The International 14 class have always had a penchant for glamorous venues, and with Garda and Bermuda on the fixture list this year is no exception. The classiest venue of the lot, though, has to be St Moritz in the Swiss Alps. Snow-covered mountains provide a spectacular backdrop to the action, while Garda-style thermal winds guarantee exciting racing.
The windward/leeward course is only about 400 metres from end to end, with a mid-course gate set right off a small promontory halfway up the course. With 14s careering flat-out downwhill at speeds in excess of 20 knots, only feet from stunned onlookers, this has to be the perfect spectator venue. Indeed, more than the usual number of water widows were in attendance, though whether the easy spectating was a significant factor is open for discussion.
In addition to the normal challenges of racing these highly tuned machines around a short course, the thin mountain air – St Moritz is at an altitude of 1850m – imposes an even higher load on the teams, with most crews gasping for breath by the finish. Despite the very high calibre of competition this event always places an emphasis on good sportsmanship and fun, and the Swiss hosts work hard to ensure their guests have a good time. It was very much in the spirit of the event that Oscar Paulich, self-styled ‘Umpire, Jury, secretary, assistant race officer, translations and executive nightlife coordinator’ posted an amendment to the sailing instructions before going to bed at 5.15am!
Saturday’s racing took the form of a qualifier for Sunday’s finals, with two round-robins of six teams each in uncharacteristically light breezes. Top of the first round-robin was Swiss lady Caro Billing, crewed by Claude Fischer, followed by Brits Andy Penman and Doug Walker (who had flown straight from the POW Cup race in Pwllheli), with Brits Martin Pascall and Caroline Gosford in third place.
Round robin two went to Swiss rockstar Ueli Guggenbuhl, on his very first sail in a 14, crewed by 14 regular Philipp Kanzig. Second were Germans Stefan Heim and Robert Schmidt, with Brit and former world champ Roddy Bridge, crewed by Paul Hemsley, in third. One benefit of thermal-wind venues is the opportunity for a long lie-in and relaxed start, and this was not wasted on Sunday morning. The wind finally came in around 1pm at a rather stronger and steadier 15-20 knots, and the final began.
Penman and Walker, starting just feet from the spectators at the right-hand end of the line, hooked into their own private lift and shot away from the rest of the fleet, to round the windward mark several lengths ahead of second-placed Guggenbuhl and Kanzig. Guggenbuhl’s rounding was slowed by traffic, and by the time Penman reached the leeward mark he had extended his lead to nearly 10 lengths. Penman elected to take the right-hand side of the beat up to the gate, and found himself in less breeze as Guggenbuhl powered up the left. But coming into the gate Penman held the lead and covered Guggenbuhl more closely to lead around the final windward mark. The 200 metre final run was little more than a formality, and Penman/Walker crossed the line comfortably ahead of Guggenbuhl/Kanzig with Pascal and Gosford in third place.
Learning from Penman’s success the whole fleet was fighting for the right-hand end of the line second time round, but it was Penman who once again emerged to windward of the others, to take a lead in which he was never seriously challenged. Heim and Schmidt finished second, ahead of Pascall and Gosford in third place.
The third start was even more of a dogfight than the second but Penman, despite failing to secure the coveted windward end, still managed to get himself further to windward than his rivals and once again led the fleet round the windward mark. Flying through the gate at around 20 knots, crew Doug Walker even found time for a grin at the spectators, and this proved to be well-founded as Penman and Walker crossed the