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RS Aero North American Midwinters, Florida 27/01/2017 - 29/01/2017
Building upon the Special Relationship The tale of a British tourist, by Karl Thorne
As circumstance would have it, two Brits left these shores on the same day last week on separate and unconnected diplomatic missions to the United States. One trip was to curry favour with a close military ally and race to be the first foreign leader to meet the new President. The other trip was to support the inaugural RS Aero Mid-Winter regatta in Palm Springs, Florida. The latter mission was a definite success.
It was over twenty-five years ago since I first heard about "Mid-winter" regattas held in the US, normally around January in somewhere with guaranteed sunshine and breeze like Florida. Since that time I have made it an ambition to escape the British winter and attend one. When the opportunity came-up to charter a boat in a Class that I already sail and that is rapidly taking hold in North America, it was too good to miss.
I was confident that despite travelling alone and being the sole representative from Europe, Great Britain and (most importantly) #TeamLymo that I would be made very welcome. After all, we had sent special envoys to the US Nationals for the last two years and the reports back had been promising and that the natives were friendly.
I arrived early on the day before the event at Palm Springs Sailing Club, having found only Superyachts and a lack of RS Aeros at the nearby Palm Springs Yacht Club (who knew?). I was there to meet Marc Jacobi, the US Class Manager, who was due to hold a coaching clinic later that day. Marc was an early adopter of the RS Aero, having been a former US Laser Masters Champion (amongst many other credits), and puts his great enthusiasm and boundless energy to good work - not only helping to build the Class in the States but also helping sailors at all levels improve.
One of our jobs on that first morning was to unload eight charter boats, they had just been delivered from a previous event in Texas inside a specially designed trailer box. They were stacked in two sets of four with simple launching trollies broken down to save space. Apparently they pay a driver to collect the trailer and deliver wherever it is needed next - a good solution to a logistics issue in a big country.
With eighteen private boats coming from all along the East Coast from Texas to Connecticut, the charter boats added to the numbers and were used by a mix of existing RS Aero sailors from even further afield and some locals who were seriously considering buying the boat or just wanted to join in the fun on their home waters. I am always staggered when I consider the length that these guys have to drive to get to events and that 1200 mile round trips for a weekend's sailing are not out of the way. We are truly spoiled in the UK with the amount and variety of sailing available to us, normally within very easy reach.
Marc's clinic went well in beautiful 24 degree sunshine, warm water and 10-20 knots of gusty breeze. A definite improvement could be seen over the afternoon amongst the several RS Aero first-timers, and the coaching would stand them in good stead for the racing to come. One of the highlights of the clinic was when the coach decided he'd had enough watching and wanted to jump into a boat - eager to see if this Brit was any good (he clearly has never checked Sailracer.co.uk), and promptly capsized at the first opportunity whilst trying too hard to keep ahead!
I'm not sure how true the reports of sharks swimming in our training waters were, but everybody was back into their boats pretty sharpish after a spill! Apparently talking to our veteran Surfer in the fleet, Gregory Popp, the sharks round those parts only give you a light nip and spit you out - which was reassuring to me as I didn't have the option of "a bigger boat". Disappointingly, I didn't see any all weekend.
Onto the racing... The format for the event was eight races held over two days, with all three rig sizes (5, 7 and 9) going off the same start but being scored separately for the series.
On Day 1 of the event proper, the course was set in the Ocean, just far enough off Palm Beach to catch the edge of the Gulf Stream which was running at between 1-2 knots. The wind was a gusty offshore 15-20 knots and there was an appetising three foot steep swell, along with the obligatory blues skies. For the first two races the race officer opted for an unusual 'Z' course. This turned out to be a genius move offering reach-tastic conditions which really showed the boats off to their best potential in the waves offwind; you hit the back straps and feel the boat light. on. up. In Race 1, whilst the breeze was stronger it was initially very close between the rig sizes upwind. However, once downwind Marc Jacobi (Cedar Point YC) in his 9 rig set the tone for the weekend and disappeared. The next best 9 rig sailors Derek Bottles (Seattle) and Madhavan Thirumalai (Cedar Point YC) were fairly evenly matched with the front two 7's, myself and Hank Saurage (from somewhere scary in Louisianna with alligators in the lake). We finished in that order.
I couldn't believe it, I'd won my first race in America! Although I wasn't getting over-excited, I could tell Hank might be a bit tidy as he had been catching me all the time after he'd had a bad start and I'd only just beaten him. Turns out he was previously at the top of the Sunfish class for many years for those that know their big number, hard to win fleets. The pattern in the 9s was repeated for the afternoon, with Marc showing real downwind pace even on the Windward/Leewards used for the last two races of the day in the lighter breeze. In the 7s, Hank found his starting boots and took three bullets in a row leaving myself and the now Aero legend Eric Aker (No fixed abode, possibly Massachusetts?) to battle out for seconds and thirds. In the 5 fleet, local expert Larry Cole from the nearby Sailfish Club of Florida dominated the afternoon with four wins.
For Day 2 things were very different. Pissing down with rain, grey and cold, the same conditions that most frostbite sailors were experiencing last Sunday in the UK. You can only begin to imagine who got the blame for this unseasonal deluge. The usual cliché of "It's not normally like this here" was trotted out, as was the growing new one of "I didn't vote for him, don't blame me!". The racing was run "inside" on Lake Worth which is really a tidal inlet to the west of the Palm Beach peninsula. The conditions were light and shifty with a noticeable current. This allowed some of the inland sailors to show off their shift sniffing skills and racing was much tighter across all of the fleets, and the first-timers (now third-timers) were in the thick of it. Four races were run to complete the schedule and the results pretty much echoed those of the first day, albeit with a few of the sailors finding podiums for the first time over the weekend. There was one major change in the 9 fleet as Madhavan did just enough to take Derek's overnight second place from him. And that was it, eight races done and with three dominant winners. For me it was an ambition fulfilled. The sailing was varied and sometimes challenging, but never dull. I learned loads, thoroughly enjoyed the experience and most importantly made a bunch of great new friends whom I can't wait to race again.
A special mention for 9 rig sailor Michael Housley (Maryland) competing in his first ever regatta after