Two words come to mind when I recount this week’s action at the Puma Moth World Championships: Smooth and fun. It’s not because Moths sail smooth, in fact they are damned twitchy, at least when you’re learning for the first time – I found that out yesterday when I learned to sail one. Are they fun? Well, that’s obvious. But it’s the combination of sailors, sponsors, host club staff and members, race committee, and yes – the media It’s the combination of sponsors, sailors, host club, race committee, and yes..the media all making a real effort to have fun, all while making quick decisions with a minimum of drama that leads to a smooth, unforgettable regatta.
In terms of attitude, I didn’t know what to expect from the fleet when I signed on with Clean. During a Worlds in a lot of top-level Classes, sometimes the top of the fleet gets all corporate making relaxed chat and interviews not that fun. But that’s not this class at all – the sailors are all here because they absolutely adore sailing their boats. It’s not a stepping stone to the Olympics or some dinosaur big-boat class driven by the establishment. It’s the Class that the pros, olympians go to to recharge their batteries and prevent being jaded by the realities of making a living as a sailor, while the amateurs, weekend warriers, techies, and speed junkies are looking for something that will make them smile again – every time they go sailing.
The mothies had their game faces on of course, and there were more than a few mind games and even a few real secrets going into this one, but they were relaxed enough for guys like Bear Peet to give us a ten minute walkthrough of his boat on video just before gearing up for a race.
The new Champ, Simon Payne, also told me after racing he just came just to see his mates. In our lively Winner’s Circle Cocktail Hour yesterday, Simon also said his boat handling wasn’t as good as the other guys too, which was pretty humble.
I think the sentiment was unanimous that the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club was incredibly hospitable to everyone, helpful past reason, and for our purposes, the Race Committee was confident enough in us and in themselves to allow us, and even to push us, to push the coverage limits, especially when the light air and distances made running up the course basically impossible. The organization was flawless. When I actually boarded the committee boat with microphone and camera running live barely two minutes from a start, I felt almost naughty. But luckily and amazingly, PRO David Campbell-James tolerated us and even had a chuckle about it later.
The DOSC even loaned us a secret weapon, without whom our week migh have just sucked: Longtime SA’er “Desert Dingo” – legend – who not only toured us around the racecourse for a solid week of never ending driving, but also brought us to a camel farm in the desert, to Alinghi’s "base" in Ras-Al-Kaimeh, and to the roaming "Cafe Del Mar," which may have been the sickest all-night dance party (on the beach) that I have ever seen – and I live in Holland!
Hey, speaking of race committee, how about 14 grand-prix style races out of a scheduled 15, many in marginal choppy foiling conditions. The lighter racers were loving it, with a clear advantage over the heavies. At 68.5 kilos (151 lbs), lightweight funny man Simon Payne absolutely killed it. It’s the first time I’ve met a two-time World Champion stand-up comedian. He had an almost insurmountable lead going into the last day, but U.S. Laser sailor Brad Funk made a run at him, closing to seven points when Simon capsized twice in the first race of the day. Simon ended the series with a fifth, beating Funk by two positions in the last race, and squashing Funk’s run at the title. Interestingly both Si and Funk had a problem sorting out their wand gearing settings which cost them positions in the final race, which was won by Andrew “AMac” McDougall with a huge smile on his face that can only come from knowing your brain power, preparation, and skill has just paid off huge. Amac claimed second place on that final bullet, breaking the tie with Funk on one more race win than the American.
2009 World Champion Bora Gulari lit it up in the breezier conditions of the last two heats, scoring a 1-2 and the best total score for the day, which Clean actually forecasted. To bolster the American pride up despite Funk’s falling a place, Race 13 was the breeziest of the week, and at 10-12 knots, was what everyone was told to prepare for as the regular seabreeze. And in that race, the US Air Force finished 1-2-3, with Bora ahead of Bergan and Funk just behind. It certainly bodes well for the team in 15-20 that they are most likely to see in Sydney in January. The overall leap to sixth position that Bora made put three Americans in the top six with Funk in third and Dalton Bergan sailing an extremely consistent 15 races, ending up in fifth. European Champ, youngster Arnaud Psarofaghis, maintained his fourth place position, but at 21 years old, focused, skilled and fit, it’s only a matter of time before he takes it all home to Switzerland.
For me, I got to see my OTWA friends again and make a ton of new ones, including Dingo and Mrs. Bora’s Mom (Esin). She reminds me of my mom. Her enthusiasm and hard work was contagious! Together we all watched the most exciting singlehanded racing known to man. We laughed, we laughed some more, we bagged on each other, and we hit every deadline with reckless abandon. Oh, and I friggin foiled!! Hell yeah!!!
The coordination between the different aspects of this championship made everything run smooth. After watching the last race, it was over too fast. I wanted more. The sailors had fun in the Cocktail Hours, and we had fun hanging out with everyone in Dubai. Sitting in my hotel room waiting to leave for the airport I’m sad to go. Next coverage is Charleston Race Week, with a bit of a mix-up of the team, in a good way!
Obviously, PUMA has helped make this regatta one of the most completely documented event ever, and that same commitment was evident in every step of the event, from huge excesses of extremely good food, to enough t-shirts to give them away to anyone on the grounds of the DOSC. It was a professional flare that more regattas need, and hopefully companies will step up to help make it happen. A special thanks to dinghy and big boat spar builder CST Composites for their support – half the staff were in the bar watching the live coverage every night in Sydney, where we aired at happy hour.
It’s always happy hour somewhere.
-John Casey, with photos by Meredith Block