The Road to Hyeres
Hyeres was the first stop in our European tour this year. On the way to Hyeres I raced in the Martigues Europa cup. So the logistics could not have been easier. As a coach I feel it is important to do some racing yourself so you can have good empathy with the sailors, understanding the regatta day pressures and also the importance of rest and quality training. After all it is not very hard work sitting in a coach boat, although it is often the coldest place on the race course!
Hyeres is less than a two hour drive from Martigues so it could not have worked out better. I actually arrived in Hyeres shortly before the plane with the Chinese sailors landed. Having my van worked out very well. I could take the sailors to and from the sailing club, gym etc at a time which suited them and of course it was very useful to have a vehicle with a tow bar to get the team's RIBs on and off the water.
We stayed in a caravan site about 2km from the Sailing club so some mornings I ran down to the coaches’ briefing and in the evening they locked the gate, so I used my bike. I must admit I am not a big fan of caravans and I spent many of the nights dreaming of my own bed back in Weymouth
Unfortunately the trip did not start off too well, but luckily I had given myself plenty of time. The UK service stations that I passed on the way to the ferry were closed, so when I finally arrived I had very little fuel. I think there must be a diesel shortage in the UK... Something about a French lorry strike but I am not sure exactly. Beyond my control anyway.
I headed for the first fuel station in France but I did not make it. I was about 20 km short. I did actually consider running but then I thought better of it. I have of course insurance with the AA (British Automobile Association) but the French motorways are governed by the French Police rather than the AA.
So I had to wait six hours for them to bring me diesel rather than the usual 30 minutes. However since I am a member of the AA I did not have to pay, only for the diesel. They wouldn't give me that for free haha.
Luckily the food on the ferry was very good and I have been able to break up my drive with stops at the various service stations where you can eat. Lots of veggies, fish, steaks etc. The French are very keen about their food, so the journey really was very pleasant.
The drive was actually very good as I went through the night so there was very little traffic. You can easily get to any of the European World Cup or Europa Cup events other than Palma in a day. There is so little traffic in Europe compared to the UK.
I first went to Martigues several years ago but my van took me straight to the club, no problem. I have actually been many times and sailed there in extremes of both light and strong winds. Once again I think we may well get both extremes this year. The weather in Europe this time of year can change very quickly. I actually parked in the same spot as usual, under a group of trees about 40 metres from the water and about 36 metres from my boat. Perfect!
I love having my van with me as it gives me a good place to relax. I can sleep when I need and the single bed is much better and more comfortable than the average caravan. Plus I can also carry lots of spares and things that may help you like grip for the front of your centreboard casing, speed polish like I used at the test event etc etc.
It was as if I had never been away. I soon settled into my little routine. Fresh baguette, usually with cheese, ham and salad at the sailing club for breakfast. Dinner and lunch usually a large fruit or cold vegetable salad followed by roast chicken, fish, pork, moules or one of the various cuts of steak on offer (I wonder which cut would be your favourite) and as many veggies as you can eat. I was also able to get any other little things (another Blackberry charger) very easily. Even the self service check out at the supermarket is now in English so it is all very easy.
The Europa cup was held over four days with two races planned a day. The start on the first day was not until 15:00, all very civilised and the only thing you had to do was to measure your sail which took just a moment (the measurer wandered passed my boat whilst I was rigging). On the last day the first start was at 10:00 and no start after 15:00, which hopefully means that everyone gets an early get away.
There were 220 sailors so we were separated into three groups. Many of whom I knew. Actually a few sailors popped in to say hello on the way from Palma to Hyeres which was nice. I have not raced internationally since the Worlds/Europeans last year, which now seems a very, very long time ago.
The first race and the fleet were nervous which led to one general recall. In the second start we got away but I got rolled. There were a few people black flagged, but to me it did not seem worth taking the risk on the first race of what would most likely be a one discard regatta (you only get two discards after eight races and looking at the forecast this seemed unlikely).
I soon got clean air and managed to stay on the shifts. I was more towards the middle and tacked for the pressure as well as the shift and ended up leading by the top mark. I extended downwind but then I rounded the leeward mark about 2 minutes after the start of the last group.
So it was a huge mess with boats everywhere. I pulled through the group in front and got up to third place, although I did over stand the windward mark slightly to get clean air but I think that it was the right thing to do. In the end I had a massive lead, as all those behind me got much more caught up in the other group.
The second race and this time I popped out and was able to tack immediately after the start. However the wind went hard right and I did not manage to get across. I kept believing the wind would come back and it never did. I went down the middle of the run as most people went hard left looking downwind but still the wind stayed right. Up the next beat I again stuck to the middle and the wind went even further right. Oh well, you cannot get it right all the time. Lack of racing practice (only six days in the last five months) often shows in a difficult first day...
Day two and I was up early and rigged but instead of increasing, the wind died. This is often what they call the lull before the storm. Patience is a virtue...
Although the wind did eventually come and built throughout the day, having already played my discard I was very safe. Rounding the windward mark just inside the top ten each time and getting two seconds for my efforts. However in race three I was about 10 cm behind the winner and in race four I was about one boat length behind the leader, so maybe a tiny little bit more risk would have seen me rewarded with two bullets... we will never know!
The forecast for day three was for mistral so I went to nch twice in the evening, just to be safe. I just love packing the large bowls full of lots of lovely fresh salad. Tasty and very healthy too :) As expected the forecast was right and we were hit by over forty knots all day, so it was a good job I tied the boat down. I spent the whole day relaxing.
The final day was gold fleet racing but due to the wind dying only one race was sailed. Actually it started quite windy from the North but died as the day warmed up, so come midday there was no wind at all. This mistral direction feels quite cold.
It is actually feels far warmer in the North (Weymouth) with southerly winds than it feels in the South with Northerly winds (Hyeres) but luckily there does not seem to be too much Northerly forecast this week. Although this of course could change.
I had a good start but the pressure differences were huge with boats on the left and right making huge gains as they ended up in more wind than everyone else due to the mixing of the North and thermal breezes.
I kept my cool and rounded the top mark in the top half. I did the big things right, I tacked on the shifts, kept my wind as clean as possible and kept the boat going fast, and in the end I was rewarded with a top ten. I had to count this race after my horrible race two.
This is a lesson in being consistent!!! Actually many of the top boats had an awful gold fleet race but they were able to discard it due to having a better round robin.
So all in all a good event, I finished second overall. Although I did get a bit of a black eye. Where I was on starboard pre-start and I was nice and ducked a port tacker who then tacked immediately and somehow stuck his boom in my right eye. So when I arrived in Hyeres it looked as if I had been fighting!
Arriving in Hyeres seemed like an old home. I have been there so many times in the last twenty years. I did not bring the road bikes (other than mine to Hyeres) so we did stationary bike training in Gym Passion using Polar heart rate monitors to ensure that we trained at exactly the correct intensity and we continued our weight training, even through the regatta...