This Year was my last year sailing a topper, therefore the topper nationals was an important event for me, and Pwllheli is a venue I love, so I was looking forward to it. My aim was to get into gold fleet.
There was some extreme weather for the first day of racing, however the wind was not the biggest problem, the huge rollers coming straight in from the Atlantic meant that the committee boat was unable to anchor, and the first day of racing was postponed.
The second day of racing was looking quite the opposite, light winds.... Not my strong point. The first two races were a complete disaster, despite some good starts, the first race I had far too much depth in the sail, looking for any power I could rather than height. The second race was a bit better, I put on more outhaul and kicker and started to flatten the sail off a bit, but I still wasn't pointing well, or getting the results I needed. With some rather large line sag over the 300m start line, I knew there were some large gains to be made, and so for the third race I got myself a transit and stuck to it. The last two races, I had not been able to point as high as many other sailors so I decided to flatten the sail off even more, and it seemed to work. Taking the few larger shifts up the middle of the course, and making the most of the waves I could downwind, I finished in 12th, a good result for me in any conditions, let alone in light winds.
The third day was looking like it might be cancelled again, however the race committee managed to anchor the committee boats and start us off with just a small postponement, with the wind constantly above 20knots I knew this is where I had to make up the places. Once again I got a transit and stuck to it. After another excellent start, I got into a comfy pointed-toe hiking position and started using my wave technique to try and keep up boat speed over the huge waves, not an easy task when the waves are half the height of your mast! After what seemed like a very long beat I rounded the top mark in 1st! An amazing feeling and one I hope to experience again soon. Pwllheli is like no other venue I have ever been too, when the winds coming from the south, the waves that roll in from the Atlantic are simply massive, and with the right wave technique, you can spend the majority of the downind leg surfing. Unfortunately with a few missed waves, I got overtaken just before the leeward mark. On the second upwind leg we put some considerable distance between ourselves and third place, but just boat-lengths before the final leeward mark I death rolled... Despite trying to use the rudder as a life-saver, I lost two places while trying to get the boat up before finishing in 4th. The most exciting race and best result I have ever had, placing me nicely into gold fleet, however:
With the safety fleet stretched beyond capacity we had to return to shore for a few hours postponement before the next race. But once we were back afloat the wind had died almost completely and with the horrible waves still rolling in, it was some difficult conditions to say the least. I didn't want to take many risks, as long as I could stay in my position I would be alright - not a good move. Holding back more than I should have on the start line, to ensure I was not OCS, I was quickly blanketed by the fleet. Despite taking all the right shifts, taking into account the tide, and making the most of the waves that I could, I ended up with what could only be described as one of my worst races to date, almost last... And the worst part was that it meant I was in silver fleet, no matter how well I did in the last race of qualifying.
Mental toughness is something we spent quite a bit of time talking about in youth squad, however it is something I have always struggled with, and I know I need to improve. I could give you a race-by-race analysis of the rest of the races however, after missing out on gold fleet I was devastated. Despite trying everything I could think of, for the rest of the week I simply wasn't sailing as well as I should have been, mostly finishing mid-fleet, despite some great racing conditions. I finished the week 38th in silver fleet and 107th overall, a better result than last year, but certainly not as good as I could have done.
This was my first regatta trying out my new Thermaflex long-john
combined with my Thermaflex top
. It was great, the top and long john were the only layers I needed all week, apart from the one windy day, for which I put a Pro Aquafleece on top to stop any chance of wind-chill. It kept me warm when I got wet, and on the sunny days (yes we did get sun in Wales) it kept me nice and cool, it’s flexible so it doesn't restrict any movement, plus I can put my hiking pads straight inside! It’s definitely one piece of kit I am going to keep in my kit bag, and recommend to others, it will be interesting to see how it fairs in the winter!
It was a disappointing nationals for me, but I had a few great races and got some great experience racing in a large fleet. It’s a pity I didn't sail as well as I know I could have, but that’s how we learn and improve. I have learnt a lot of skills that will hopefully be transferable into a laser, it’s now a long time overdue. I have a lot to learn and I need to start getting even fitter, but I am enjoying the experience of learning to sail a new boat. I shall post again soon with some thoughts on my experiences so far.
Thanks for reading,