Fleetwood, England, 1-7 June 2002
About 79 skippers arrived in Fleetwood for the fourth European IOM Championship. Lovely weather on the measuring Saturday allowed al fresco lunches and gave sunburn to the unprepared (yup, that was me). Practice runs showed Don Martin's (CAN 88) "Miomi" design to be fast, along with Jeff Byerley's (AUS 61) new "Cockatoo". As the event showed, Don was unfortunately unable to fulfil the clear promise of his design, while Jeff was a consistent "A" fleet runner and finished in 10th overall.
There were no surprises during measurement, though one or two skippers were seen to be removing a little lead from the very bottom of their bulbs, and one or two skippers were re-inking their sail marks. Well, there were a couple of minor surprises, mostly to do with skippers turning up with rigs which had not been fundamentally measured. The Race Committee was deeply puzzled by this, since the event measurers could not and would not carry out such measurement, and until such measurement was carried out, the boat was clearly unable to participate. What were these skippers thinking?
Day 1 opened overcast and breezy. The seeding race got underway with the two innovations of the championships in place – the use of umpires instead of observers, and the use of the HMS promotion and relegation racing system where promotion is immediate, not delayed by one race as in HRS. As a result, HMS only uses one seeding race instead of the three of HRS.
Mike Clifton (GBR 108) had a bad seeding race, and showed why the HMS system is much preferred by most skippers. He started in "E" fleet and worked his way up to "B" heat by finishing in the top four every time. He just missed out making it to "A" heat by about 5 cm when Franco Borin (ITA 31) pipped him on the line for the last promotion slot.
A protest held up "A" fleet for quite a while, since it concerned one of the boats potentially promoted. This showed why HMS is not preferred by race officials and by some other skippers, since protests under the old HRS are much less likely to hold the event up.
After the seeding race, "A" fleet comprised Stefano Savelli (ITA 54), Keith Skipper (GBR 90), Mark Dicks (GBR 66), Peter Spence (GBR 36), Andrea Roberts, Marc Minaud (FRA 13), Robbie McIntosh (GBR 114), Roberto Valle (ITA 05), Martin Roberts, Laurent Chapelot (FRA 92), Chris Harris (GBR 21), Jeff Byerley (AUS 61), Peter Stollery (GBR 139) Trevor Bamforth (GBR 33), and Phil Playle (GBR 77). They were joined by Mark Dennis (GBR 19), Graham Bantock (GBR 95), Franco Borin, and Ken Binks (GBR 72), the four who had earned promotion from B heat. Only half of these early "A" fleet skippers would finish in the top 16.
For the first "real" race of the event, Roberts led off the line and won by a country mile, stamping his clear authority right from the start of event. Bantock finished second, always having to fight for position. Harris pulled up to third, Stollery was fourth and Valle in fifth, an excellent result for him from being last off the starting line.
Throughout the event, "A" fleet saw close racing all the way down the order. In most club races, it is common to have the winner two legs or more ahead of the last place boat, even when sailing IOMs which are usually evenly matched on boat speed, but at these championships it was not unusual to have the whole of "A" fleet on the same leg at the time the winner took the honours. Now that's close racing.
At the end of day 2 and 5 races with 1 discard, the leaderboard showed Roberts in front with 8 points, Bantock 12, Borin 17, Spence 17, Valle 20, Stollery 23, and Byerley 24. Martin Roberts never looked back, while Graham Bantock had a long fight on his hands.
The racing during day 3 saw the umpiring system, and the race organisation, settle down and begin to run a little more like clockwork. At the start of the event, the umpires had reacted proactively in calling penalties without waiting for skippers to protest. Later on, they eased this practice (except for calling mark contacts) and only called penalties when they heard a protest hail. A number of skippers were unaware of this change, however, and expressed their views quite forcefully at a de-briefing held at the end of day 2.
While umpiring had been used for the first time, very successfully, at the IOM World Championships in Croatia in 2001, an innovation for this event was the placement of umpires away from the skippers and close to the marks of the course on the far bank. These umpires kept in touch with umpires next to the skippers within the control area by radio walkie-talkies. While this arrangement almost certainly gave more accurate calls, they were not necessarily fairer calls. In particular, the umpires on the far bank could not overhear the skippers on the near bank talking to each other about who had an overlap and who would give room, and as a consequence a number of unnecessary penalty calls were made. Of course, seeing the overlap in the first place was difficult for skippers since the control area was not raised in any way, and the far marks provided quite a test of eyesight at the best of times. It is clear to me that the umpires should be kept with the skippers in the control area and not given privileged positions for observation.
Day 3 also saw the emergence of local knowledge as a factor in the event. The wind on the lake was from an awkward direction, and showed turbulence and shifts which were very difficult to predict. GBR skippers who had experience of sailing on Fleetwood lake, particularly vane sailing, put their knowledge to excellent use, and pulled up the order, sometimes quite dramatically.
Peter Spence’s serious challenge for second place in the event took a blow on day 4. Leading "A" fleet he snagged a plastic bag and drifted back to last place before he could bring the boat in. He just managed to stay in "A" heat. The loss of these 14 points was more than the difference, in the end, between his eventual position and the second place that was available to one of the five or six skippers behind the event leader Martin Roberts. Trevor Bamforth had sailed a quiet and efficient set of races to join the group just behind the leaders.
After race 10 and 2 discards, Roberts remained in first place with 28 points and Bantock in second just one point adrift on 29. There was a gap to Stollery 37, Bamforth 39, Spence 44, Priestley 45, Harris 54, Borin 54, Trevor Binks (GBR 72) 57, and Graham Elliott (GBR 42) 58.
Steve Landeau (USA 112) had struggled early on in the event to find his sailing form, but was now a consistent, well-placed runner in A fleet. He ended the event in 12th place, and the 3rd non-GBR skipper, an excellent result. (Well, Andrea Roberts was listed as NZL and was ahead of Steve in 11th, but we all know that she has been sailing in the UK for the last few years, so I've not counted her as a non-GBR...)
As the day progressed, Roberts extended his lead with relaxed, apparently easy high placings, and it became clear that Bantock would have to find something special to hold off the challenges of Bamforth, Elliott, Binks, Harris, Stollery, and Spence. These top GBR skippers were only troubled by Borin (ITA) and Byerley (AUS) as the top non-GBR competitors.
The final day started in No.2 rig, and was also overcast, but eased to No.1 rig quite quickly. When the third discard kicked in after 19 races, the leaderboard saw a shuffle in the top places. Roberts was very well ahead, but Graham Elliott disposed of a particularly troublesome score to pull ahead of Bamforth into second place, while Bantock was unable to similarly dispose of an awkward score and saw Spence, Stollery, and Trevor Binks move ahead of him.
The last "A" fleet race of the event began with a general recall. Most of the heat were on No.2 rig, but some opted for No.1. Second place in the event overall was up for grabs between Elliott and Bamforth, while fourth place was also up for grabs between Spence, Bantock, and Stollery. Elliott and Bamforth match-raced each other to the back of the fleet, allowing Elliott to take second place overall. Borin, Moreno, Byerley, Phil Playle (GBR 77), Stollery, Roberts, and Landeau led at the windward mark. By the leeward mark Stollery was ahead in No.1 rig, with Borin, Byerley, and Moreno behind. Up the beat Stollery pulled well ahead and rounded ahead of Borin, Byerley, and now Playle with Roberts, Moreno, and Clifton next. At the finish, Stollery clinched fourth place in the event overall by winning the heat from Borin, Roberts, Byerley, Playle, Clifton, Moreno, and Spence. This put Spence in fifth place overall and Bantock in sixth, ahead of Borin, Binks, Harris, and Byerley.
Gordon Sears, who kept the Web site up to date with event reports, calculated that the average heat took 13 minutes, there were only 34 protests heard, and the most successful designs were, in order, Gadget, Italiko, TS2, Ikon, Ericca, Stealth, Cockatoo, and Quattro.
The most interesting boat of the event was undoubtedly that of Michael Scharmer (GER 09). His design "Scharming Mk VII" had a number of unique points, not least being a wooden mast and wooden booms, with fittings consisting almost exclusively of just steel staples, line, and bowsies. Scharmer started in "E" fleet, but by the end of the event was in "A" fleet as the top GER skipper and had clearly developed the tune of his rigs very effectively indeed. Special mention should go to the whole GER team, who had the best turned-out and best presented boats of the event.
Other special features of the event included Roberto Valle’s guitar playing at the pondside while the heats were in progress – skilled, soothing, simple classical pieces in the Italian style – and the knowledgeable sailing of Per Trolle (DEN 150) and Erik Rasmussen (DEN 60), experienced dinghy skippers who knew where to put themselves on the course for maximum effect.
I understood that the Race Committee ordered a variety of check measurements of boats chosen "at random", and that none was found out of order. I also saw the Race Committee "encouraging" a number of skippers to get their sail marks right, particularly the spacing between the national letters on the mainsail.
My event? My Italiko was fast, but the grey cell in my brain blew out early on. I could never find the right tune for the conditions, nor could I read the shifts successfully, and I was only infrequently on the right side of the course. My apologies to all the boats I bumped into... One of these days I hope to learn how to race well; I know more than one skipper who hopes this happens soon...
©2022 Lester Gilbert