White Stuff sweeps the event and GP Covers take series title at 18ft Skiff European Grand Prix 20/9/06

Carnac, on the Brittany coast of France is a traditional and much loved stop on the European skiff circuit. This year a strong fleet of 15 skiffs from 6 European nations descended on the venue from the 15-17 September for the finale of the 2006 European Grand Prix series, which had already visited Weymouth, Travemuende, Lake Garda and Lake Como.

Proceedings got underway at on Friday accompanied by a local television helicopter with a reported 17 knot offshore breeze blowing. In the shelter of the club launching area opinion was evenly divided on rig selection with even some usually stalwart crews opting to go small, possibly influenced by the forecast of increasing breeze throughout the afternoon.

In the first race there seemed little advantage either way with the small rigs sufficiently powered especially at the more exposed leeward end of the course to hold their own. However, it was Denmark’s Fleming Clausen with his crew of Thomas Ebler and Soren Clausen sailing GP Covers under big rig who took first blood.

Having already done enough to secure the 2006 European Grand Prix series before coming to Carnac, ‘the Vikings’ evidently wanted to finish off with a flourish and took the bullet in both the first and second races with a superb exhibition of overpowered boat handling. In each race they were followed closely by a team carrying their number two rig. In race one fellow Danes Jesper Broendum, Jesper Holst and Martin Friderichsen on Ler Ole dogged their compatriots every move to take second and in race two the UK’s Mason Woodworth with David Brown and Simon Hamilton on White Stuff flying their new Australian flat top “small” rig in anger for the first time showed they had not taken long to get the hang of the new sails to follow GP Covers home.

By race three, contrary to forecast (as is always the way), the wind had eased slightly, giving the advantage to the teams with the number one rigs. Stephan Rueger and his Swiss crew Stefan Bragger and Tom Eggersdorfer, on UTI having struggled earlier in the afternoon found these conditions more to their liking to take the win from GP Covers, with only White Stuff of the smaller rigged boats able to hold with the leaders to take third.

Ah the dilemma of rig choice! There’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling of being on an 18, not quite powered up with the small rig, scrambling back into the boat to stop the mast coming over on top of you in every lull as the other teams who made the right rig choice sail by comfortably three wiring. This certainly influenced rig choices of some teams on day two as the unanimous choice was – go big!

Once out of the shelter of the shore conditions were not dissimilar to the previous day, although with the wind backed by about 30 degrees (which allowed a much longer run for the chop to build, more of which later). This was to be the day for White Stuff to make their mark. Mason and his crew have devoted considerable time and energy to their first season in an 18. Their professional approach, time spent tuning their new generation rig and on the water practicing showed as they took the hat trick, winning all three races by a considerable margin in increasingly demanding conditions with an exemplary display of boat speed and handling. In the first race Rob Dulson, Paul Constable and Alec Mckinlay on Base 1 were able to recover from a poor start to trade tacks with White Stuff by the second beat but were unable to hold them. In races two and three in the increasing breeze the German team of Werner Gieser, Phillip Nocke and Max Friederich on Wet.Protect showed they too were at home in the stronger conditions to lead the rest of the fleet home.

As the breeze increased and with it the chop, so too did the frequency and intensity of the capsizes. With a windward mark set barely a couple of hundred meters from the beach the many spectators along the beach and promenade were treated to frequent, sometimes multiple, capsizes as the crews tried to master the shifting gusts and sudden lulls under the lee shore while a mile offshore at the exposed leeward mark the stronger breeze and often lumpy chop resulted in some spectacular spills and pitchpoles.

By contrast day three started with a light 8 to 10 knot onshore breeze and heavy clouds. Racing got off promptly at 11.00am and bang on time the heavens opened in the form of a rain band passing across the course from the right hand side. Duly the entire fleet headed into the rain in search of more breeze to find visibility reduced to a few hundred yards by the heavy shower. Quite where the windward mark lay was anyone’s guess but as the shower passed it was Ler Ole who had picked their line well to round first followed by White Stuff. Visibility was still so poor most of the leaders did not realise that the rain band had shifted the breeze considerably to the right (it is uncommon for skiffs to carry compasses) and it was not until Base 1 rounded the windward mark in seventh place and gybe set to find themselves below the lay line for the leeward mark. The rest of the fleet followed suit resulting in a number of major place changes however Ler Ole and White Stuff were able to stay just ahead of Base 1 on what had become a fetch to the next windward mark where the race officer sensibly shortened course.

As the day went on the skies brightened and the breeze filled to a good force 3 to 4. The race committee were able to fit in a further three races before the 2.30pm cut off point and again White Stuff showed the way with another three convincing wins, even though they did not have to sail the last two races, having already won the regatta. Ler Ole continued their fine show of form with two thirds and a second place to take second overall and GP Covers did enough to secure a comfortable third place to go with their overall series win.

European Grand Prix Round 5 Results

1 White Stuff (Mason Woodworth) UK (5), 2, (3), 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1 – 10 pts
2 Ler Ole (Jesper Broendum) DEN 2, 3, (6), (4), 3, 4, 1, 3, 2, 3 – 21 pts
3 GP Covers (Fleming Clausen) DEN 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 4, (6), 4, (5) – 22 pts
4 Wet.Protect (Werner Gieser) GER 3, 6, (8), 6, 2, 2, 5, (7), 6, 6 – 36 pts
5 UTI (Stephan Rueger) SUI 9, 4, 1, (11), 5, 5, 6, 2, (11), 8 – 40 pts

2006 European Grand Prix Series Overall

1 GP Covers DEN
2 White Stuff GBR
3 Ler Ole DEN
4 Wet.Protect GER
5 Base 1 GBR