Last week I participated in the IFCA Slalom Worlds on the Dutch Wadden island of Texel. Because of the overlap with the PWA Costa Brava tour stop, most of the top slalom guys preferred the Mediterranean sun over the unpredictable North Sea.
Nevertheless some top guys in the discipline were there, including former pro sailor and multiple German champion Bernd Flessner (GER16) and the two current leaders of the French slalom nationals Ludovic Jossin (ESP12) and Antoine Questel (FRA99). Of course the Dutch fleet was present at full strength, with world class racers like Dennis Littel (NED13) and Dirk Doppenberg (NED51).
Unlike the PWA which this year switched to a “slalom 63” format, IFCA still holds on to “slalom 42”: 4 sails and 2 boards for racing from 11 knots onwards. The gear choice was further complicated by the extremely volatile weather forecast that changed almost by the hour in the days running up to the event, with major contradiction between the different forecast models. In the end I decided to register my ’09 SL70 and SL55 boards, and MauiSails TR5xt 8.4, 7.6, 6.6 and 5.9.
Arriving at the beach on the first day conditions looked pretty dismal. It had rained all night and there was only a very modest offshore breeze at the skippers meeting. Within the next hour white caps suddenly appeared from the left, and the first elimination got underway. I headed out on the SL70 with a C3 Venom 44cm & TR5xt 7.6 for my first heat in a building side shore breeze. I had a pretty lousy start, but made up some places along the course. Most of us were out on pretty big gear still and were surprised by how quickly the conditions got rougher. I managed pretty well on the SL70 and qualified for the semifinals. With insufficient time to rig down I went out again but was too overpowered to keep it together and didn’t make it to the finals. For the next two rounds I switched to the SL55, first with 5.9 then with 6.6 & a Venom 34cm. My speed was excellent in the building North Sea waves but with mediocre starts and by leaving too much room at the mark for guys to sneak in I didn’t manage to proceed to the semis. Overall I was fairly satisfied with the first day of racing, especially with my speed, and was determined to do better in the next races.
Days 2 and 3 saw no wind, only clouds and occasional showers. We attempted to start round 4 late on day 3 but by the time the race committee recovered one of the marks a local fishing boat had caught in its nets, the wind was gone.
With a pessimistic forecast for day 5, all hope was set on day 4 to complete at least 2 more rounds. We were sent out on the water in a moderate onshore breeze of around 11 knots. Shore break and currents made it difficult to even reach the starting line on time. I headed out with the SL70 with a Venom 44cm & 8.4 and felt confident in these typical North Sea conditions with relatively big swell for such a light breeze. The SL70 felt just perfect. Finally I managed a good start in my heat of round 4, rounding the first mark in second place behind a UK sailor. We had a considerable lead after the second mark, and I was slowly closing in on him heading to mark three. Coming out of the jibe I noticed we had rounded mark 5 instead! Totally disappointed I abandoned the race and returned to the beach, frustrated about my stupid mistake to follow someone to the wrong mark. My frustration only doubled when I found out that the guy in front whom I had followed went through to the semis because none of the others had actually noticed or filed a protest!
The wind picked up a bit going into round 5, so I switched down to 7.6 trying to refocus on the racing and shrug off my frustration from the previous round. Unfortunately I was seeded in quite a strong heat with a number of top 10 contenders so the fight for qualification announced to be tough. After a decent start I was lying in fifth place and thus on qualification course for the semis going into mark 3. I jibed slightly too wide though and let a guy sneak in into the inside. I attacked at the next mark but he sailed flawlessly leaving me to finis 6th and not qualifying. Round 6 got started but was eventually abandoned because the wind gradually disappeared.
As forecasted day 5 saw no wind, so the championship was decided over 2 days and 5 elimination rounds. At the top of the ranking Bernd Flessner (GER16) showed his world class skills in both light and strong wind and logically took first place. Somewhat surprisingly maybe to outside observers Jacques van der Hout (NED35) closely followed in second, with Julien Questel (FRA99) rounding off the top 3. Personally I finished 25th, in all maybe not that bad considering this was only my second international slalom race ever. Overall I was pretty with my speed, but definitely need to train harder on those starts and turns!
Cheers for now,
Full results and more at http://ifca.internationalwindsurfing.com/page0211v01.htm