Round Fehmarn 2009

14.-16.8.2009 Fehmarn Rund – two Predators in the top ten.

By Vladislav Ptašnik

At Fehmarn again. This year 82 boats gathered, 49 of them in our category. We raced here with a smaller sail last year, and it was the very first sea race for me and for Tadeáš. This year, two boats came from Bohemia. The first was CZE 007 and the second CZE 008, brought by Milan Hájek and Martin Mudra. We arrived two days in advance, but we could not train the first day as the wind was force 6, waves were rather big and we did not want to risk. But on the day two, we went twice.

The wind was milder (4-5) and the waves were large only in the morning. Yet it made the boat jump pretty high. Milan managed to capsize our Predator – for training reasons obviously – at least that’s what he claimed afterwards. In the afternoon training, we compared three Predators, being joined by Claas Schwandt. In spite of various technical challenges with rudders and fins, the training was successful. An evening briefing in our shared tent and we went for it on Saturday morning. Milan and Claas started reasonably well, but our boat was worse off. Well, better said it was a catastrophe. We got stuck at the start not being able to put the boat in motion for an awfully long time.

Gennakers went up right beyond the first buoy soon after the start. On the smooth water, we managed to catch up relatively quickly with the first group in which Claas and Milan were. Yet, once we got out of the water sheltered by the land and caught the strong southwest wind, the waves got bigger and our speed levelled up with the F18s and with the first group and we stopped gaining on them. At that time the wind blew at force 5 and our over-sailed boats with large spinnakers had to sail more down the wind. In the first hour we nearly capsized three times after the bow stuck into a wave. I said to myself: “We must sail more carefully, with only limited power.” Just head up a bit and the boat equipped with a gennaker will take off like a wild horse, get over three or four waves, but stick to the fifth one and if it does not capsize, then it will almost stop. “We must sail more carefully and more down the wind,” I said to myself. And at that very moment I could see Milan and Martin performing a somersault. We were doing our best to take care of ourselves, so we just dashed past them. Hopefully they would catch up with us.

We could see Claas somewhere in front of us. We could feel that neither the wind, nor the waves suited us; the F18s around us were as fast as us, if not faster. We sailed through the first gate at the northwest of the island and started passing single-hulled sail boats that had started an hour before us. With one eye, I noticed that their spinnakers kept them very busy. Suddenly a wild whiz and here they go: a spectacular “Chinese gybe” of the single-hull next to us. The boat was completely on its side, but there was no time to watch. We were whooshing on. It was not the only one as we soon saw around. But now our gennaker needs to go down as we are beginning to turn around the northern point of the island to the east. It has been an hour since the start.

We are wildly reaching passing more mono-hulls. The bows no longer stick to the waves so dangerously, but we are running only on the main sail at 15-18 knots with Tadeáš at the rear trapeze and me on the hull. Being flooded by constant splashes of water from the bow, I cannot see much. It feels like being sprayed by a garden hose directly on my face from three metres. On top of that, each time we get over a well-shaped wave, it is as if someone splashes about three buckets of water from two metres directly onto my face. In such moments, I always head up to be on the safe side. If I don’t do it, once we get out of the flood, we might find ourselves flying pretty high on the float, close to capsizing. Now I understand why some teams use swimming goggles. I am shouting at Tadeáš that I am looking forward to close hauling. And it comes in a minute.

Heading up around a buoy we jump on trapezes.  Sharply against the wind is probably the safest course. The boat is slowing down to a mere 12-14 knots with us standing on the hull, now high above water. It must be high enough to make sure that the waves do not snatch our feet off the deck. My head is dry now, but such a ride requires absolute concentration, watching closely the gusts and the waves, and working with the tiller and the sheets. In addition, the trapeze waistcoat is beginning to pinch in various ways. After an hour of continuous sailing in the trapeze, I order a turn. We are both going to the trampoline to catch our breath for three minutes and to drink a little water. Then another turn and back to the trapezes. It is much better – for five minutes – and then even worse. Another half an hour of close hauled sailing and staying on the trapeze. We are getting closer to the southeast corner of the island and sailing through another gate.

Two and a half hours since the start. The waves here are the greatest, we have to hold on really tight not to fall out of the boat while turning before the passage through the gate. A side wind again, we are not very good at these large waves. Ouzo, a friendly F18 is catching up. Damn, how do they do it? Suddenly a really nasty wave – I did not expect such a smack – glasses are still on, but where is Tadeáš? The wave swept him off the trapeze all the way down to the rear beam. Having swung backwards, he is returning, hanging on the trapeze, half way down in water he is hitting the tiller transversal tube and thus causing the boat to bear away. The windward float is shooting upwards. Luckily I manage to correct the course, preventing capsizing.  Tadeáš is shouting something, but being shocked I am not paying attention. We are turning the boat more against the wind and by a sharp twitch I am pulling him up to the trampoline. While doing it, another splashing of water tears his neoprene sock from his foot. He will have to finish the race with one bare foot.  Retrospectively I am considering what he was shouting while hanging on the trapeze and being dragged by the wake behind the nearly capsizing boat: “Dad, do you want to take a picture of me?” This calms me down and we can go on.

The wind is turning and gaining in strength again. It is the strongest I have ever experienced on a catamaran – at the straits before the bridge to the island. My guess is force 6 at the peaks. Luckily the waves are disappearing. The boat is rearing up like a horse and in spite of the cunningham tightened to the maximum and both of us hanging in the trapeze, there are moments when the boat is touching the water only with one metre of the leeside float and all the rest was flying in the air.  We are slowly pushing our way through at around 10 knots. We are heading up with only one goal: to finish the race without capsizing. Our bodies are hurting in the trapeze and we can’t wait to see the finish. It is not so far away and after an exhausting 4 hours and 2 minutes of total time, we are sailing through the finishing line. We have done 80 km at an average speed of 11 knots. It has been the hardest race for us so far.

We received bad news upon our arrival: Milan & Martin could not finish the race.

Good new was that Claas ended up  6th in our open category arriving 17 minutes before us, and we finished 8th.

Results here.     Video clip.        Pics here.       Milan Hájek View.