World champions clean up in Switzerland

Rob Greenhalgh and Dan Johnson haven’t sailed all year in the International 14, but the reigning world champions picked up where they left off by winning the European championship in Switzerland in fine style.

Sailing one of the new Morrison 12 hulls built by RMW Marine, the team overcame the flukiest and most variable of breezes on the Urnersee to win with a set of three 1st and three 2nd places, with a discard of 3rd. Behind them was a much closer battle for second, with Chips Howarth and Tim Hancock prevailing over defending European champion James Fawcett and Dave Dobrijevic by just a point.

Greenhalgh has been busy carving out a career in professional big boat racing this year, while Johnson has been working the beat as a policeman in Richmond, Surrey. The last time they sailed together was when winning the JJ Giltinan Trophy, the unofficial 18-foot Skiff world championship.

Having not attended a 14 event all season, Greenhalgh admits he was a little apprehensive about competing in Switzerland. “We came because it was the biggest event of the year. But we’d not done any sailing this year, so we were nervous of going. We thought we might not be on the pace, but we had good height and our VMG was very good.”

The top three places were filled by three different hull designs, the Morrison 12, Bieker 4 and the Bieker 5 respectively. But Greenhalgh believes there is really very little to choose between the performance of these hulls. “We won the worlds last year in a Morrison 11, so there’s obviously nothing wrong with that shape either. What is much more significant is the incredible array of T-foil rudders that you see when you walk around the boat park. I think there’s a lot more work to come from there, and the masts and sails, than from any hull developments.”

And on the Urnersee, an offshoot of Lake Lucerne and a sort of mini-Lake Garda situated at 400m above sea level, the vagaries of the wind were a far greater factor than any slight boatspeed differences. There are three main types of wind system, the prevailing westerly breeze, a thermal Garda-style wind from the north and an evil wind known as the Föhn, which can hit speeds of up to 120kmh.

Class chairman Victor Brellisford said: “The Fohn wind was bizarre. There is a system of flashing lights around the lake to warn you of its arrival. On day one of the event, the lights started flashing after the 2nd race and the race officer sent us ashore urgently. The thermal breeze from the north stopped dead and none of the overseas visitors could quite believe it when 30 minutes later it started blowing 35-40 knots from the south, literally blowing boats over in the boat park. The boat park was at a corner of the lake and the westerly and the Föhn met at this corner leading to dramatic mixing of the winds and water spouts being thrown up.”

Vertical gusts were another novel feature of the racing, and the combination of massive shift combined with outrageous gust took many sailors by surprise. Fawcett was twice capsized and dislodged from the head of the fleet, so it was happening to the best of them. The Brits dominated the racing, but German team Oliver Voss and Jens Holscher broke the GBR stranglehold on the top 10, coming 9th overall.

The wacky racing didn’t stop there. Local sailor Roger Fischer organised a competition that involved teams being supplied with a sheet of 8×4 plywood and a tube of Sikkaflex. From this the teams were expected to build a boat, place two people on board, and race it out to a buoy and back to the shore. Many boats failed to make the distance, but it was reassuring to see that the ones which showed the most promise were constructed by rival boatbuilders Dave Ovington and Richard Woof. Rumours abounded that Woofy had secretly acquired an extra tube of Sikkaflex, but a steward’s enquiry could neither confirm nor deny the truth of the accusation.

Thanks go to the organizers, the Regattavereinigung Brunnen and the Swiss International 14 Class Association, along with beer sponsor, Baarer Bier, and Victorinox, manufacturers of the Swiss Army pen knife.

The next major regatta on the International 14 calendar is the world championship, due to be held in Auckland this February.