The European 18ft Skiff Grand Prix got off to a challenging start in Lake Garda on Friday, with central European weather systems playing havoc with the usually predictable thermal breezes of the Italian Lakes. 17 Teams from 7 countries have turned up to this opening event of the circuit, which bodes well for a large turnout at the International Series in two weeks time in Six Fours, on the South coast of France, when the Australian and US teams will join the action.
As the teams arrived at the dinghy park on Friday morning, they were greeted by a 20-25 knot Northerly, with little sunshine in the sky. This was gradient wind which was forecast to stay for the day, so No2 rigs were the weapon of choice by the whole fleet. However as it came to launching time, it was clear the wind was dying and becoming marginal for the small rigs. Most of the fleet continued to go afloat, while Ronstan was the only team to try and squeeze in a rig change to the No1 before the starting gun.
The fleet got away to a tidy first start, and with the wind being strongest in the centre of the lake, and hence the right of the course, most of the fleet tacked off early. However it was PICA, helmed for this event by rising UK 49er star Dave Evans, crewed by Simon Hiscocks and Stewart Mears, who came into the top mark leading, having hung on to the left a little more before tacking and getting the benefit of a long lifting tack. They were closely followed by Investec helmed by Mason Woodworth, and Pindar with Andy Richards at the helm, last years European Grand Prix champions. There was still enough breeze for a three wire blast down to the leeward mark, but with the wind dropping it proved to be a more tactical one with Pindar moving up to first when Investec fluffed their kite take down, and PICA and sailed too far to the right of the course and out of the wind.
Pindar went onto to round the next top mark holding off Investec, who then promptly tipped it in on the bear away letting PICA up through into the second. A quick recovery by Investec just kept them ahead of the Danish Bodotex team, and Ronstan scything through the fleet with their big rig on, managing to get up to 5th place even though they started a few minutes late. The rest of the fleet struggled into the finish in the dying breeze, with the race officer then signalling to everyone to get ashore quickly ... a phone call from the other side of the mountains correctly predicted a thunderstorm with rain and 40 knot winds which luckily hit the fleet after everyone had got safely to shore. End of racing for that day.
Saturday is forecast for similar conditions, while Sunday is hoped will clear up to give traditional Garda breezes and sunshine.
Day 2 of the European 18ft Skiff Grand Prix as predicted started with overcast skies, with a fairly light northerly 5-10 knot breeze. The teams all duly rigged up with their larger No1 rigs but approaching the start at midday, the wind switched to its southerly thermal "Ora" direction, without it seemed any prospect of it building during the day with the lack of sunshine - this assumption was soon blown away by the end of the first race!
4 races in the end were run in which was to prove a very eventful day. First out of the blocks were PICA (GBR) showing the fleet the way round the course after a perfect port end start enabling them to tack across the fleet and sail off into the distance, with Dave Evans and his team proving that their second place in the yesterday's race was no beginner's luck. Ed Browne in Gill / Wild Graphics (GBR) showed they were back on the pace with a second place, leading a bunch of boats crossing the line within seconds led by GP Covers (DEN), Ronstan (GBR) and Pindar (GBR).
By the time the second race started, the breeze had built to a challenging 15-18 knots, giving the crews a handful with their No1 rigs. Elcotec (ITA) showed that their winter training in the lake breezes had paid off leading the fleet round the first mark, but they were soon overhauled by Pindar and GP Covers. The breeze then got up to over 20 knots and the second downwind leg was a scene of devastation as only the leading three boats were upright at on point, with the rest of fleet coping with tricky bear-aways at the top mark or pitchpoling antics at the gybes into a unusually steep Garda chop. This resulted in a couple of breakages, not least PICA who snapped a main shroud, and Ronstan who snapped a cap shroud - amazingly through quick thinking both managed to save their rigs intact! A more serious incident however occurred one of the German skiffs, when in a nasty pitchpole downwind, the middleman suffered a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments - a sober reminder to all the teams that these skiffs must always be treated with respect once the breeze kicks in. Pindar managed to hang onto their lead with GP Covers just behind, and Space Models (GER) showing that good boat handling and just hanging in their can get you a great result coming in third - only 7 skiffs out of 17 finished that race!
Race 3 was by now overpowered for No1 rigs, and Ronstan had managed to quickly change over to their No2 rig after their No1 cap shroud damage. They had close battle with Pindar who had decided to hang in with their No1 rig, with Ronstan having the edge upwind and Pindar closing up downwind. However Ronstan showed the way home followed by Pindar and Elcotec who also stayed with their No1 rig.
IN the last race of the day, PICA managed to also get back out in their No2 rig, and again showed the fleet the way round the course followed by Ronstan. Pindar were bringing up third, but then an uncharacteristic pitchpole on the downwind leg dropped them back to eighth, with Mason Woodworth and his Investec team getting back up the leader board to finish 3rd.
The final day of racing takes place on Sunday with another 4 races planned. The event is wide open, especially when discards start taking effect. Sunshine is forecast with hopefully some more breeze!
Top 10 Results (5 races, one discard)
1. Pindar (GBR) 9pts
2. Ronstan (GBR) 12pts
3. Gill / Wild Graphics (GBR) 16pts
4. Investec (GBR) 20pts
5. GP Covers (DEN) 21 pts
6. PICA (GBR) 22pts
7. Space Model (GER) 27 pts
8. Liberty Sailing Team (HUN) 27 pts
9. Elcotec (ITA) 31 pts
10. Bodotex (DEN) 33pts
Report written and prepared by dear friend: