Garda is for many sailors, a dream location for a regatta. Add 5 nations, 30 boats and the best club on the Lake at Riva, the ingredients certainly looked exciting for the 1016 Euro Cup.
In the build up to the regatta, the UK fleet has been racing hard whilst also very aware of those on the continent who have also been preparing for the Euros.
Sarah and I were reigning Euro Cup Champions from last year, but we have had close racing in the UK with
John and Fran who have won the Euro's a number of times, as well as
Tim and Harry Litt who had pushed us at the Nationals last year.
We had talked about David Marchant and Matt "the terminator" Reynolds possibly getting it together as they are in the overweight category (end of the scale on weight equalisation), so could always be a threat in strong winds.
Anna and Andrea Farrari had been smarting at loosing their title last year and were keen to take it back on home waters in Garda. Reports showed that they had won everything in Italy and were still training hard.
Michael Duflos is very active on the French 4000 Facebook page
and has inspired a throng of fellow French 4000 Sailors whilst also remarking on how much sailing they are doing in Quiberon in his home waters. He is also a super keen speed challenge competitor, I could not help but think he will be a threat when sailing with Nicolas Saillard.
Meanwhile in Belgium, our resident ex pat, Trevor Pierce with his son Adrien has another band of 4000 sailors who are competing in local his performance regattas. They have been taking some expert training in recent months and there was a whiff of a possible break through in their speed.
So all was set for a fun week. We arrived after what is a reassuringly long drive to Garda - but it was worth it. The training on Monday and Tuesday in the run up to the regatta was Garda at its best. 25kts came through on Tuesday, which tested our metal and the equipment to its limit. We worked hard to get the rest of the fleet sailing fast in the conditions with lots of banter and tips ashore. We were as ready as we could ever be, but obviously apprehensive.
I try to put my nerves aside and concentrate on the controllable. Come the first day of racing, Garda delivered a moderate Ora that was more left than normal, so the Riva Team raced us close to the Torbole side giving the competitors the option of going left to get to the nearby bend off that shoreline, or right for the perhaps larger shift on the right hand shore.
We won the pin and led at the first mark.
After the days racing the contenders certainly had stamped their mark on the regatta. We were first - with a 1,1,2 - and the last two races had been very close between us and Michael Duflos, who then suffered a DSQ for an incident that cost his first race result. Tim and Harry had been consistent but the big surprise was David and Matt who appeared to love the big power conditions. Also Trevor and Adrien Peirce had jumped at least 15 places from last years Euros and were contesting the top 6.
Day two and we had perhaps less wind from the same lefty Ora direction, so were again racing off the Torbole side of the race track. This time the left was even more promising on the first couple of races - but as the wind veered the right hand corner became more favourable for those who liked to roll the dice.
David and Matt appeared to roll the dice at the right time giving themselves a 5,1,3, day. We were only able to manage a 1,5,2.
The lighter conditions suited John Reynolds and Fran, they now made it to a podium position with a 2,2,4. Brits were in the first 4 places. Perhaps our close racing in UK had done some good for us all.
Day three. Launching with a poor forecast, the Ora came in strong for one race. Again it was tactical. Left or right, the lead changed many times between us and Michael. We only just nudged it at the finish after a nail biting cross at the leeward mark. The Peler never came in.
Last day. With three possible races to go, there was only a small chance we could throw the title away, but the other two podium positions were still up for grabs. The most likely contenders were John and Fran, David, with John's son Matt the terminator and Michael Duflos. We were greeted by pouring rain. So no real chance of an Ora. The Race Committee stuck at it and got us on the race track to sail in 2 strong Peler races. In the first race Anna and husband Andrea found their form taking their first well earned bullet in the less choppy water of the Peler. We snuck a second and had wrapped up the event. John and Fran were back in the game after taking a 4th while David and Matt had a deep one. Michael retained his challenge with a consistent 5th.
The second and last race of the series was as much as 20 knots; it became my favourite, not because we had a great start, but because we had an utter rubbish one!
The 4000 likes to tack when you are sailing slowly. Put a mix of slow moving boats on a start line and I found myself trying to head up too much - and we tacked. At the start time we were going backwards, tacking and re tacking to start. But the conditions were our favourite, perhaps we might catch the fleet.
The great thing about passing boats is that it gives you confidence of your speed and technique. It is hard to not copy those around you when they are in point mode, but we stuck at our footing game. Concentrating on speed with height and a very flat boat to keep the pointing. We rounded the first mark in about 10th, sailed low and fast to the reward mark, then took a high degree of difficulty gybe drop at the leeward mark to take the RH gate in the shift. Then we launched to the right hand cliff. Next lap we could almost believe we might catch Michael and Neil and Sarah Davies. Meanwhile in the fight for the other podium positions, David and Matt had got their mojo back. At the same time John and Fran were in the contention for the lead, but took a swim when they received a defensive luff from Neil and Sarah. Sadly their recovery put them out of contention of second so they retired. Michael was also busy chasing down Neil and Sarah as a win might just tip the balance to take second.
Neil and Sarah been improving massively all week and were now fast upwind after their rig had been set up by the ever helpful Richard De Fluery. Sarah is a super committed crew and Neil with a pair of borrowed Rooster Race Armour Lite Shorts
and Hike Pads
was now able to hike hard too in the stronger breeze. They looked like they were going to take the win. At the last leeward mark we rounded 3rd. Michael was in his high pointing mode so we dropped both sheets out, hiked hard and launched. The odd wave from astern helped us use the speed to take some height as well. When we finally tacked at the Cliff, we were in the lead. We were buzzing. Michael overhauled Neil and Sarah but still needed the win to take second spot now that John and Fran had retired... and if David and Matt remained in 5th.
The downwind was getting fruity but we were still pushing hard on the gybes. Sarah has learned the blow through gybe which makes the gybe really easy in strong winds.
I don't use the rudder, but initiate the gybe with our weight, Sarah standing on the rack as we roll into the gybe. She pulls hard in the old sheet into the gybe, then only pays it out as the new sheet is ready and the boat launches off again.
We always appeared to gain gybing with this technique. remember - no rudder - just boat trim.
We and David conspired to help keep all three podium positions by British sailors, although I am sure Michael would have been back in contention had he not suffered gear failure and a DSQ. David and Matt had sailed their socks off to take second, no-one was prouder than Matt's Dad John.
If you feel inspired to join the 4000 fleet for next years Euros, we will be back in my favourite venue in Quiberon at the French National Olympic training centre, ENV, with free camping and bunk rooms to rent. We expect a 50 boat fleet for this venue.
Our nationals this year are in Torquay, 20 - 23 Aug. Early entries are only £55 if you enter before the 6th August - enter here
. We expecting some of the French to join us again.
Full results of the Euro Cup can be found here