The forecast was light to very light winds ahead of the second Mini regatta of the season – the Gran Premo Italiano which was to be raced out of the famous Yacht Club Italiano in Genoa Italy.
The double-handed race beginning and ending in Genova, Italy had an initial courser of 540nm passing the islands of Capria, Gigilo, Giannutri towards Pianosa and then heading south to Lacetta in Sardinia.
Conditions were not looking good for us as a large high pressure system settled over the Mediterranean, which would mean light winds for the race. We focused on preparing the boat and making it as light as possible for the race, thought the light winds and expected sunny conditions meant we needed to bring more food and extra amounts of water for drinking and cooking incase we became becalmed five days into the race.
Days before the race were focused on preparing the boat, and sourcing items in the shops of Genoa that were unexpected safety requirements for this race, such as a HF receiver to obtain weather forecasts.
Another big investment in time before the race was making some modifications to the RG to experiment with some new gear and design features. As the boat is still classed as a Prototype it allows us to do such things as make bigger outriggers, and modify bowsprits to find the best combinations for the RG when it becomes Series (not far off now as the 9th boat has now been sold!). So before the race I was busy sourcing aluminium to modify the RG outriggers to make them stronger and longer and hence gain better control of the pole when running square down wind.
One large part of race preparation for me is usually focused on study of weather and local conditions. Sadly as my laptop was recently ‘acquired’ by a group of people who apparently needed it more than me, I was unable to do the research that I would have liked for this race which would prove to be a great loss during the race – "A tactical race is only good if you know the tactics".
In the briefing before the race, we were given the meto forecast, and told that there would be four possible course options for this race that would be determined as we sailed to each mark so as to ensure that all boats were able to finish on time in the light conditions. The race committee were very helpful I the briefing, ensuring that race instructions were translated from Italian to French and English so all competitors could understand.
We were towed out to the start line, and it was a surprise to find a nice fresh breeze to start the race. As the start gun went we found ourselves in a great position, and lead the fleet off the line, with a plan to cover the rest of the fleet by sticking on the eastern side of the course.
As we raced down to the first mark of Capria, we found ourselves in a very good position, with a couple of local boats, some proto’s and the other RG 838.
We made good speed throughout the night, working the shifts as best we could to try and cover the fleet. My crew for the race Crazy John, who is a gun dinghy sailor, found conditions a bit choppy and fed the fish before sunset prior to taking some medication for the dreaded sickness. Unfortunately for Crazy, the medication was a little "strong" at change of watch at midnight on the first night, we were heading away from the fleet, with Crazy a bit dazed and confused, stating "I think these seasickness tablets make me hallucinate".
Thankfully by morning we found ourselves still in a good spot cover the fleet, and as we match raced the other RG to Capria the entire fleet was sitting below us near the coast of Cosica. While my instincts told me to go for speed and try to make ground on the fleet, plus follow the local knowledge that was focused on Cosica, my pride kept me above the fleet. A few hours later we were stuck in a massive wind hole next to Capria watching almost the entire fleet sail below us. Those who were not below us, were sailing close to the coast of Capria, and had found some local wind there.
We sat becalmed for over 6 hours, and by the time we finally got some breeze the fleet leaders were well ahead. We made fantastic gains over the next few hours playing the shifts between the islands, and almost had the leaders in our grasp when alas, another wind hole left us bobbing around.
This was the pattern for the rest of the race. Sit in a wind hole and wait for wind, then work our way back up to the front of the pack only to make another tactical error/have some bad luck, and find ourselves in another wind hole. I wish I had studied the local conditions with a fine tooth comb, however talking to the locals after the race they too were bemused by the local conditions.
The course was shortened to from 540 miles to 300 miles due to the light winds and the most southerly mark of La Cetta removed, taking the fleet north after passing the island of Giglio and Giannutri towards Pianosa,and instead of heading south to Sardinia we returned on the same route.
Three days of light wind and frustrating racing passed, and we finally rounded the bottom mark, and began making our way back to the finish in Genoa. The last two days our tactics began to pay off, as we stuck to the east of the course close to the Italian coastline to get the most of the katabatic wind during the night and make the most of a possible light sea breeze during the day. We worked our way through the fleet, and after 5 days of racing, we approached the finish surrounded by some very competitive boats even after being becalmed for 12 out of the last 24 hours! I began to get excited as I realised that we were still very much in the game.
We finally coasted across the line after over 10 sail changes in the last few hours of the race. Our mid fleet result was not exactly one to boast about, but it was better than I had expected two days into the race, and we achieved the main goal – I had now over 1000nm or racing under my belt I the RG650 816 and consequently had ticked one of the qualification boxes for the 2013 Mini Transat.
With 1000nm of racing now complete, all that remains is the 1000nm qualifier.. stay tuned!
Pic – Trying to keep the kite full in light conditions!