Saturday, August 8, 2009

KARPATHOS Speed world cup

Day 1 July 29th

My kit had been freighted to Gatwick the week earlier so all I had was hand luggage for the short flight from Guernsey to London Gatwick.

I met up with my good friend Pierre Bisson at Guernsey airport to check in at 7.30am. Pierre is a professional photographer who I have known for well over 20 years, he was coming to cover the event and maybe have the odd lager shandy. We travelled together during the 90's on the speed tour and were curious to see if it would be the same almost 20 years later.

8.30 Touch down in Gatwick and a short walk to departures to meet up with one of my sponsors the Beachcomber Hot Tub importers SCP who had taken delivery of my gear the week before. On schedule they were there and we had the gear, now off to Easy Jet to check in for our flight to Rhodes.

We can't check in until 11.55 however on seeing the length of queue's we decide to upgrade to the easy boarding option that Easy Jet have introduced. I would highly recommend it. £ 7.50 each way and you can miss all the queue's and you board the plane before anybody allowing you to grab the seats with extra leg room, being 6'7" tall it is a must for me.

We check in at 11.55 on the dot, I am a bit of a pessimist when it comes to checking in 3 boards, sail bag, mast bag and boom bag. Everything is going smoothly however the check in girl has been smiling, she has seen the amount of equipment we have so what could go wrong?

On reaching the desk the girl asks if we have anything to check in, surely she has notice 3 trolley loads of gear. We explain that we have the boards and I have prepaid for them etc however nothing is straight forward when travelling with windsurfing gear. To cut a long story short she called her supervisor who then called his administrator who then advised us that we would have to pay a little extra. We had over 90 kg extra luggage above the allowance that we had prepaid. I have to take my hat off to Easy Jet they were always trying to help and very understanding. We had to pay £90.00 extra for the gear. The check in girl then told me that if her supervisor had gone by the book it would have been £ 480.00.

Hats off to Easy Jet.

A slight delay on leaving but all booked on, comfy chairs on the plane here we go.

10.00pm and touch down in Rhodes, Manoli Kritsiotis the Karpathos organiser has arranged for us to be picked up and put up over night until the ferry leaves the next day. We are joined by Marion Raisi from France who in competing in the woman's event. Her trip didn't start very well with her boards not arriving.

The next day we bump into the new Mr Mistral, Anders Bringdal then Finain Maynard and have lunch on the beach front with them. What the two of them don't know about windsurfing and the industry is not worth knowing, it was a very informative and entertaining lunch.

The boat should leave at 6.00pm however we have been informed that it is late and will leave at 8.00pm, we will be picked up at 5 and taken to the port.

On loading the all the gear into the trucks the driver lets us know the ferry won't be in until 12.00pm. This is great news for Marion as her boards are due to arrive on that night's 9.00pm flight. She stays behind to pick up her boards and the rest of us make our way to the port, a little confused as to why we are going so early when the boat isn't due to leave for 7 hours.

We are dropped off just outside the ferry compound and told that the ticket office would open 1 hour before the boat was supposed to leave, I say ticket office what I mean is ticket box. There isn't any terminal just a car park full of trucks. It is just about at this time that Finian is starting to get a little tetchy with being dropped off so early, it won't be the last time tonight he gets a little heated.

There is a small hot dog caravan serving what can be loosely described as food so it's Hot Dogs all round. It was a very apt description of what we ate, it was hot and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out it was dog.

The ticket box opened at 11.00pm, the boat arrived and then all hell broke loose, there were trucks driving in and out in all directions, police blowing whistles at everybody, complete pandemonium. We had approximately 20 minutes before the boat was going to leave and a walk of 1/2 mile from where we were dropped of to the boat, an average of 7 bags per head to carry (don't panic). Finian asked the ports police for a trolley or van to help, he didn't want to know which threw Finian's tetchy mood into full rage. I can assure you you don't want to upset him, 110kg of muscle with attitude verbally going full force.

(I have to also say that Finian is one of the nicest blokes you will meet, says it how it is and willing to help anyone however if you don't agree with him you better have a very good reason why! I like him.)

As all this is kicking off and I don't know whether we will all be spending the night in a Greek prison sharing a 6' x 4' cell with Nikoli the nutter Marion arrives in a pick up with her boards. Unbelievable timing, saved by the French who would have believed it. 5 back and to journeys and everything is loaded on the boat, we have cabins for a quick sleep and await arrival in Karpathos.

6.00am Friday and we arrive looking a bit worse for wear. The sun is just rising and it is blowing its socks off. Manoli is at the harbour to greet us and let us know the Greek event the week earlier had force nine winds. Chris Lockwood won with 42 knots.

Later that day we have registration and a chance to get out on the water. It's blowing 28 knots and most of the competitors get out with their GPS's checking their speeds and the course.

It's a 250m course in Karpathos and a very specialised track. Finian was filling us in on the way over about how much of a lottery the course is, someone always gets one really quick run per leg out of the blue.

You sail upwind between a small island and the shore into the next bay where you gybe, sail back tight to the headland in between the bays beat up to the start and bear away down the course. Once you make through the finish there is approximately 75m to slow down or gybe before hitting the rocks. It is unbelievably how quickly 75m runs out when you are full tilt 40 knots. After my second run I had to abandon ship causing a collision with myself and the board. A small hole in the base of the board and a leg that hurts like hell was the outcome.

Saturday was the first day of competition. The fleet is divided into a Gold and silver fleet. The top 18 in world rankings are in the gold, the rest in silver. Silver sails first and the top five then join the Gold fleet, Gold sails next and the bottom five from that will join the Silver fleet in the next round and so on. This means that there could be a situation that you sail in every round of Gold and Silver.

The silver fleet heads out for round one and I have to confess I am all over the place. The round is 40 minutes long and I am changing sail settings, changing sails and getting no where. As the week carries on I realise that you have to pick the right setup from the start and sail around and around without stopping to increase the chances of being in the right place at the right time for a good run. The wind is very gusty, full of holes. Every ten minutes you will have a run that is flat out all the way down the course.

The top five go up to the Gold fleet and that starts 30 mins after the end of the Silver.

Finian won the first round from Antoine Albeau with Hans Kreisel in third. Bjorn Dunkerbeck back in 15th. The level of speeds is incredible compared to 15 years ago, everyone is so close.

1/2 a knot would bring you up ten places.

The next round saw Finian drop to 4th, Dirk Van Knol for Holland in 1st, Antoine 2nd and Anders 3rd.

Finian was to win 4 out of the next five rounds with 2nd being traded between Antoine, Anders and Bjorn with the overall results finishing in that order.

Finian was totally tuned to the spot. He had special boards made with a bit more V than normal and more volume to counteract the gusty winds and choppy course. He sailed his 7.0 Pryde sail in every heat and was dominant. He has a real presence on and off the water.

Antoine was consistent but with new speed boards from JP wasn't quite as tuned, he also sailed his Pryde 7.0 the whole week.

Anders didn't really know what to expect coming into this event and being away during his wife giving birth to baby boy Axle half way through the event must have been tough on him. As I said before what Anders doesn't know about windsurfing isn't worth knowing and it will be really interesting to see what changes are made to the Mistral range for 2010. Congratulations Anders on so many fronts.

Bjorn managed to scrape up to 4th. He had all sorts of problems with his prototype sails and
breaking 2 masts, out on the course didn't help. He did show his incredible determination by coming back from 15th in the first round.

The woman's competition was dominated by Valerie Ghibaudo winning all 8 rounds. Second place went to Marion Raisi who finished every round in second place and third went to Birgit Hoefer.

All in all it was a great event and a great spot. It never blew as strong as in the Greek event however it did blow all week. Seven rounds were completed allowing for 2 discards.

Speed strips are coming hard to find, Sotavento's sand banks have moved making it impossible to have an event there and none of the tops guys are keen on Namibia believing the organisers only want the windsurfers there to help subsidise the kite sailors.

I would highly recommend a visit to Karpathos. Be warned however it's not the easiest of destinations to get to. On the way back the ferry was delayed again and I had to leave my gear to be freighted back so that we could catch the inter island plane and connect on time to my flight back to Gatwick. Very stressful.

The best way of having a holiday there would be to book through Club Mistral. Alexandra in the Mistral office is one of the nicest people you will meet, In fact everybody we met on the island was incredibly helpful.

My sailing week was another learning curve. I will be up into mid twenties in the world rankings after Karpathos and have two more events at Weymouth and in Ireland before the years end. I am hoping this will bring me up well inside the top twenty and end the year highest ranked British sailor.

After ten years out of competition sailing this would be more than I could have asked for at the start of the year and give me a good starting point for next year.

Thanks to Manoli, Alexandra, Club Mistral, Pierre Bisson

During the event I developed blisters on my hands, I'll add a photo soon, on returning to Guernsey I had a check up with the doctor mainly about my leg that I knocked on the first day. He looked at my hands and advised that I should have had one blister on my right hand stitched and the one on my left was big enough to have a skin graft. My leg had internal bleeding with nerve damage which may heal, time will tell. Sailing 3 hours a day for a week takes it toll!

PS; Obviously what goes on tour stays on tour but what a trip. It's still the same buzz if you are twenty or forty. Pierre you were great company

I'll never forget the Monday night with Anders, Finian, Peter and Ben wetting the babies head (obviously just with 1/2 a lager shandy) yeah right believe that you'll believe anything!

My sponsors are: Hot Sails Maui - Starboard - Beachcomber Hot Tubs

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