Monday, 6 June 2011

TOUR OF TEXAS 2011 Melges 24 Worlds (11 – 21 May)

Photo: Fiona Brown
The two Australian teams competing at the Melges 24 2011 World Championships in Corpus Christi, Texas took delivery of their boats three days prior to the Pre Worlds Regatta.  The crews had been training back in Australia and were eager to check out the boats and Corpus Christi Bays predicted 15-20+ knot conditions with plenty of on and off water race preparation.  Warwick Rooklyn AUS 553 BANDIT (CYCA)  and myself AUS 686 COCO (RPAYC) 2011 and 2010 respective Australian Melges 24 champions  we were keen to compare our experiences in the relatively new and growing Australian fleet with the established US and International competitors.

Both crews were very experienced and competitive;
BANDIT -  Julian Plante, Doug McGain, David O’Connor and Jay Griffin
COCO -Rob Brewer, Andrew Stanning, Shaun Carroll and my thirteen year old son Harley Walters

This regatta was always going to be a case of jumping in at the deep end for  both Australian teams.  Soon after arriving we heard from the locals that several crews had attended training camps up to 4 months prior, plus competed in lead up Road to Corpus Christi events all season.

On our first training day, it was an unusually light day for Corpus Christi with a max 5 knot breeze  and a hazy, muggy 30 degree day.  The first boat we lined up with was the Norwegian boat NOR 804 Eivind Melleby,  a Star class Olympic medal contender .   We sailed up wind against them and were very competitive before setting spinnakers  and sailing down wind.  We opted for a runner and the Norwegians  for a reaching  shoot.  Their better boat handling skills allowed them to slowly slide away from us.  This concerned us at the time and was the start of our learning curve at the Melges 24 Worlds.

In the first invitation race in similar conditions the Norwegian crew won the race by a huge margin, they went on to win the Pre Worlds Regatta. We finished  fifth place in the light conditions of the Pre Worlds which was encouraging although as usual a lot of boats broke the starts and some didn’t finish.  Unfortunately this was no indication of what was to follow in the Worlds.

Overall weather conditions for the Worlds were 20 knots and bumpy.  The depth of the bay is 12 feet,  picking up a short, sharp, chop about 2- 3 foot deep and 2 foot apart.  We quickly realised  how beneficial those training camps at Corpus  would have been to practise driving the boat through the waves.
With the big chop the boats were hard to keep going without hitting waves in front and stopping . The chop was different on either tack which meant  some of the boats were setting up differently from tack to tack.
Lining up at the start for the first time all the boats had their Jibs rolled up from about three minutes until the start, they had established their position on the line, at one minute things were getting very tight and usually there is someone bailing out because they couldn’t hold their lane, then 20-30 seconds to go and jib out, GO GO GO !

Down wind was just AWESOME!!! Big waves to sail down and everyone down the back to keep the bow from belting the wave in front. On most runs the target speed was 14-16 knots but if you hit the wave in front you were down to say 9-10 knots which meant the difference between the good boats and the middle of the pack.

My crew put in 150% on water,  it was great sharing the experience with Harley,  I was concerned he may lose focus, but he’s done plenty of dingy regattas and was keen to learn from the other guys. It helped sending in 45 kilos off the rail in the heavy stuff.  The weigh in was interesting, while confident we were under the 360kg limit, we madly converted our weight to pounds on the day and just made it by 3 pounds after a week of Texan hospitality.

The IMCA held a meeting and there was much discussion reflecting the enthusiasm of the international Melges 24 competitors to come and race on Sydney Harbour at the 2014 Melges 24 World Championships, following San Francisco.

The boys on Bandit did a great job and finished the Worlds in 14th place. They are shipping their boat to Zenda to return for the US Nationals in September  where I’m sure they’ll put all their worlds experience to good use.

After pulling out of the last race with a broken rudder gudgeon we finished 20th place.  I would have preferred top ten but anyone that has sailed big fleet one design knows  you can be in amongst the pack with seconds separating ten boats, the overall experience  though was invaluable.
Harley was stoked when Federico from the third time Melges 24 World Champion winning crew on Uka Uka  all signed and presented  him  with a T shirt for best guy at the regatta.  Uka Uka ITA 817 dominated the regatta with a convincing 23 point winning margin.

Corpus Christi Yacht Club displayed fantastic Texan hospitality with a keg supplied after every race on the club house deck next to the pool and plenty of food, remember everything’s big in Texas.  Some of the boats hosted dock parties for everyone, comparing their successes and stuff ups.

Corpus Christi Yacht Club ran a world class event and was extremely helpful  with boat storage and logistics prior and post regatta.  Three cranes kept things travelling smoothly.  The social events were second to none, a memorable mid week function for the class only was organised at the state aquarium overlooking the bay.  They also organised a local Australian Professor  Gary Jeffress to help us out with anything we needed around town, this gave him an Aussie fix and was fantastic for us to be invited to his family home for an 8hr smoked traditional Brisket BBQ.

Off the water we focused on important things like finding a good coffee shop and then trained them on how to make a good brew and put in our weeks  lunch order . We almost caused a rebellion on the boat docked next to us ‘Rosebud’ when they spotted our gourmet sandwiches.  We attended the Corpus Christi Hooks Friday night Baseball game and took advantage of the good Aussie dollar to tick off the shopping lists sent from home.

Coco was packed up on the final day and is headed to Australia on the ship via Galveston. 
Harley and I checked out California Disney for a few days on our way back through LA.

We’re looking forward to a hosting a coaching clinic later in July for the Australian Melges 24 crews to focus on tuning, boat speed and boat handling as well as share what we learnt in Corpus prior to the start of the next Melges 24 Australian regatta.

Heath Walters

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Melges Asia Pacific

Back to work and  looks like we'll have another two Melges 32's joining the Australian fleet.  Having a meeting tonight with the International M32 Association regarding rules and weight limits and Regatta Schedule.  Also Aust M24 Assoc meeting regarding Melges 24 Nationals and States