2004 Sunfish World Championships Racing Report
by David D. Thompson
The 2004 Sunfish World Championships were just one surprise after another. #1. Our boats were still in boxes and we had the joy of putting them together in gale force winds and drenching downpours because (surpise #2) the remains of Hurricane Ivan decided to blow into town. #3 No practice race (see #2). #4 I had no clue how to setup a new style Sunfish to go fast. #5 Dick Tillman, legendary dinghy racer and president of the International Sunfish club, was parked next to me (100 boats assigned alphabetically). Dick was a huge help (see #4) which was not a surprise; I've raced him before.
Surprise #6 on the first day of racing was waking to high winds and the flu probably due to suprises #1 and #2. Planing at high speed is one of the fun parts of Sunfish sailing, but after the first couple of miles the fun fades and the cramps set in. It was a more than 3 mile reach to the racing area from the Hyannis Yacht Club beach. I arrived at the starting line winded and seriously wondering if I was well enough to compete. It is surprisingly difficult to open those "handy" little packets Immodium comes in while bouncing around in three and half foot seas.
"Press On Regardless" and all that sort of Nelson at Trafalgar stuff. The start line was long enough and more for all 100 boats so I steered clear of the mess at the committee boat and reached down the line at speed hoping to shoot an opening at the gun. Wrong. 99 sailors sheeting in at the gun creates a backwind that has to be experienced to be believed. I stopped dead in the water and was lucky not to capsize. After a couple of tacks up the middle looking for clear air I found a lane on port tack and started passing a few boats. I must have been more excited about actually racing in the Worlds then I realized because I sort of forgot to breathe, thus surprise #7. My entire body cramped. I could not move a muscle. Good thing the boat was balanced and footing along reasonably well in those seas. After some deep breathing and contemplation of my mortality, I got control of my body back in time to tack away from a long line of skippers yelling starboard at me. In the end I beat a few boats and a couple were black flagged for early starts. So went the rest of the day.
Given that many boats on the water, it's not surprising that many mini races were going on besides the overall. You tend to end up sailing with more or less the same group whether things are going well or ill, which probably shows more about our understanding of wind and tidal currents (heavy off Hyannis) than sailing skills per se. I would guess that my boat speed was equal to all but the top six or so but I had no idea how to play the current. My wind reading skills have improved but need a lot more work. When I guessed right on a leg I would claw half way up the fleet and see a lot of faces I didn't recognise and then guess wrong and end up near the back again. Aaarrgh!
Days two and three were more of the same, only in light airs and small seas, which was a Godsend to someone still fighting off a bug. Suprise #8 was seeing Dave Stuart on the dock as I sailed in after day three feeling down and exhausted. My best student, and an ace racing coach, Dave had some ideas and observations that left me more hopeful for the last day of racing.
I felt better, but still weak, as we headed out for day four with good wind and building seas. I sailed better in the first two races, but didn't finish any higher. The last race turned out to be my best for the week. I saw pressure building over toward the Kennedy compound and tacked away from the fleet after a passable start. It's nice to be right at least sometimes. I rounded the windward mark with a bunch of strangers and saw no more than thirty boats ahead of me. Yahoo! I tried the same stunt for the second windward leg and it worked again. The third time was not a charm as the wind veered all the way over the right hand side of the course and I slid down to 73rd place. Oh, well. Even though I didn't file a protest, I was later placed 72nd due to being t-boned by a directionally challenged competitor right in front of the committee boat. A short finish line may make life easier for the race committee, but it's hard on sailors and down right dangerous with that many boats on the water.
Surprise #9 is not that Eduardo Cordero won, it's that he didn't win every race. He is a great champion, and I look forward to taking his racing seminar as soon as possible. Surprise #10 absolutely floored me. John Fonseca, New England rep for the International Sunfish Club, stopped me in the parking lot after the races to ask if I would be interested in rebuilding the Sunfish Fleet in Maine. Something about my enthusiam exceeding my skills, I expect. Racing Sunfish is about as much fun as you can have while soaking wet. I seem to yell Yahoo! a lot. If you'd like to participate or help with the project, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was a great honor to represent Maine and The Lake Region Sailing Club in a championship with so much history. As much fun as it was (can't wait to do it again!) it is no surprise to me that I look forward to racing with my friends at LRSC even more. There's no place like home.
I can't thank my sponsors enough, without their support and encouragement I would never have made it to Hyannis. My wife, Lani, is the world's best racing wife. Supportive, never worries, hardly complains about finding money to keep me racing, and listens patiently while I go on and on about the finer points of tactics and boat trim. I am a lucky man.
Sail hard, sail fast, have fun!
I'd like to thank the following people and businesses for their sponsorship, help and support.