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© AUS120 Sean O'Brien.
All Rights Reserved.

PRE-EVENT (Day -2, -1)

Kiel is a short drive from the north of Holland; 4 hours to be exact. I had an early start after partying in Groningen the night before the drive and was at Hamburg airport by 10am to pickup another Australian competing at Kieler-Woche who had just flown in from Australia. The Germans never cease to amaze me with their sheer conflictions of morality and convenience: when told I had to wait 15 mins for my friend who’s boom didn’t arrive with him on plane, I thought I’d check out the airport’s adult shop. The concept of a porn-shop right at the front door inside a major airport is just unheard of Australia, but the Germans must really love their porn so curiousity got the better of me…

Shortly after we were on our way to Kiel, enjoying the autobahns’ no speed limits and with my new TomTom 710 (complete with celebrity voices) this was the first drive I’d ever made through Germany where I didn’t get lost! We headed straight to a small bed-&-breakfast cottage just 5 mins drive past the Kiel Yacht Club where we found some very cheap accommodation with a nice newly furnished room and an old lady who’d cook us whatever we wanted for breakfast. Straight after this we were down to the Yacht Club to see what was going on.

With the RSX Europeans finishing the day before Kiel starts, and only two weeks before the RSX World Championships in Portugal, it was to be expected that the fleet here would be quite small. Suprisingly, as of Friday afternoon (the first race was on Saturday), there were only 3 or 4 other RSX sailors in the compound, some Norwegians it seemed.

Friday, all day, it blew 25-35knots onshore, so we decided to rest after 2 days of sailing on Wednesday and Thursday in lighter offshore breezes. It rained most of the day aswell so hanging out at the club all day wasn’t too inviting, so we stayed at the apartment most of the day, watching some movies on the laptop and going through all the NOR/Sailing Instructions and weather reports…

DAY 1:

Woke up at 7am on Saturday morning to be greeted by pouring rain and temperatures down around 10 degrees (pretty cold for an Aussie). After a big breakfast we headed down to the Marina as the usual morning weather forecast presentation (telecast on German tv) was supposed to start at 8am. Arriving at 8am to find no-one at the tent we were told it will be delayed till 11:30am because of the late start today (first start at 2pm) but I was given the opportunity to do a short interview on German tv about the event; which I accepted.

Rigged and donned in wetsuits by 12.30pm we were ready to hit the water. For those who haven’t been to Kiel before, you might think being rigged and ready 1.5 hours before the first race is a little keen. I’m usually as laid back as a bed, but when you have an 3km upwind beat just to get to the starline (which takes about an hour) you have to be pretty organised. So there we were out on the water and heading to the startline at 12.50pm, with enough protein bars and energy gels to last us a full afternoon.

Arriving on the course, after trudging for an hour in 2knots of breeze, we were immediately AP’d. There we remained for the next 2.5 hours… drifting around and trying to keep warm in the light and fluky conditions; not a single start sequence attempted the entire afternoon.

Another problem with the RSX, is in the light winds, when you know you are going to have to pump the entire way around a course, wearing a full length wetsuit is usually just too hot, so most of the fleet were in shorts and short-sleeve tops (me included). 4 hours on the water without starting a race didn’t really get the core body temperature up and it was starting to get really cold before we made it back to the beach…

Another 1 hour beat back home, and finally we were on the beach. Although, we were never given the AP over A, and so despite already being 5.30pm (and having had 4 hours on the water without a race), we had to remain rigged just in case we were given the call up. Finally at 6pm we were canned for the day and after packing up our gear and we headed for the warmth the event tent for a big German wurst and a cold beer.

DAY 2:

At the 8.40am weather briefing we were told to expect 10-12 knots, gradually shifting to the right as the afternoon went on… which was consistent with what the various weather sites I check were saying as well as the synoptic chart. Our first race was scheduled for 11am so there we were, putting our boards into the water at 9.50am, making sure we’d make it to the startline on time as the wind was very marginal…

In the morning the sun was out, and the air temperatures were up into the late twenties, making the idea of wearing a wetsuit unthinkable, and most of the fleet headed out in shorts and lycra; a mistake on all counts.

The wind began to pickup and we were in planing mode for all of the races today. Strangely, they split the field of 30 or so into two fleets and I started in the yellow fleet (first start) with the other two Aussies in the blue fleet (second start). I took the pin end in the first start (having had my Ronstan start watch pinched out of my bag overnight I was counting down the seconds in my head…) and had an ok start just underneath USA-1, who led most of this race. The wind was a little tricky and this event I decided to test out a new fin before the worlds (not the smartest thing I’ve done this week)… The fin turned out to be a dog, and I was struggling to make the Top 10 by the first mark, and managed to scrape back into 9th on the downwinds.

The second race was a little windier, and I took a flyer at the boat end, starting late and coming around the back of the large start boat over the top of most of the fleet who had dropped below the line with the strong tide. Unfortunately, with the shifty winds I got a little punished heading too far left and already I was again outside the Top 10 at the first mark. I managed to take a few places on the second upwind and get back to 6th but the races were quite short by RSX standards (25-30mins) so there wasn’t a lot of time to catch up.

In between the races, as we were the first start, we had to sit around for about 25 minutes. Without a coachboat to rest on, or to take jackets with us, we basically had to sail around to keep warm. With the wind increasing to 20 knots at times, and the sun disappearing behind the cloud banks, the temperature drops quite quickly in the northern hemisphere. Being from a town thats above 15 degrees during the day even in the coldest winters, I basically froze to death… 3km upwind is too far to get home in between races to get a wetsuit L

The third race was a bit of a farce, with yachts and other pleasure craft streaming through the fleet, and on the second lap the wind died in parts of the course, making dodging boats quite difficult. I managed to keep on the plane heading left on the second lap, but had to double tack the top mark to avoid a 30ft yacht. I was probably in around 5th or 6th by the bottom mark but the wind died almost completely and a few of the younger/lighter Polish and French sails could plane through the slalom section we had before the finish… I was left to drift.

Not quite sure how race committee’s in the RSX world have taken the inclusion of a slalom course to finish the races, which is intended to be only in “planing” races and for “spectators” so literally… to the point where at the Holland Regatta this year, slalom courses were included in the non-planing races, and today, whilst 3km out to sea in the middle of nowhere, we are doing slalom courses to finish for all the “spectators” out there. My understanding was that this was designed for the Medal Race only, and to have it close to the beach so that spectators could see who was winning the race, as all sailors would have to follow the same line, but I’m finding we’re having to do this in marginal conditions so often… where its only purpose now is to give the 50kg grommets an opportunity to get planing and smoke anyone above their weight who can’t ….

Race 4 had a 33 minute delay before it got underway. It was so cold I was losing the feeling in my fingertips, but the wind had picked up again and I was determined to get some runs on the board after a lousy first three. I started at the middle of the line and got away cleanly just a boardlength behind (but upwind) of USA-1 again. Tacking onto port I followed USA-1 and another of the good Polish sailors around the top mark and was neck and neck with FRA-2 at the bottom mark to make 4th. On the second upwind, a 150ft double-masted schooner came through our course, splitting the fleet who had to choose whether to punt going above it, or lose 150m going below it… I went above (pumping like a b*tch not to get plowed by this ship!), and was instantly into second place going around the top mark as the Polish and French guys elected to go below… Unfortunately, this worked against me as after rounding the top mark, the schooner was holding course to cross our downwind layline, and I had nowhere to go except to gybe and wait a few seconds till it passed. In this time, the next 5-6 sailors managed to hold their starboard tack downwind and miss the ship, and knowing this was the favoured tack downwind I had to gybe back onto starboard and sat underneath all 5 of these sailors… annoying! I was about 7th into the slalom course but managed to take another place with some good gybing. The wind had swung around so far this race that the final run to the mark was incredibly tight. With a lot of pumping I made it through, but others behind me had to double tack just to make the finish.

Another 1.5 our beat back upwind (it rained most of the way, then the wind cutout and we were on centreboards) and we were finally back on the beach. I think I’ve done more sailing in the last two days than I have this entire month! 12 hours total on the water for 4 races is a little harsh… but welcome to Kiel ;)

DAY 3:

Another early start this morning to get to the weather briefing at 8.40am. Even the weather presenter (who is usually quite “chipper”) couldn’t make the forecast look any more enticing than it already was… “2 knots with a possibility to increase to 3 knots later in the afternoon” was the verdict; Mmmmm I love Germany.

So for the next 5-6 hours we tried to entertain ourselves at the Kiel Olympiazentrum Yacht Club. Suprisingly, there’s quite a lot of cool stuff to checkout here as the setup is huge: tents and tents of everything from model yachts, to sailing clothing, electronics, BMW’s, live bands, live German tv broadcasting all day everyday… And also the biggest German bratwurst I’ve seen in my life cooking all day for 2.50 euros. Nice.

So, at 2.30pm with the water looking about as glassy as an ice-lake in Norway, they finally decided to pull the pin and we could go home. So me and Brendan Todd (AUS-29) headed straight into Kiel-Centrum, to check out the festivities that the city had to offer during the 2-week event…. More racing tomorrow (hopefully); although tomorrow’s forecast is WORSE than todays’, so it could be a short week for us :-/

So as I write this, Brendan is on live German tv, doing an interview about the RS:X class. I told him he had to somehow mention his dog back in Australia in the interview… despite whatever he is asked, and also to show some stupid photos we got printed of ourselves at the Nokia stand in Kiel city centre…. It should be quite funny if he pulls it off… Tune in tomorrow to see how he goes.

DAY 4:

I have to tip my hat to the weather presenter here at Kiel. At 8:40am each morning he’s up on stage (and live tv) trying to sound upbeat and enthusiastic about forecasts for 1-2 knots! This morning, the forecast was for <2 knots with a chance of a seabreeze in the afternoon (up to 6 knots); not particularly inspiring but today is our last day of fleet racing and after a lay-day yesterday, we were all quite keen to get on the water.

At 1:30pm the AP was dropped and we all began our 1 hour trudge upwind to the startline. The only good thing about having to beat upwind for 3km just to make it to the course area is that its going to be DOWNWIND on the way home J

Race 1 got away in very fluky non-planing conditions. I got an average start in the middle of the line as most of the fleet were nailing the pin to take advantage of the winds to the left of the course. I thought it strange that everyone was hitting the pin as the top mark was quite to the right of the startline and tacking onto port almost instantly I got stuck under a few of the younger Polish guys and got punished in their dirty air. So, in true AUS-120 style I was well back by the top mark, although I was neck and neck with USA-1 coming into the mark so I didn’t feel too bad.

3 months of hardly being able to train due to a serious injury to my back hasn’t been a big help to my lightwind RSX aspirations, but it was a good hitout today, despite the damage I was doing to myself. I decided to sit out the second race as my back was already beginning to scream by the second lap, and with only 2 weeks to go until the RSX World Championships, I had better things to do than spend that 2 weeks lying on the floor, unable to walk!

The other Australian’s had a relatively good day. I haven’t got the results in front of me as yet but it looked as thought Michael Lancey was up in the Top 10 most of the time.

It only took 30mins to get back to the beach today, which was a relief as I was in quite some pain by the time I took my board out of the water. I’m not sure what the plans are for tomorrow’s racing as yet … normally, the final day is just for the Medal Race, but with the lack of actual racing we did this week I wouldn’t be surprised if they try and squeak in a final race for the Gold fleet before the Medal Race… we’ll find out tomorrow morning anyhow.

DAY 5:

A warm start to the morning for the final day of racing at Kieler-Woche. The wind was blowing onshore about 8-10knots but we new it was going to pickup for our race at 11am so I was in good spirits. Today, the Medal Race for the Top 10 would take place at 1.10pm on the course directly in front of the marina (where there was no wind). A consolation (loser’s) race for the remaining Gold/Silver fleet sailors would take place on the normal course 3km out to sea from the marina (where there WAS wind).

By the time Brendan Todd (AUS-29) and I got to the startline the wind had picked up to a gusty 10-14 knots: planing mode! Unfortunately, this onshore direction brought the most heinous amount of seaweed I have ever come across! Normally, on a formula or slalom board, you can jump a few times to get the weed clear of your fin, but the RS:X boards, in (barely) planing conditions are quite difficult to get airborne enough to clear the fin without falling off the plane… so if you got weed; you were poked!

I took a flyer on port out of the start and led a pack of French and Polish sailors to the right hand side towards the top mark. I had clear wind and was pointing a little higher than my lighter counterparts, but unfortunately, in the dim, cloudy surroundings, it was almost impossible to see the weed in the water to dodge it, and I had to stop two times during the upwind to get in the water and manually pull the weed off of my fin!

So there I was again… Mid-fleet in a mid-fleet race. I think I would’ve been 15th to the top mark by the time I got the weed off of my fin, but I managed to smoke 4 or 5 guys on the second upwind who were going twice as slow as me. Again on the downwind I got weed, this time so bad I fell off the plane as soon as I hit it. Jumping in the water to pull off the weed I lost another place but recovered it with some quick gybes into the bottom mark. I had to settle for an embarrassing 11th but I wasn’t too fussed as this was my first regatta back from injury.

That was it for the day for us. The medal race went off in about 3 knots of breeze and the top 3 overall in the event barely made the top 5 places in the medal race! The winner overall was POL, with FRA in 2nd and USA (Ben Barger) in 3rd.

Our kit packed in the AUS team coach boats, towed behind the team’s Audi A4 Quattro’s is already on its way to Caiscais as I write this. Tonight, Brendan and myself will head to Hamburg to checkout a little of the nightlife before I drop him at the airport early tomorrow morning and begin my drive home back to Holland.

Another Kiel-Week is over for 2007. I don’t have fond memories of this place, as the weather is usually miserable and sailing 3km to a startline without a coach boat is not particularly fun… however, full props must be given to the people behind Kiel-Week as its one of the biggest and best organised racing regattas you will come across in Europe… Stay tuned for daily reports from the 2007 ISAF World Championships in Caiscais, Portugal, starting on the 6th July for the RS:X boards …