Regatta Reports
Steve Mitchell Reports on the 2002 Worlds
By Steve Mitchell
Feb 18, 2003, 14:30

Seahorse Article - 2002 Nautica Star Worlds

The most impressive thing about the Star Worlds, except for the size of the trophy, is the sense of history that goes with winning. The names that adorn the trophy are like a Boys Own list of heroes Elvstrom, Conner, North, Blackaller, Melges, Reynolds, Buchan, Enrico Chieffi and the list goes on. Vince Brun called us when we had come ashore after the last race and summed it up; he said you are too young to appreciate the size of what you have achieved, in 20 years time you will though! wise words.

Our Star sailing began properly in Miami during the winter of 2001, where we spent many days learning how to get a Star around a racecourse and tried to understand how the complex rig works. Our main problem was that most of the guys we were to race against during 2002 had been sailing them for a long time and we had a lot of catching up to do, so we spent day after day out on the water in Florida making up for lost time.

The main benefit when we joined the Star class was that the new crew weight rule was on the verge of being accepted, and as two normal sized sailors we felt that this would allow us to compete on more equal terms with the more experienced guys.

After some initial scepticism from a number of US sailors, most crews and helms reduced their weight and it became no longer necessary to have a man-mountain over the side. Ultimately, I think that the heaviest crew at the 2002 worlds was about 118kg, and certainly there were a lot of happier, healthier and slimmer crews to be seen around the California Yacht Club during the regatta. This has to be the way forward for the Star if it is to remain in the Olympics and keep its place as the worlds premier keelboat, becoming more accessible to top class sailors and seen less as a boat for oversized crews, and more as one for athletes.

Our schedule of big events started with the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta in January - our first chance to sail against many of the top sailors, and all our practice on the flat waters of Biscayne Bay was already paying off. A top five result at this event followed by another at the prestigious Bacardi Cup and we were feeling like we had progressed.

We still had one clear major weakness, and that was speed in winds of under 8 knots, when we felt we couldn t physically work the boat as much as we could in more breeze. The whole loop of trimming/steering/trimming was the deciding factor in these lighter winds. So our next quest became to sail as much as we possibly could in light and shifty conditions, especially as the 2002 Worlds were to be in Santa Monica Bay in Los Angeles, which is historically a light wind venue.

Meantime we took delivery of a new 2002-model boat from Lillia in Italy and spent a month in Palma, Majorca tuning it up and racing it at a couple of major regattas over the Easter period.

This boat being different from the Folli-built boat (with Lillia keel - the boat in which Walker/Covell won silver in Sydney) that we had been sailing in the USA, meant that we now had to learn how to tune a new Star from scratch.

To move ahead we also needed to learn more about the fundamental relationships between variables such as rake, rig tension, butt position and fittings. One of Iains great strengths is the ability to listen to the boat through the feel in the helm, and know when it feels right or wrong, and then persisting in solving any problems. Palma proved a useful few weeks and we felt our new boat was well up to speed by the time we left. Our next trip took us to Tampa USA for the Spring Championships in our Folli boat and a very light wind event; good for our program but a possible stumbling block in terms of results. However we managed to negotiate the minefield of huge shifts and patchy breezes, and increase our light wind pace to get the runner-up spot behind Paul Cayard.

One thing that we have appreciated since we started is the willingness of established Star sailors to help us with advice, tips, tuning time and general advice whenever we have needed it, and this has definitely speeded up our progress.

With the Worlds in August we planned to do quite a bit of sailing on the west coast of the USA beforehand. After the Tampa event we did the drive from east to west, beginning with a week in San Diego, where we started to develop some new sail designs with the help of North UK - who have a close relationship with several classes in Team GBR.

We followed that session up with three further pre-Worlds trips to California, to Marina del Rey - the Worlds venue - where we carried out a lot of tuning runs with our training partners, John MacCausland & Rodrigo Miereles and Rick Merriman & Bill Bennett

In between these one week shuttles to the US, we also fitted in a trip to SPA regatta in Holland [which they won-Ed] and to our District championships in Germany around these weeks, so it was a busy time.

The Worlds warm-up regatta proved that Santa Monica Bay could easily be a very light and shifty wind venue as some had predicted, and many top names were to be seen mid-fleet, struggling to read the randomness of the large shifts. After this event many felt the Worlds themselves would turn into a lottery.

Luckily, the high pressure that had prevented the usual conditions from existing moved on by the start of the main event. After a difficult mostly light first race at the Worlds, the wind was similar each day, 8 knots by start time gradually strengthening to 12-14 by the last beat. These conditions suited us well, and we usually managed to get off the start line, well placed on a transit and generally with a clear lane. This coupled with good speed and the long (2-mile plus) beats got us into the frame by the first mark in each race.

We had worked a lot on downwind speed and trim during our training, something that is often neglected in tuning sessions, and were gratified to be clearly able to profit on these legs in the races proper.

The standard of the worlds fleet was so high that it was hard to pass boats when in a mid-fleet bunch, and recovery from an average first beat was hard work for anyone, however good. The length of the courses used also meant that small shifts over the course turned into big gains/losses with the leverage that existed between the sides.

After a long series, with the pressure on right up to the end, the feeling for us at the end of that final race was one of elation, one of achievement and also one of relief as our hard work had culminated in the ultimate prize a gold star.

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