the Americas Cup boats were having similar problems.
Although it was frustrating, I found that it was better than sitting on the beach and after not having a great deal of racing at home, enjoyed the starting practice. I also felt that I gradually improved my sailing in marginal wind strengths, that in New Zealand, we would rarely bother sailing in.

For the final day, the wind was again not looking promising; however a light thermal breeze eventually appeared that allowed 3 races in each fleet and an official result for the competition. On this day the breeze, although steady in direction, was only about 6 – 10 knots, with again some lighter patches.
In the end, Julien Quental won the men’s competition from Wilhelm Shurman and Gonzalo Costa Hoeval. In the woman’s, Agnieska Pietrasik finished ahead of Sarah Hubert (Naish/Starboard) and Jozefina Rudzinska of Poland. I noted from the results that many sailors who depend on good results for a living finished well down the field in this regatta; but that most full time Formula sailors coped pretty well with the conditions.

I ended up about half way down the fleet in the remaining races and struggled during starts and especially up wind, where I couldn’t generate enough power to achieve good angles. Although it was frustrating for me to travel so far and have only 4 races count towards a pretty average result, one positive is that I learnt a great deal from the professional sailors about what equipment and technique is needed for these conditions.

After a large prize giving which including a band flown over from the UK, we said goodbye to many of the competitors before having more than a few quiets. Over the following week, we drove north to Nice via Southern France, Italy and Monaco, before eventually heading home.

I would like to acknowledge the equipment support I receive from Starboard International and Naish, New Zealand, the assistance with travel on this trip from Emirates Airlines and also to Grant Dalton and George Jakich, for the permission and tour of the Team New Zealand base, in Valencia. Not forgetting also to mention Christina, for carrying my board half way around the world for me.

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