Friday, March 7, 2014

We have wind.The morning was freezing, exactly like the forecast said. And the wind announced itself by beating the flags hoists on the masts in front of our hunting cabin. Its owner, Vahur, is a hunter and he rebuilt the cabin from a former farmhouse. Vahur allowed us to sharpen our runners in the butchering room. There was light from fluorescent lamps in the evening. But we soon moved back to the cabin and worked in the side hallway. The light there was poor, but it was warm and there were no remains of blood and the insides of butchered animals. Vahur did not mind, after all we always cleaned up our mess. Vahur must have been a serious shooter; he really did not care about changing switches and or metal fittings on the door. Roman almost bought a new shower head.

In the harbour the wind almost tears the flags apart and knocks over unsecured yachts. We see more open water in the bay. Some contestants are preparing the boats; others are waiting for the meeting. A few are packing up right away, not prepared to race in this weather. At the skipper’s meeting, Stan Macur looks gloomy and serious, so am guessing there will be no Europe Championship racing today. Stan tells us otherwise though. The racing track is in a perfect condition, a wind of 8 to 10 m/s. Gusts of 12 m/s from time to time. His only worry is for the wind to not get too strong too soon. This afternoon and tomorrow should be even windier.

The skipper’s meeting was held right next to my boat, so I’m hopping in and starting off at once. While on the way, I have some doubts when I feel the wind on my own sail. Right before I leave, I also hear Stan being informed over his walkie-talkie that there are gusts of 14 m/s on the ice. Other contestants around me don’t understand Polish and I’m keeping this to myself.

We are at the start one hour before our race. We unpack stuff from our overloaded yachts. And start testing. With great care. I have trained and raced in this kind of wind before, but still. The boat without its load is controllable though, we just need to set our masts to the “tougher” position. The strong wind deforms them too much, slowing the boats down. I don’t have a speedometer with me, but it’s clear we will be reaching one hundred today.

Martin smashingMe and Martin start the first race of the last day of EC. I didn’t do very well during the start. I felt like I got the boat moving well and smoothly and that it continued moving that way. My misconception was revealed by three rivals, who passed by me and the others at a crazy speed with extremely bent masts. So that’s how you do it…I bear away, speed up madly and bend my mast like mad as well. Now I can keep up with them. I keep behind Martin for the whole race, he even sails in fourth position for a while. On the downwind I  gybe sooner than he does, and it pays off. I see I will be at the finish before him. I finish 6th. No sign of Martin. He started rotating a short way before the finish line. He fell from 8th position to 20th. That’s what I call bad luck.

Vojta smashingSo the Czechs are moving forward. That’s what we hope for Roman and Vojta, who are standing on the starting line, as well. The boys are starting and me and Martin stand on the starting line and wait impatiently to see the score at the lower buoy. I don’t notice Roman’s score. Vojta is arriving around 15th. For safety reasons, the starting line is so far from the lower buoy today we can hardly recognize the numbers on the sails. Second lap. No sign of Roman. At the next buoy, Vojta goes into a big skid, immediately turning his boat around three times! Vojta was not hurt, he stayed in the boat. As the centrifugal force in the cockpit tossed him from one side to another, the sides of his boat cracked. But he bravely starts the boat again, continues and finishes in 21st place. Roman still nowhere to be seen. “Can you not see him? There he is!” Martin points at a pile in the middle of the track. Roman went into a skid during running in the second lap and had a light collision with a Swedish contestant. His boat is damaged though, so the race is over for him.

Things are moving forward fast. I like this, our boats are fast in these conditions. The truth is you have to be really careful when stirring; the moves have to be mild and smooth. The biggest problem might be gybes, one mustn’t turn them too much, or he goes into a skid right away. Passing at the lower gate is also very difficult, I struggle quite a bit there. Less and less contestants at the starting line of each new race. In almost every heat one or two ships drop out (or, to be precise, fall apart). Our next places: Martin 4th, 7th and 14th. I score 7th, 12th, 11th. And Vojta 16th, 17th, 14th.

Láďa smashingAt the start of the fourth race, Martin, not by his fault, gets into a collision with Polish contestant P-24. After the start, this contestant bore-away on Martin and almost hit his leg. We have a talk with him after the race, but it doesn’t look like he understood what happened. We want to protest the race to teach him better, but Martin changes his mind and lets it be. Sadly he cannot continue, Ice Predator lost the front axle. We concluded it must have been a long-term problem speeded up by the collision. I assume the fifth and last race of the day. At the upper buoy I am even in 3rd position, after L-37 and P-311. L-37, the Finn Timo Caravaitis, is a firefighter from Helsinki. He is sailing incredibly fast today and he is going to win this race, for the third time today. P-311, Wojciech Worek from Polish Gdaňsk, races on a F18 catamaran in summer. Once a year we join them with our Predator too. He is really good on ice, he raced in fleet A last year. I can’t keep my third place for long, few fighters overtake me. Before the upper buoy in the last lap, there comes a majestic wind gust. My mast bends really quite a lot. I am not releasing the sheet at all and I go to a bear-away around the buoy. What came next was something I have never experienced before. The gust took me, bent the mast beyond my imagination and catapulted me forward. The windward runner never stopped touching the ice during this. Several things run through my head at the same time. The mast is going to break. Blood from my legs and body is going to squirt through my ears because of the acceleration. I am going to overtake the guy in front of me. Fortunately, neither the first nor the second really happened. The third one did though. I am finishing eighth and the EC in ice sailing is over for me.

Me and Martin cheer up Vojta at the start of his last race, which is attended by less than a half of the original number of contestants. Exactly as forecast said, the wind is getting stronger. I warn Vojta to be careful. The difficult but not extreme conditions tested the skills and equipment of all of us. Only the most resistant remained, so Vojta’s job is hard. He finished in 18th place, with no incidents.

DN EC 2014, HaapsaluWe are packing up. The ice at the shore in the harbour was damaged quite a lot in the meantime. We work hard to get our equipment and boats on the shore without getting wet. But it was worth it. A day like today makes up for all the waiting for wind, all the struggle to get on the ice, all the work in workrooms and garages. Ice sailing is close to Formula One in Niki Lauda’s era in the recently screened film “Rivals”. One hour on the track is paid for by at least 10 hours in the workroom.

The guys are leaving for home; I go to the evening results announcement. This year’s season is not over for me, I am taking my equipment from Estonia directly to Kiel, where a container is waiting, heading towards Baikal. If I have enough energy, I will report at the beginning of April from there.

Just 4 hours drive to south...Well, we will see what happens.

Total results of the Czech Team at the EC 2014 
Fleet B
Vladislav Ptašnik, CZ 112, 10th place (21st, 25th, 6th, 7th, 11th, 12th, 8th)
Martin Vacula, CZ 92, 12th place (13th, 11th, 20th,4th, 7th, 14th, DNS)

Fleet C
Vojta Komárek, CZ 113, 18th place (26th, 42nd, 21st, 16th, 17th, 14th, 18th)
Roman Roček, CZ 100, 42nd place (38th, 22nd, DNS, DNS, DNS, DNS, DNS)

Overall EC results here.