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© AUS120 Sean O'Brien.
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The 2008 Formula Windsurfing European Championships kicked off today in the sunny seaside town of Leba, in Poland. 129 male competitors; the biggest fleet in many years have all registered to begin the first races at 11am on Wednesday morning. Read the daily reports and videos from Sean on the links below to keep up to date from the beach:

DAY 0 / DAY 1:

Ok, so 129 men have registered for this year’s European FW Championships in Leba, Poland. We all know Leba pretty well, having raced here a number of years and most of us having competed at the 2004 FW World Championships in Leba also. The long stretch of white sandy beach; the scorching hot temperatures (by European standards); the plethora of smoking hot Polish girls on the beach; and the general 2-3 days of the event with ABSOLUTELY NO WIND!!

Registration day was fairly quiet apart from the news that Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (ARG-3) is now riding Exocet – having tested out the board at the Pobierowo event last week and making the switch official at this event. Check the video above for a few comments from Gonzo about the board and its performance.

We had a nice 12-14 knot NE breeze for most of the day on Tuesday so most of us used the opportunity to do some final testing of fins and settings and get used to the conditions we will be sailing in for the rest of the week.

It was nice to stretch the legs yesterday as today we spent the ENTIRE day at the beach with the wind teasing us around 4-5 knots until the race crew finally pulled the plug at 6pm. Despite the multitude of entertainment options on the beach provided by the event sponsors (including aerobix and dance classes on the stage, volleyball, dj’s, free computers with internet, a restaurant/relaxation room for the sailors etc) it was a fairly boring day on the beach with only one crazy Danish sailor deciding to go out on the water and see if he could plane; about 3 seconds was the most we saw him on the rail…

All the usual guns are registered and ready to race: Allen, Vesterstrom, Williams, Dagan, Cucchi, Menegatti, Costa Hoevel, Brzozowski, Schurmann etc etc. Tomorrow the forecast is even worse so it might even be Thursday before we see who is on the pace. The field has been split in to two fleets with the large entry numbers so it will be difficult sailing to keep on top of the rankings with the double take of points for each race…

Stay tuned tomorrow for (hopefully) some actual windsurfing news.

DAY 2:

Today we arrived at the beach to another glassy ocean day with almost 0 breeeze. By 10am a light NE’erly of 4-5 knots began to tease us and it looked like it was going to be a repeat of yesterday. This gave a few of the sailors enough time to play one of the (I think I counted roughly 6 million in Leba alone) Air-Hockey tables that litter this city. I’m not sure why air-hockey is so popular in this part of the world but the game absolutely RULES so Markus and I decided it appropriate to play a game for the title of Champion of the Universe (ps. it was a tie – 11 all, however Markus scored a late point after the buzzer which was later discounted).

At around 1.30pm the wind finally kicked and a fairly light but consistent 8-10 knots hit the course and the AP’s were dropped. We are racing in Split Fleets which again has caused a lot of discussion occuring on the beach between the sailors and Ceri Williams as many of the top guys believe split fleets don’t provide fair racing. Unfortunately, 130 guys don’t get off a startline very successfully in <19 knots so there appears to be no other solution than to race in splits. The other drama is that the fleets are split based on the FW World Rankings which don’t always reflect the order of performance (ie, guys like Antoine only compete in one event per year, so he’s deep in the list despite being World Champion). I personally can’t see any other way we could split them as the rankings is by far the fairest however today we had an example where most of us believed the Blue Fleet was more difficult than the Yellow… but there’s not much we can do about that.

Race 1 and 2 kicked off in around 10-12 knots with the majority of the fleet on 12m’s (bar Wojtek who rigged his trusty 10.7m I believe). The startline was insanely boat favoured with the course better on the right side following the beach (which would’ve been better to start on port if you could somehow cross the line) so the usual routine was to sail out to the ocean and tack across to the layline on port and then to follow the beach on the second leg. We were running inner/outer loops with the split fleets and the courses were a good 15-16 mins for the top guys which is a touch longer than usual for Poland (which I appreciated!). On the pace in the first race was Steve Allen (AUS-0) who took the bullet in the blue fleet (which I was in) however he faultered in the following races and allowed Jesper Vesterstrom (DEN-111) to nail two bullets.

I didn’t have the best of days personally as I had difficulty finding places on the line that weren’t behind guys like JV and Steve who were pointing stupidly high. In the second race I stripped the thread in my baseplate and so had to sail the entire course with the base sliding up and down the track
everytime I went over a wave which was pretty darn slow!! :(

Anyhow, we had a difficult fleet with plenty of guys going fast so I sat around the 12-14 mark most of the day which I wasn’t too happy with. The next few days are going to be windier and I feel I have good speed on the 11m with my new VMG Blades so hopefully I can pick up the pace a bit.

In the yellow fleet (not that I saw much of it). Gonzalo Costa Hoevel (ARG-3) had a battle all day with Dutchman Dennis Littel (NED-13) having two wins a piece. Dennis took the final race of the day (Race 4) in style winning by a considerable margin (check the second video above for a few comments from Dennis). So it appears Gonzo hasn’t lost too much speed with the new board choice of Exocet and Dennis is in contention for a podium spot if he keeps his speed up.

Tomorrow, the forecast is either NO WIND, or 18-20 knots, depending on which website you check. We know for certain the weekend will be windy and raining however we’ll find out tomorrow whether the breeze arrives earlier than Saturday… enjoy some photos from the day in the meantime…

DAY 3:

Day 3 of racing started with the decision to be made of whether we stick in the qualification fleets (blue/yellow) for 2 more races, which allowed us only 1 drop, or for 4 more races, which would allow us a second drop and a good opportunity for some of us to get some better results on the board before we go to the gold fleet racing.

The wind, once again, took a long time to come in and it wasn’t until 1.30pm or so that the first races for the day kicked off. Ceri briefed us in the morning that we would race as Gold/Silver fleets after the first 2 races today meaning that we only have 1 drop during the qualification series.

The wind was pretty light; around 10 knots and most of the fleet again rigged the 12m’s and lightwind fins. I started in the yellow fleet today which included Steve,Wojtek, Arnon, Hubert and event leader Dennis Littel. The wind was super light on the beach and myself and quite a few others couldn’t get on the plane to make it to the startline so we drifted towards the line watching the time tick down to the last 3 mins …

With 2 mins to go to the start I managed to get planing and headed for the pin end, just downwind of Wojtek and the first runner to the pin end of the start. Somehow I managed to get there in time and had a cracking start at the pin end in clear air and looked back to see about half the fleet still on the line trying to get moving. I got around the top mark in about 6th or 7th with Steve leading the next pack of sailors including Dennis in about 5th place. All fleets were running the inner loop course which meant the downwind was relatively short and so was the second upwind. As we all came around the bottom mark to begin the second lap a few guys headed upwind along the beach (me included) which ended up being fairly punishing as the wind got very light in this corner of Beach B. I probably lost a few places here but managed to have a good second downwind putting in 2 extra gybes and going inside to get back in to 8th overall in this race.

Dennis somehow managed to smoke everyone in this race, including Steve and took his next bullet for the event keeping him a clear 2 points in first.

After these two final qualification races and a short lunch break we were back out on the water for the first Gold Fleet race. A lot of us had rigged 11m sails as the wind had picked up to around 15-16 knots on the boat however on the startline with only a minute to go the wind dropped to sub 10 knots and a lot of us got buried with the smaller sails on the line. I trudged around with Dennis for most of this race, somewhere deep in the 30’s or 40’s!! By the time we got to the downwind mark the race crew pulled the plug due to the lack of wind. Apparently, Steve had already FINISHED the race and Dennis and myself hadn’t even finished Lap 1 !! I think Dennis was pretty happy that race got canned!

After waiting until 6.30pm to try and restart Race 7 we eventually were sent home (thank god!); what a long day on the beach!

DAY 4:

For the first time this event we actually had wind to start the racing at the scheduled kick-off time of 11am. It had rained during the night and with the new direction of westerly winds we still had the clouds around and didn’t really get to see the sun at all today. It was difficult to judge how strong the actual wind was for the beginning of the first race at 11am and many of us decided to take 11m sails despite the fact that when we got to the startline (which was much further upwind this time) the wind was around 8-9 knots!

Dennis, Arnon, Markus, a few French guys and me decided to start on port as we were worried we wouldn’t get off the line on starboard with the light winds. This ended up being the worst decision ever as a decent gust hit the course from out to sea and the guys at the boat got it a good 15 seconds before us which meant NONE of us got off the line on port! Dennis decided to sail home rather than sail this race from last position and Arnon, myself and Markus kept on – finishing with results DEEP in the 30’s! Arnon however, had an insane second upwind and managed to get back to 10th which was fairly impressive. Gonzalo, who was also on 11m, was fairly deep in the results also however he was later given OCS for this race.

The next 3 races were very similar as we ran the same course all day. An inner loop course with a short slalom finish to bring us back to the beach for the spectators. The wind stayed around 12-13 knots all day so most of us stayed on the 12m sails although I did see Steve take his 11m for the final race. It was tight up at the front with Dennis having a consistent day getting a 2nd and a 4th and taking the bullet in Race 9. Ross jumped up into 3rd overall taking two firsts in Race 7 and 8 and Jesper kept his second spot by taking the bullet in Race 10.

I had a relatively lousy day with my best result being a 17th in the tough Gold Fleet racing. I’m a little disappointed we didn’t get some more wind as the swell gets up pretty quickly here in Leba and I enjoy the higher wind sailing on the 11m with difficult choppy conditions; not to be it seems! I wasn’t the only one finding today challenging as many of the guys up the front of the pack like Gonzo, Wojtek, Arnon etc had some shocking results in the last 3 races… tough, tough, tough.

Dennis is still 3 points ahead of Jesper in 2nd and with only 4 more possible races tomorrow it will be a close finish to find the European Champion. With the forecast for tomorrow relatively similar to today I think the conditions will suit Dennis again as he is really flying on his MauiSails 12m in these lighter breezes. Being based in the Netherlands for most of my European adventures the past 5 years I can only hope we get a Dutch guy on the podium tomorrow night! Go Dennis!!

DAY 5:

The final day of racing in Leba would have been very tense for many of the guys up at the front. Dennis was still leading, but now only 2 points in front of Jesper and another 2 points to Ross Wililams (GBR-83). At 11am on the dot we were out on the water sailing about 1km out to sea as the wind was extremely offshore and light and the visibility was quite low with the low cloud hanging around. All on our 12m’s, the first few starts were general recalls as the wind was starting to shift considerably and a lot of people were getting away too early to make sure they could plane at all!

When we finally did start, the wind turned quite feral and the race became quite a lottery due to the fact that most of us who started on port, couldn’t find the top mark layline in the misty scenery and rounding the top mark we began to get 30-50 degree windshifts every few seconds and the wind petered out! Although the order up the front was fairly usual, most of us between 15th place and back couldn’t finish the first lap as we were stuck at the bottom mark in no wind. Finally after 6 mins of waiting we were able to get around the final lap. It took me 39 mins to finish this race and I was one of the last few places to make it in the time limit! (+25 guys did not make the time!) – and of that 39 mins I’m pretty sure I spent about 15 mins of it drifting; waiting for wind. 2.5 hours later we made it home to the beach as we had to drift in 0 wind upwind about 2km against the tide to make it to the beach!

So after that miserable race and now 3pm in the afternoon we thought the event would be over as there seemed no chance of wind. However around 4pm, the wind again picked up however swinging to the NW (sideshore) and increasing to around 12-15 knots consistently. We rigged our 12m’s again (I decided to go with 11m and i think Steve might have been the only other) and headed out again for the next start however with a few mins to go to the gun the wind kicked to 20-24 knots!

The race was fairly chaotic at this point as most of the fleet were on 12m’s or 11m’s with super lightwind settings and the waves increased to around 1.5m and quite steep. There was carnage everywhere with plenty of people putting it in the drink on the downwind and Michal Polanowski (POL-16) KO’ing Dennis at the first mark causing Dennis to not be able to finish the race – and potentially lose the title!

I held on for a 20th in this race despite being in the top 10 at the first mark but with no chicken strap or any outhaul on my bagged out 11m I put it in the drink trying to gybe in the shorebreak on the final downwind leg! Ouch…

The final race started only 10 mins after this race as they needed to be run back-to-back to make the final cutoff timelimit. A few lucky guys managed to rig their 10m’s but I only had time to put a chicken strap on and a few more mm’s of downhaul on my 11m. I had been waiting all week for some strong wind and here it was and i wasn’t too prepared!

This was probably the craziest race I’ve sailed in a while as everyone seemed super overpowered and out of control in the gusts up to 28 knots and breaking waves around 1.5-2m. I had a great start at the pin end and was one of the first to the beach to make the tack onto port to the layline – having to dodge at least 3 really BRUTAL head-on crashes where people on port couldn’t get out of the way of the guys coming across on starboard to the layline in the crazy winds! I rounded the top mark in about 8th just behind Jesper and Dennis with Wojtek leading the race by a decent margin at this point.

Downwind was pretty out of control for me on the 11m. I’m not sure how everyone else was doing but I lost a few places with an amateur gybe going into the windward mark and had to sit in all the guys dirty air on the next beat. It appeared to work a little better going towards the shore than beating out to sea as I did and coming around the upwind mark I had dropped back to about 18th in this race. Luckily I had some good downwind speed and overtook Hubert (POL-25) and a few French guys to get back to 15th.

The interesting parts of the day were about to come as Dennis, with his DNF in the second last race had now lost the title and Steve Allen, with a relatively consistent but not with any bullets kinda day, had suddenly jumped from 4th to 1st! A feat nobody thought possible with Dennis’ form this week. Dennis hit the protest room and it was up to the jury to decide who had won the FW European Championships…

…the verdict … POL-16 DSQ’d for hitting Dennis in Race 12 but Dennis only given reddress for his average in the ‘gold fleet’ races, not the entire event and his worst performances were later in the regatta meaning he would drop from 1st to 4th in these last two races! Devo’d.

Here’s a few clips from the prizegiving ceremony and party from the Allegro Cup. The night’s entertainment included a free concert from Jamaican/American rockstar “Shaggy” and a disco tent with the best of Polish dj’s for the sailors. A good 3000-4000 people (it seemed) were on the beach braving the cold weather for the prizegiving ceremony and it never ceased to amaze me how much work was put in to the setup of this event by Allegro. The 2008 Allegro Cup Winner is Steve Allen and the FW European Champion is Ross Williams (Steve is not European, so can not have the title, only the prizemoney!).

We will for sure be back to Leba for another amazing event next year and once again I’m sure we will be amazed how they can manage to top the event from last year once again each time! Thanks to all the crew from Allegro and everyone involved in one the best windsurfing events this year!


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