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© AUS120 Sean O'Brien.
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Arriving in Amsterdam over the weekend; midweek I drove down to Warsaw in Poland (along the awesome new Polish highway from the Germany border to “almost” Warsaw) to catch up with Steve Allen and then travel together up to Sopot for the Polish Open, the 2nd of this year’s new European Cup FW Tour. After a nice week of warm weather across Europe, the temperatures dropped and we were greeted with 9 degree daytime air-temperatures in Sopot, with a forecast of offshore winds all weekend, up to 35 knots! Fantastic conditions to start my season…

36 sailors registered for the FW event with everyone from Steve Allen, Wojtek Brzozowski, Martin Ervin, Hubert Mokrzycki and Michal Polanowski amongst a decent list of regular Polish racers, a host of Lithuanians and 2 Frenchies.

Basha, our favourite Polish race director doesn’t like to muck around and despite the shifty, gusty and cold winds out on the course, we were out for 4 races back-to-back on the Friday with winds starting out around 15-18 knots. Most of the fleet were on 12.0’s with me on 11.5m with Steve taking an easy lead in the first race before succumbing to a big wind hole at the last mark where a bunch of guys passed him including Wojtek Brzozowski who took the bullet in race one. I actually finished behind Steve but I was given 7th on the sheet (not sure how that works) but I was too cold to complain and figured it was early days… We’d have a 20 minute break between races for the RS:X Classes to start and ladies FW division whilst we all sat out on the water and froze… Race 2 the wind picked up considerably with bullets around 25 knots on the course… I’d had a great start with Steve and was around the top mark in the front pack before crashing in to something in the water and breaking my fin! Offshore winds don’t lend themselves to sailing back 2km upwind without a fin so it took me about 2 hours to get back to the beach and I missed the next 2 races….

Steve was untouchable in these next 2 with Hubert on the other red Severne sail hot on his heels each race. In Race 4 I was lucky to have Polanowski lend me a fin of his (as I only had one fin with me at this event!) but it happened to be a super LIGHT WIND fin. Just before the start of Race 4 we got some 35 knot gusts billowing down the course which after crashing about 6 times just trying to get off the startline I decided I was too out of control with this fin and a 10.5m sail and limped home! Haha.

Half the fleet wasn’t actually able to finish this race as after 4 back-to-back in these brutal conditions; the bodies were getting tired. Saturday was much of the same, with the forecast just as strong and most of us starting out the day on 9.5m/10.5m sails. The interesting thing to note at this event was the choice of Starboard’s people were using. Myself, Martin Ervin and Valentine Brault were on the 167wides with the majority of the Polish (including Steve) using the 167normal. The wide board wasn’t really designed for 35 knots so you could see a few of us struggling to hold it down on Friday afternoon!

For Saturday I managed to borrow an oldschool R13 fin (not too many people seem to like lending expensive fins out these days, go figure) but as the wind dropped out over the course of the afternoon down from 30 knots to 15 knots it became shiftier and shiftier, and speed wasn’t as important and as knowing where to tack. I had an ok day posting a 5,12,9th despite going slow as a dog on this fin. Steve again managed 3 bullets with Wojtek, Hubert and Valentin sharing the 2nd places.

On the Saturday night after 3 more back-to-back races for the day we were treated to a fantastic BBQ of Polish meats and sausage with plenty of Zywiec beers flowing from the taps. As is tradition in Sopot, some kind of apartment party with all the crew ensues and winds up at the plethora of nightclubs in the city. Plenty of hungover faces on Sunday morning at the beach where once again we were blessed with rain, wind and air-temps <10 degrees!

The plan was to make 3 races on the Sunday which didn’t suit me as I needed 4 to get a 3rd drop and discount my awful Friday afternoon. Michal Polanowski thought it his day to shine taking a bullet in the first race of the day with Steve following up winning the 2nd race and sitting the final one out as he had a comfortable lead. To give you an idea of the cold, even seasoned Polish-winter pros like Steve were wearing mittens on their hands as they sailed as the offshore winds and lack of sun made your fingers sting as the ice-like winds hit them. If it weren’t for the temperatures, the racing was actually pretty fun and having always thought of Sopot as being this LIGHTWIND venue it was really cool to see some wind from another direction and some of the windiest races I have done all year to date! Steve took the title followed by Wojtek and then Jasek Piasecki. Hubert was 4th and 3rd Polish overall as this was an important event of the Polish Cup for 2012.

It’s been so nice to come back to Sopot as it’s a real change from racing in Australia where we don’t actually have windsurfing clubs or that kind of infrastructure. SKZ Hestia club in Sopot is a very large, dedicated windsurfing club running all sorts of training camps for RS:X, BIC Techno and FW classes. It also boasts a great restaurant where we smashed huge pork steak dinners each evening and a nice hotel inside the club where we were able to stay and could walk straight from our gear to the hotel room still in a wetsuit; what a luxury!
It was quite fun to race with all the classes; RS:X, BIC Techno etc out on the water all at once over 2 courses which made for some really fun near-misses downwind as we tried to dart through a line of out-of-control RS:X sailors coming upwind in 30 knots while we were out-of-control coming downwind on 10.5m on the FW boards!

The next stop on the European Cup is on Elba Island, Italy on 13-16th June and judging by what I’ve seen so far in Sopot, the top guys in the sport of formula are still hungry and the performance of the gear is getting better and better each time a new product launches… Thanks again to the crew at SKZ Hestia Club and to all the Polish guys who welcomed my brutal Aussie accent to their country once again ;-)

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