The Irish team had a fantastic three days competing at the Kona Windsurfing Europeans in Båstad, Sweden last weekend. Racing started Friday morning, but most used the option to sail and compete in two practise races on the Thursday as well. Because all the equipment is one design it was possible to charter equipment at the venue, which all the Irish competitors availed of. No dealing with the hassle of checking equipment onto airplane, only a harness and boardshorts were required. Nice! The charter process was so easy that even those that arrived on Friday morning had no problem getting rigged and out for a practise sail before the first race.
Friday morning started with moderate wind, most sailors were planing as soon as they hit the water. The windspeed was dropping though as a new wind direction was filling in and it was below 10 knots by the time the first race started following one general recall. The biggest fleet in Ireland has been around 15 Konas so a start line with 70 Konas with all levels of sailor up to world class competing was a new challenge. In general clean wind could be found in the middle of the line or at the pin end, trying to start close into the committee boat was risky. Team IRL got off to good starts in the first race, as the field made their way up the first beat the wind was dropping substantially though. Going downwind in these conditions was an eye opener for everyone. Keeping balance was extremely difficult in the now very light winds when surrounded by other sailors. Keeping upright and avoiding trouble at the marks was the order of the day. Most lost positions during the race due to their inexperience in this area, but by the end everyone was reasonably happy to have got around and finished mid-fleet without any big problems. The second race was similar but everyone improved their position with the experience of one race behind them.
Two races down it was time for a quick lunch and back out to sea. The wind at this stage had dropped to zero and there was a wait on the water waiting for the new breeze to fill in. In the meantime the sailors were treated to display of freestyle from one of the Dutch sailors, most chose to save their energy for the race! The new wind direction finally filled in and the new course was set by the expertly organised race committee. The light conditions made for very technical racing which was not the Irish's strong point, as we just don't get these conditions enough in Ireland! The delay waiting for wind for the third race meant that there was no time to run a fourth.
Day 2, Saturday, started windy and it got windier as the day went on, a good day at the office! In Race 4 (first of the day) Cormac O'Brien registered Team Ireland's best result to date so far with a 27th. Ian Bradley was going well but got caught out at the narrow finish line, capsized and 10 people sailed past. The sailing was so close that even a simple mistake at a mark rounding could lose you 5 to 10 places. In Race 6 Ian improved Team Ireland's best result so far with a very well sailed 26th. In the final race of the day (Race 7) Cormac got a flier at the pin end and improved Team Ireland's best result to a 20th, a bit disappointed as he had been up in the top 10 most of the race but pleased to have briefly mixed it with some top sailors. By the end of the last race the wind was up to 20 knots and anyone with any energy left went for a blast out in the bay
Saturday night was the regatta dinner in one of Båstad's restaurants. Båstad was an incredible location for the event with great facilities on the beach and restaurants and bars within 100 metres. There was a huge amount of meat and food available at a BBQ buffet which was welcome after the strong wind earlier. The party was pretty relaxed though as everyone was tired, but also because the forecast for the final teo fleet races in the morning was looking like very strong winds again.
Saturday night rain and thunderstorms rolled through the area, unfortunately though by the morning the expected wind was gone and the sea was glassy. A delayed start of 11.30 and only one race was planned. Enough breeze arrived to get the race started, but only just. Again in these very light conditions all of the Irish team struggled a bit, good starts not being converted into results at the finish. It didn't matter too much as Ian and Cormac used this race as their discard. The final results for the Irish team finished Cormac O'Brien 33rd, Ian Bradley 44th, Andrew Christofides 51st and Martin Waldron 66th. These were some very credible results and there was definite improvement with each race and more experience of sailing in these conditions.
The Europeans really proved the value of the Kona concept. The top 10 included two girls, ex PWA sailors, Olympic hopefuls and an even spread of each sail size. It's a fun event for sure, but the racing is serious and very tightly contested all the way through the fleet. Team IRL don't know if they'll have a team for the Worlds in Florida later this year, but with an international event planned for Poland next year you can count on an expanded Irish team attending.
For more information on Kona sailing in Ireland see www.facebook.com/KonaWindsurfingIreland