I thought it would be nice to share the experience I had recently…..
Our team has just come back from Malmo Sweden after participating in the J24 World Championships. The J24 class is the world’s largest keel-boat sailing class and each boat has a crew of five people. On our boat are: Borstnar Valdimir (helm), Ng Daojia (trimmer), Borstnar Rafaela (center), Ronnie Tay (mast), and Omar Agoes (bow). This year’s world championships had a total of 55 boats with teams from 14 different countries. Asia Pacific was represented by three countries; Japan with four entries, Australia with two, and ourselves as the sole Singapore entry.
Malmo is a beautiful Scandinavian city with a population of 280,000 people. It is Sweden’s third largest city and a very close neighbor of the Danish Capital Copenhagen, a 30 minutes train ride across the bridge. The scenic waters that we sail in are in between Sweden and Denmark and are one of the locations of the previous America’s Cup acts.
On the opening day, Malmo’s Deputy Mayor gave the J24 fleet a very special welcome and invited the fleet to a formal three course dinner with candlelight at Malmo’s beautiful and historic city hall. After eating modest food the past couple of days, this meal with crisp napkins and was a real treat! To top it off, three different wines at every table and free flow champagne made all feel like royal dignitaries. We still don’t know what they served us, but Ronnie swears it was Moose a common meat in Sweden.
Measuring session was very meticulous with a shortage of 1mm on the keel’s trailing edge being an issue with the official measurers; we had to add filler to the keel of our charter boat. Our charter boat (called JJ One) came with a brand new mast and unfortunately it was too long. The Germans, whom we chartered it from, broke their mast in the recent J24 European championships. So the start of the regatta began by cutting up the boat!
The good news is that we surprised ourselves with our personal figures. We were heavier than we thought. Between the five of us, we weighed a total of 377 kg. which is closer to the optimum and maximum weight of 400 kg. Our weight has been our discussion for the past year and we have been trying to lose and gain weight all year long. One boat’s total crew weight measured at exactly 400.0 kg, this tells you how competitive this regatta is, and everybody wants to as close to perfect weight. Well on the picture attached; we are seen leading a pack and hiking the boat flat. Sailing is one sport where you can have the excuse of gaining weight for the sake of the sport!
On the first day of racing, the wind was a constant 25 knots with gusts clocked at over 30 knots. Everyone left the marina with their genoas, and by thirty minutes, the whole fleet changed to their smaller jib. The problem was; your non-professional bowman did not train enough with a jib before.
Malmo was supposed to be light winds just like Singapore! Unlike our other sails, our jib is over two years old has never ever been used for racing. This lack of use resulted in lack of practice, which resulted in problems at mark roundings, lines got so messed up that the bowman fell off the deck for the first time in his sailing career, but fortunately had his leg wrapped around the lifeline and dangled off the boat. The mast-man pulled me back on the boat, I will always remember Ronnie for this. Despite this incident we only lost one position.
On the first race, strong gust hit us and it got very exciting when we did a “Chinese jibe”, another first for me! For those that don’t know what this is; trust me, it’s not good. The boat broached (tipped over sideways) and our trimmer “DJ” saw our winch in the water. In the process our pit Rafaela hit her head on the boom. Fortunately it was not severe just a bit painful she said. We are not used to this strong wind and reaching the finishing line on this race was a welcome relief; one Japanese team crossed the finish line with their mast as their boat was tipped over for quite sometime (picture below). We lost about ten positions in this race and ended up at 30th. I am just glad we finished and didn’t sink the boat.
On the second day, it got even more interesting as winds were howling. We reckon that the race started in over 25 knots and built up to a constant 32 with gusts hitting almost 40. I have not been in a race started in so much wind. Imagine 55 eager competitors pushing hard at the start line at over 25 knots of wind and despite my numerous racing experiences, I must admit this view was a bit frightening for me. And to top it off, I could not believe that after rounding the top mark, spinnakers were hoisted! This is the fastest sailing in a J that any of us have ever done. The boat surfed and we passed down six boats downwind who either had problems (broached, broken pole, pitch dived, blew spinnakers, etc) or didn’t have the “stuff” to put the spinnaker up. A Danish crew remarked to me this race is a race for survival.
Again on the third day, Malmo was wet wet wet. Rigging the boat in drizzle and muggy weather was how the day started. Its cold and its windy. Even the Swedes kept saying “it shouldn’t be like this”. Winds were pumping and then again, our jib was out. But after yesterdays creepy conditions, it was a relief to have a race below 30 knots. Unfortunately we touched the top mark and had to take a penalty of 20% of the fleet position. Due to the fleet size, this regatta applies yellow flag penalties instead of penalty turns.
One highlight of the regatta was our run-in with the Brazilians. The Brazilian team is a god in the J24 class; they are the current world champion and have collected the most world championship titles in the past. They are professionals. On a down wind mark rounding, these guys (we think) pulled a trick on us which resulted in a contact by our sail touching their boat. We took another yellow flag for this, this time with a 40% penalty! I call this trick the “Brazilian”, for those of you who are curious to know what it is…any of our crew will tell you in exchange for a beer. They didn’t do as well in this regatta and ended up ninth, and up to day three they were behind us in the points. Sailing is like this sometimes, you just can’t seem to get that monkey of your back.
Again on the fourth day the jib went to work, it’s still windy at over 20kts. The start of the first race took three attempts. In fact, of the total 10 races in this regatta, six were started on a black flag. As perspective, in my 11 years of racing lasers, I probably only seen three back flag starts. A black flag is used to control a fleet that is too ambitious to cross the line.
After five days, ten races, numerous rain showers, and several penalties, we ended up 18th overall. Considering it is one of the worlds toughest sailing fleets, we are all happy with the result and sitting among the top third of the world’s best fleet. An American boat won the regatta, with England and Italy in second and third.
It has been an exciting event, there was wind everyday and it was a lot of it. After all that cold weather sailing, I am glad to be back in Singapore where the waters are warm and bow-man friendly. But then again, I can’t wait for the next one!