The inaugural NWF Speed Challenge was held on the 18-19th April, hosted by the Official Test Centre (OTC) with a promising forecast of lots of sun and good winds, but sadly not being in the best direction (easterly which brings in big rolling swell throughout the harbour) so we always knew this was not going to be the normal S/W Portland speed strip.
Saturday morning arrived with sun and winds blowing 20 knots with waves rolling across the course as predicted. It was going to be a tricky day with the forecast pretty much staying solid 20-30 knots easterly so it was time to rig up and get motivated. My weapons of choice were my point 7 ac1 7.2m sail and my Starboard ISonic 90, equipped with a Drake R2R DW36 carbon fin I was then suited and booted and ready to race!
The NWF speed challenge wasn’t just about the fastest peak speed but also the fastest 10s and 250m, which in really choppy conditions was enough, with a double dip tide to contend with, it was a case of ‘Get out as soon as you can!’
On my first run I quickly realised this wasn’t going to be easy, there was no problem getting onto the plane, it was more of an issue keeping the fin and board in contact with the water. If you can imagine coming off the back of the 3 to 4’ swell at 30 plus knots, fin control and keeping the board straight was going to be the biggest challenge for sure and after a couple of runs the conditions seemed to get a bit easier with the falling tide. The massive swell gradually became a bit more manageable, not flat by any means but 2-3 foot so you kind of tried to wave sail down the face to get more speed.
I remember one run where I was following a fellow sailor down the course, thinking that I was gaining on him and that it could be quick. I wasn’t sure if I covered the 250m before I popped off the back of a wave in a classic speed crash, obviously not concentrating enough with the tide residing quickly due to the big springs so low water made the water state much better. With a very low tide we stopped for lunch and a quiet tune up.
In the afternoon the wind strength and direction had changed, there was more south in it so a change of board was in order, it was time to get my Starboard ISonic 107 out with a 38 gasoline fin, this turned out to be a great combo as the 2015 ISonic 107 is an awesome board, even with my 95 kilos on it. It works ideally with 7m up to a 8.6m.
It was now back to the speed challenge with the course being moved out further into the harbour, we were running along the swell, which was a lot easier, still a challenge for sure but not as much as the morning session. With a lot of runs in the bag it was Day 1 over. Lots of people had an awesome day, it was great to see so many kids out there flying along.
After a tired and challenging day the results were in, totally stoked with the 4th fastest 10s and the 6th fastest 250m - that’s not bad when you think that half the guys above me are locals and top racers. Obviously I was pretty stoked with that so it was time to chill out and a have a beer.
Sunday - Day 2 of the NWF speed challenge:
The winds were still fairly strong first thing but they were due to drop rapidly as the day went on, however, the sun was blazing through my camper window so it was time for a quick cuppa and to get rigged. After checking the forecast I decided to rig a 7.m (kindly loaned to me by Allan Cross) as my new point 7 ac1s was stuck in Customs awaiting clearance. After the briefing it was straight out to catch as much of the wind as I could, knowing it was dropping every second. I just about managed a couple of runs on the 7.8 before the wind died. I decided to head in and change up again to a 9.5m sail (another Al Cross special) and to my Starboard Isonic 130 and BPF 47.5. I hit the water once again, keeping an eye on the falling tide as big fins and a very low tide don’t mix very well. It was the best decision I had made all day, the 9.5m sail was super powerful, giving me massive lift and drive to get me flying down the course. With the course due to close by midday, I had just enough time to make a few good runs.
The guys from the NWF team and the OTC did an amazing job, with clinics from Zara Davis, Pete Young, Kev Greenslade and Steve Thorpe. It was a great turn out from the young and old, families included. All of this held at the best and longest speed sailing venue, Weymouth, home of speed sailing. There was a great atmosphere, lots of banter and everybody was in high spirits. The sun was shining over us all weekend which made it a pleasant weekend for spectators and competitors alike.
To be honest, at prize giving, I had no idea of the results as it was a two day event and both days speeds counted. With my persistence in the light winds I had bagged the fastest speed on Sunday. My average for the whole weekend was good enough so I came first overall. It was close though with less than a knot between the top two speeds.
Still buzzing as I write this report, Id like to thank the National Watersports Festival (NWF) and the OTC for running this awesome event which I hope gains momenteum each year, as this event is not just for the dedicated speed sailor. Its aim is to attract the intermediate free riders with its user friendly categories for families, techno and even no cam class, making it very assessable to all abilities and ages.
Big thanks to my sponsors Starboard, Point 7, Robinhood Watersports, Rockerline clothing, Black Project Fins and A&D signs who have assisted me greatly in order to gain my first event win.