Round Texel 2011

21-25.6.2011 Dutch Catamaran Open Championship and Round Texel

Vladislav Ptašnik

Monday, June 20, 2011

After a whole day travelling, we arrived at the Dutch island of Texel last night. In six days, we want to take part in the 34th year of the largest catamaran race in the world: Round Texel 2011. Yet, we would like to train a bit before it starts. In addition, we want to race in a circular race of the Dutch Catamaran Open 2011. Our team consists of Martina Barnetová, an accredited photographer, Martin Šedivec, crewmember on Predator, otherwise an experienced yachtsman from Tornado, RS 700 skiff and many other categories. Well, and me as the Predator’s helmsman. This is my second time at Texel.

As far as I know, this is the third time Czechs have competed in this race. In 2009, two Predators and one Tornado appeared at Texel for the first time. Predator navigated by David Křížek and Milan Hájek came in at excellent seventh place (uncorrected time). David Křížek together with Martin Šedivec appeared on the Paal 17 beach also in the following year of 2010 – with an Eagle 20 catamaran. They wanted to break the record around the island, but the harsh weather ruined their hopes. The race was cancelled (for the second time in its history) and they had to return home. Two Czech catamarans registered this year (2011). One is the already mentioned Predator crewed by Ptašnik-Šedivec, the other is F18 Hobie Tiger crewed by Kopun-Kratinoha.

We spent the first night among the dunes next to our car: Martina Barnetová in her mini-tent, Martin on the back seat in the car as he had left his sleeping bag at home and I on top of a tractor trailer under the stars. It rained at night, but not enough to force me to find shelter. The wind blew strongly, drying my sleeping bag perfectly before dawn. We gathered together somehow in the morning and went to the beach. A tractor had already towed the boat there. On the way, we met the other Czech crew, Jan Kratinoha and Jan Kopun. It is to be their premiere. They had driven through the night so they were going check in and take a nap.

We spent the morning assembling the boat and then checking in as well. It cleared up in the afternoon presenting us with beautiful sunny weather and wind of Beaufort force three to four. Ideal weather – it cannot get any better. This means: out of the bungalow and back to the water. The coastal surf was a bit greater due to the very windy weather in the previous day and night. The Nacra Infusion world championship was taking place on the circle close to the beach, with 30-40 vessels in it.

We left port and enjoyed fabulous yachting for nearly two hours. Sailing with gennaker on one hull is more difficult than back home due to the larger waves, but I got to used to it after a while and we dared to raise the hull pretty high. Martin wafted from the trapeze to the shore each time we passed our post on the beach. That’s where Martina was waiting for a good shot. The other Czech crew only arrived at the beach in the evening. The wind was dropping, but even they were able to test the gennaker and to have a ride. The forecast for the coming days was a lot of wind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The wind blew hard from early in the morning, force five to six. We were ready for further training. The second team was not there, so we set off on our own. The Nacra Infusion world championship continued with day two. Many boats gave up and returned to the shore, including our English neighbours from the beach. Before we set sail, they even asked us whether we really knew what we were doing and whether we had been to sea with our boat designed for lakes? We responded self-confidently, but it did not add to my self-confidence. We simply had to try it. The boat was jumping wildly with its sail up on the trolley and we were glad to finally get into the surf and to manage it so-so.

Courses against the wind worked for us nicely from the very beginning. I really appreciated Martin’s shared experience: It is necessary to lower myself down to deck level on the trapeze. Such a position is much more stable – one can brace the legs against the straight part of the hull and gain greater stability on the rough sea. The crew’s lowered centre of gravity acts efficiently against the sail’s tilting moment and it is easier to keep the windward hull above the water, so that the waves to not sweep the crew off the boat. Even though the trapeze was prolonged just by a few centimetres, the boat behaved completely differently, was more stable and we managed 10 m/s against the wind without problems.

However, what will it be like when we decide to turn back down after a few kilometres against the wind? Well, it did not work immediately, but it worked in the end. The first attempt to bear away resulted in capsizing over the bows. This was followed by a chain of unsuccessful attempts, when we avoided capsizing by a whisker. It proved that we needed to stay on deck as long as possible, even when the situation seemed unmanageable. The boat returned to both hulls several times from an unbelievable situation with the bows sunk in water and with the trampoline nearly perpendicular to the water level. Finally we learned the trick of how to bear away as needed. Daringly, we stretched the large 28 m2 gennaker. At first we were running nearly downwind. This course was manageable even in such waves.

Later on we tried to go more with the gennaker against the wind, which inevitably caused several somersaults over the bows. The boat accelerated unbelievably fast after this, but it lasted only over two waves. We reached the third one so fast from the back that we dived in it and ended up on our nose. Even a large attempt to bear away in front of it did not help. We returned to the beach after two hours. Both my self-confidence and my spirit had got much stronger. We had not believed we would be able to manage the large gennaker in a 10 m/s wind. I was encouraged also from our sailing against the wind as it was really aggressive and very athletic yachting.

Once on shore, my eyes were searching for the second team. And look: they had just set off and were about 100 m from the shore. Yet they turned back after a while not feeling comfortable in the large waves and the strong wind. A reasonable decision; something like this needed gradual development.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Dutch Open, day 1

I was sure that we would do OK today after yesterday’s training. It was Wednesday the starting day of the Dutch Open. There were two races planned for the day. The wind was nearly tearing the beach flags into shreds and lifting the sand into the air. It was blowing steadily at 9 m/s, with gusts up to 15 m/s. Ideal conditions for the windsurfing world championship, the slalom race of which was taking place right in front of the beach.

Yet, this might be too much for catamarans. We change the large gennaker (28 m2) for a smaller one (25 m2). A few moments before the start only two boats were on the water, while the others were still sitting on the beach hesitating. The judges were running around the teams encouraging them into the water. The waves were great. Yet the coastal surf did not look threatening. The west wind should help in overcoming it. We were the only 20-foot boat going for it. Many teams stayed on the beach having decided not to risk it. We got over the surf without problems; it took just a moment due to the strong wind. Just a few jumps, fins inserted, helms dropped, we bobbed up to the trapezes and off we went.

Soon it became clear that the wind was much stronger than the day before, tossing our boat wildly. Waves were also higher, occasionally throwing our boat completely into the air. We jibed on the way to the start – unsuccessfully. Our Predator slowly turned on its side and we ended up in the water. After a while we straightened the boat back – it went up almost on its own with the help of the strong wind. Being busy trying to manage ourselves, we missed the beginning of the starting procedure.

The starting signal came. We started slightly behind most of our competitors. The wind really wobbled with us, but we kept pace with the F18s. These smaller catamarans mastered sailing under these difficult conditions better, having a smaller sail and being well balanced. We lost it in the first turn – our boat stopped. On top of that, we crossed the ‘lay-line’ and we had to bear away at the upper buoy. Then the boat accelerated to 15-16 knots and we had to sail among a number of other boats that were already bearing away below and raising their sails. I could feel that I would not be able to stay in the trapeze for much longer with such a rough sea and high speed, fearing that we might hit one of the boats. The water was splashing in my face and I could not see much. Even Martin lost his balance and we had to support each other. Finally one wave swept over me. Luckily I was still close to the wind, so we slowed down and avoided a collision with other boats.

With difficulty, we managed to sail around one catamaran at the upper buoy. There were around six more boats behind us. And we went for the bearing away manoeuvre. We had become reasonably good at it by the end of the day. But it did not look like it this time. I gradually bear away, the boat speeded up to 15-16 knots and then we went with helms sharply down along the wind. And immediately we were in the water. We turned the boat back and gave it another try to bear away. And again, the boat bows dug into the water and went over. We were holding on tooth and nail on the trampoline, but it did not help. This was the first time I could see our Predator capsizing with its mast turning 180 degrees. For a while I found myself at a short distance from the boat, but I could not catch it. Working like crazy, I was swimming directly to the mast, but the boat was much faster than me. So-so I gripped the top of the sail, which nearly slipped through my hands. Well, I had never experienced anything like this. After a few moments both Martin and myself were standing on the top – or rather side – of the capsized catamaran, flowing with us along the wind at 3 knots with its mast resting horizontally on the water. A rescue boat was circling around us checking the situation. That calmed me down.

We went downwind for about 500 m, resting. Then we decided to drop out of the race and to return to the shore, so we put the catamaran back on the hulls. To get to our place on the beach, we needed to bear away after the wind. Should we fail to do so, we could get to the shore on the front course, but it would mean a walk of about 3 km back along the beach. We did not fancy that. We both went for trapezes and fixed also the rear ones as otherwise we would not be able to hold ourselves on the boat’s back during bearing away, would be catapulted over the prow, helping the boat to capsize. Up to then, we did the bearing away manoeuvre with both of us sitting on the trampoline. OK, so we bear away, accelerated, Martin called: “Wait a minute!” – and at that moment a wave swept him onto me. I helped him up, we both spat out the salty water and went for it again. It worked this time. We climbed on top of the trampoline, surfed on the waves with the tail wind – nearly precise course – and sailed all the way to the beach. This course was the slowest, but we were still doing around 11-12 knots, climbing up the waves and dropping down again. The boat accelerated to 17 knots after bearing away. The wind was blowing so strongly that bearing away could only be done with both of us counterbalancing the boat on trapezes. Our sail is simply too large and boat too narrow (3.05 m) for this. We agreed that we had not shown anything respectable this day. Such extreme conditions require more training and experience than we have.

Thursday, June 23, 2011, Dutch Open, day 2

Strong wind again. We measured 10 m/s and up to 14 m/s in gusts. Overcast, long waves about 1.5 m high. We could only see the masts of other boats and perhaps the heads of the crews from the troughs. The race began, but several starts failed due to too many boats being across the line. The start is always tough; the line width only just about accommodated the 90 boats. So we spent a lot of time waiting and rocking on the waves in waiting for the start. Luckily and surprisingly, the catamaran can be “parked” easily for waiting. Yet it rolled a lot.

Finally started. Having arrived at the upper buoy, we bear away towards the offset buoy, beyond which we raised the gennaker. The boat shot off and started jumping through the waves. Other boats close to us – either above or below – all with their hulls high in the air. Martin failed to click himself in the hook of the rear trapeze. As it was time to bear away, we clinched on to each other with our arms and bear away. But whoops! The bows went under water. No way to hold on to Martin. He flew fiercely all the way in front of the bowsprit. I stayed locked in the rear trapeze, hanging on it until the boat capsized. I only unlocked from it in the water. Martin injured his ankle and could not catch the boat. Standing on the capsized boat, I was signalling to the rescue boat. It was already jumping on the waves towards us aiming at the spot I kept indicating with my stretched arm. Martin was already about 40 m away from me. I could only see him when on the wave peaks. With the help of the rescue boat, Martin got back to me and together we turned our boat back to the hulls. Our gennaker sock was torn to pieces. The ankle in pain, we dropped out of the race for the day. Martin had to pack ice on the rising swell and I went around the island to find someone to repair the sock.

Friday, June 24, 2011, Dutch Open, day 3

Rainy morning, but it cleared up later on. We were early on the beach in spite of not sleeping much. Things needed to be fixed on the boat – and the previous night’s party could not be missed, could it? Not much of a wind at first. Before we set off, we found out that the Dotan helm stock had a crack. As the wind was not so strong, we decided to install new, untested helms. We arrived in 48th position out of 90 boats in the first race. Finally at least one race finished. The helms were much quieter, even though some swishing can be constantly heard from one of them. The wind gradually gained speed to 7-9 m/s. We started the second race reasonably well and were among the first 15 boats to turn around the first buoy. A similar position was still maintained in the second lap. Suddenly we spotted that one of the new helms was out of the stock having turned into the horizontal position. One of the helm compression bars broke. Martin doused the gennaker and unfortunately we had to drop out of the race from our 15th position. It was a pity as it could have been our best result. That was it for the day – at least we saved our strength for the main race around the island the following day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011, Round Texel

The weather forecast said that the wind would blow around 10 m/s at the time of the race start at 1 p.m. and would grow to 12 m/s one hour later. Then it would gradually calm down to a bearable 7-10 m/s. We decided to keep our 22m2 main sail as well as the large 28m2 gennaker. Our strategy was to get to the lighthouse within the first hour. Once there we would be able to manage the strong wind during the beating – being on smoother water on the leeward side of the island. Then we would do the final course with a “friendlier” tailwind of up to 10 m/s. After all, we sort of managed such winds in the previous days. Oh, how wrong we were…

10:00 a.m. briefing; we were soaking up information. Around 420 boats had registered. Then, together with the other Czech team, we tuned up both boats on the beach. The whole several-hundred-metres-long coastline was covered with catamarans. Not a single gap. It looked like the parking lot in front of Prague Ikea before Christmas.

The coastal surf was respectable. The moment we enter it, we start jumping high over the waves. But this was no problem under the west wind, which pushed us quickly across several fronts of wave crests. The last wind measurement on the beach showed 10-11 m/s. We adhered to the group of the best boats before the start. A reasonable space around, it wasn’t as crowded as expected. We lost the other Czech boat from our sight. It was overcast, dark, I could not tell if it was drizzling or if the water on my face was torn off the wave crests by the strong wind. Suddenly the wind felt stronger. The starting signal came after half an hour. We went for the trapezes, fixing also the rear ties – and bear away wildly. The waves were two metres high, the largest we saw during the whole week here. Bearing away just about worked, we returned to the trampoline and shot over the starting line. Martin moved to the mast to pull the gennaker’s tack-line. Only his weight moved to the front was enough for the next gust to somersault us over the bows. “Oh dear, this is not going to work for a gennaker,” is our discovery while swimming in the water. We turned the capsized boat back upright.

Back to the trapezes, to bear away and… Both of us in trapezes, we were helplessly watching from our scary height the bows dipping in a wave again. We flew up together with the boat back – only to “pancake” suddenly and stop the fall a metre above the water. The capsized hull was above us and we were hanging from it helplessly on the rear trapezes like two bales. We pulled the hull to ourselves all the way down to the water, climbed on top of them and temporarily tied the completely torn gennaker sock. The repair had not lasted long. The rescue boat was circling around us. We signalled we were OK and turned the boat upright again. Before it turned up, we managed to run to the trampoline. The rescuers probably concluded that we were professionals and let us be. Three minutes later, we were with the keels up again and the rescuers surely stopped thinking of us as of professionals.

Two more capsizes over the bows. We were still in the beach area, while the majority of boats were gone. It had been perhaps 20 minutes. One helm ran out of the suspension and was no longer vertical. The gennaker sock in pieces. A number of signal flares appearing in the sky from other crews asking for help. We decided to give up as well. A bitter decision. I had never thought we would not finish. But it simply could not be done with our boat; we had tried everything. Sailing back to the start, we estimated the wind speed at 15-18 m/s. Our strategy had failed. The wind had strengthened much earlier. I had never sailed on a catamaran in such a strong wind.

Our boat was designed for lakes and soft winds. Compared to the F18 or F20 Nacra catamarans (which are wider), it has a centre of gravity much closer to the bows. And this was a great problem here – not so much due to the wind but the waves. They would not allow the catamaran to gain speed with a tailwind, but rather slow it down and the tailwind would capsize the obstructed boat. Yes, we would have managed it with a smaller sail downwind, but would have been very slow upwind.

The other Czech crew (Kratinoha-Kopun) started successfully without their gennaker and kept their position bravely until the lighthouse. The wildest part was over. While sailing against the wind on the smooth water on the island’s leeward side, another catamaran got in their way. They had to lurch out of the string of boats sailing in the channel between shallows. They hit the shallows with their fins at full speed and were catapulted over the bows. The crew flew through the main sail and the race was over. They had to drop out of the race and together with many others, make an emergency landing on the other side of the island. Of the 420 registered boats only 147 finished the race.

Michal Maier would probably say: “The article’s good, but the results ’re f…ing bad.” You can judge the first yourselves, but the second is true. So hopefully next year again, perhaps with the new sea Predator?

Dutch Catamaran Open 2011
Round Texel 2011