International 14 - Prince of Wales Cup
Last week saw the i14 National Championship at Hayling Island SC, the Prince of Wales Cup (POW for short). The week is made up of separate trophies each day to make up the Championship week, but it has held on to a proud tradition of keeping the actual National title to one mammoth race that, once started, cannot be shortened. My brother, Jack, and I put 4 days leading up to the event aside to get out and continue learning how to sail the monster that is the i14, but unfortunately the weather would not play ball with us, so all we could do was make sure that everything was in working condition before the championship (please see my other blog post here, about Championship preparation).
The i14 is a boat that demands respect and requires a lot of time in the water (as well as on). It is no surprise that some of the best sailors in the world have thrown their hat in the ring to try to win the POW - notable mentions go to Ian Walker, Neil MacDonald, Rob Greenhalgh, Howie Hamlin to name a few. With only 4 days of sailing under our belts we went into the week with no plans other than to learn and enjoy it, both of which were achieved in bucket loads.
We started the week slowly trying not to get too close to other boats and trying to minimize manoeuvres, which are particularly punishing when skiff sailing, and giving ourselves long lanes to try out different settings. Along with the normal sail controls, the i14 also has an adjustable foil on the rudder which can be used to give lift allowing less drag from a smaller surface area by lifting the stern, the downside of this is that it digs the bow in so you need to ensure that you strike the right balance especially going downwind.
The first 2 days saw medium to light breezes which were very useful to us to build our confidence. We made it round race one with no capsizes and we seemed to go well upwind but struggled downwind with the foil leading to huge amounts of lee helm. We ended having to retire from the 2nd race on day 1 after we got caught up with another boat and they ended up cutting our spinnaker tack line! A drastic approach, but it saved any damage to the carbon fibre so in hindsight it may have been the better choice. Day 2 was lighter and allowed us to get more comfortable, we didn't make great decisions or get off the start line but this was a process regatta, using the fleet to learn how to handle the boats, we were happy to get round the course without a capsize all day, with 3 tight races our hoists and drops were much improved. After discussions with some of the top guys in the fleet we worked out that we needed to use more foil downwind, which encourages nose diving but is faster.
Saturday saw the POW race and it was set to be a perfect 10 knots, the course set was 3 sausages and 3 triangles, no shorten course is allowed. We did not get a good start unfortunately but managed to find our pace and go the right way up the beat which saw us round just outside the top 10, but down the run we lost a few around the outside who managed to cut out a gybe. We settled into a rhythm with the shifts and made good gains around the rest of the course and after 2 hours of racing we were heading to the finish on the back edge of the top 10 and all we had left was a spinnaker reach against the tide into the harbour, or so we thought. The wind slowly cut out and the northerly gradient came back in meaning it was a beat against the tide. We managed to escape out of the tide only to see that the boats ahead had not been so lucky as they were a bit further up the race course. We managed to sneak through into 7th at one point as the beat became a game of nerve with people tacking as close to the shore as possible. Eventually the wind disappeared all together and when it filled back in we got on the wrong side of it all and the inside out topsy-turvy race finished with us getting a disappointing result. Despite this we were filled with confidence on how much we had improved. It wasn't only our part of the fleet that struggled, at the front of the fleet Stu Bithell & Sam Pascoe had led comfortably all race to get within a boat length of the finish, only for the tide to push them back and Katie Nurton & Nigel Ash came through from 3rd to take the win, the first ever female to win the prestigious trophy!
The final day we were met with sunshine and a 15-18 knot southwesterly and some famous Hayling chop. It was the shortest day for us as we managed only one beat and part of a run before we achieved the holy grail of 14-ing - a supermassive pitch pole.
Needless to say we had great fun and it is like learning to sail again. We were very naïve in thinking we would be able to compete against the many great sailors in the fleet so quickly, they have put in a lot of time and make it look easy when it most certainly is not. We have the buzz, we are full of confidence having really seen the improvement we have made and we will be looking forward to Rock next year and bringing a bit more intent!
Next up is some team racing in Newport Rhode Island, Cowes Week in an XOD and the RS200 Nationals.