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Nations Cup 2001

After being selected at the schools nationals at Derwent, Northumbria I and the rest of the English team travelled up to Windermere, where on Conniston – a near by lake - we were to train for the next couple of days. We arrived on the day of the tragic events in America, and were met with the news after a 9-hour train journey by our team Manager John Ratcliffe. The news felt unreal especially in the tranquil setting of the Lake District and without a TV, the only pictures I saw were in the newspapers, which didn’t really show the full, story and so it didn’t really hit home until a week after when I got home and for the first time I actually saw the crash and the horrific scenes on the TV.

By nine thirty everyone had arrived and settled in to our basic little house right on the waters edge of Windermere, so we retired to the nearest pub, about 5 miles away, where I learnt that the small single-handed, which I was to sail, for the event was a Pico. Unsurprisingly this didn’t fill me with huge amounts a joy especially as we weren’t aloud the jibs either.

After an interesting breakfast cooked by the 2 laser sailors, Geoff and Phil, we left to go to Conniston Lake where a display to mark the anniversary of Bluebird was also suppose to be taking place, but all we saw was rain and gusts of around thirty knots. Never the less we were to train and our first job was to travel by rib in the rain about two miles to join the girls, who had left early to sail the 420's up, so that Laura, Dan and I could sail the beast of a keel boat back up. This "little" job took approximately two and a half hours, as it did not point or move and it was a true beat all the way. As you can imagine it was a joy, and to make it even better we were then told that it had got too windy and there was no more sailing that day. Laura and I now only had a day to learn how to sail a Pico, and the weather forecast was for more rain and more wind, yay!

 

We woke on Thursday to beautiful sunshine a clear blue sky with and a gentle breeze - yeah I wish, Instead the local weatherman had got it dead right, with dark black skies and little apparent chance of any one going sailing. So whilst John went to get our minibus fixed, as all the airbags were to self explode according to the dashboard, we went shopping in the near by area in the hope that it may improve for the afternoon. Manager John described it to us as a nearby metropolis of shops and cafes where we could find everything we needed and lots to do. He didn’t tell us that his description was relative to everything else in the Lake District and it actually took 45 minutes to get to and the so-called "metropolis" was smaller than a dining hall in your primary school. It did have a Boots and a sweet shop but that’s about it and nowhere nice to go to get out the relentless rain. I didn’t understand how the lakes can be in such numbers and so full, as to me all that water should have been needed in the clouds and as rain - it never stopped. Once that thrilling cultural experience was over we returned to Connisten where the locals informed us of a brief window of opportunity in weather that might let us go for a sail. We had to wait for about 2 hours but in the end it came and in a crazy moment of madness John let us out to sample the joys of Pico sailing. Once out there it wasn’t as bad as we thought, granted it was still raining and we were up north so we were still experiencing artic temperatures but it wasn’t too windy and my Pico wasn’t such a beast to sail as I had first thought it would be, especially when the big gusts came through. I also found that with a bit of imagination you can roll tack and gybe coming out faster then you went in. But unfortunately we were not going to get to sample the full range of Pico sailing joys as the 50mph winds came back and we were forced to return to the beech and pack up for the day. But at least now we knew what we had to compete in and felt we wouldn’t be at too much of a disadvantage.

 

With the uncanny accuracy of the local’s weather forecasting we refused to find out what it would be like for our journey up to Scotland, and so we were pleasantly surprised when we woke up to the Lake District in its full glory. The sun was out in force with a perfect blue sky, our lake (Windermere) didn’t have a breath of wind on it and the temperature wasn’t too bad, not a patch on what southern England was like when I left - but now the south seemed like the tropics - and so I couldn’t complain about anything. John Stanley left us today but we did gain Grant - one of John Rs friends. Due to the detour that it took to pick Grant up it took us about 8 hours to get to Largs but after a quick blasts on the Scottish sailing centres launch we arrived on the island of Cumbrae. It was again a highly active place, which was more cut off and empty than Windermere. But that didn’t matter as we soon met up with the Welsh and Scots who greeted us with the news that it was to be 25 knots all weekend and the nearest pub was 15 minutes away. We also learnt that the competition was good and twice the size of us and so Laura and I felt rather on the small size, even for Pico sailing.

Thankfully the Scottish sailing centre accommodation is very comfortable and warm, so we woke on Saturday with our batteries fully charged and raring to go. We then walked outside. Any hopes of a pleasant days racing were dashed. The wind was already above 20 knots and steadily rising, the rain had already begun to fall and I had to go Pico sailing. It was also freezing cold, to the extent that the local Eskimos and polar bears were still huddled together in their igloos on the hillside. It now made Kent feel like a desert.

As all the teams had arrived the night before, we had an early start and the Nations Cup 2001 was underway. For some reason they set the Picos off first. The courses were huge all weekend and after about an half hour first beat I was coming 5th, not to great but compared to the front-runners I was very “ickle” and it showed in upwind pace. But don't worry the fun now begun. The wind was now clocking consistently at over 30 knots and meant that I could really play on the downwind legs of the outer loop trapezoid course. After some interesting gybes and down wind wave playing I was up to first by the bottom mark and on a bit of a charge. It didn’t totally last as beast of a Welshman overtook me on the beat to put me in second where I eventually finished but I had invented a "interesting" technique that gave me confidence for the next race. The rest of the English encountered mixed fortunes as we won the 420's but came 3rd in the keel boat and whilst winning the laser's Phil's rudder broke.

The wind thought it would be kind to us in race 2 and so picked up a bit more to full survival conditions where the race committee contemplated sending us in. Luckily they didn’t and soon we started our next race. Somehow it got to a stage that it was so windy that hiking had little effect and I was able to dominate up wind as well as down wind. With a 200-metre lead by the first windward leg I was able to hit cruise control and really enjoy myself. By the leeward mark I had double my lead and then on the last beat I found out how fast a Pico could go. It got to a point where I was managing to pace the full rig lasers upwind and believe me you get some great reactions when you just sail straight over the top of one. I couldn’t keep up with them downwind but I sailed the 2-mile beat back to shore contented that we showed who was in control.

After lunch we sailed out for the final race of the day, the breeze was still there and at the same strength as we left it. Luckily for me it was not the only thing to stay the same as I notched up another win in an almost identical fashion to end day 1 firmly, in control. Unfortunately the English team was not in same position. We were also winning the Laser with Phil and Pinks and Tweeks were in control of the 420's but overall we were trailing in second place, 11 points behind the welsh and 12 in front of the Scots.

 

To try and occupy us during the evening we first had a black tie reception, which involved us trying, and failing miserably to use an iron and ironing board. But eventually looking half decent- still better than the other teams - we enjoyed our meal and then were given the challenge of which team could build the tallest tower out of just paper, a strip of tape and some elastic bands and then balance a coin on top. The first English attempt was led by Dan and Geoff and can only be described as a misshapen cone. Unsurprisingly me and pinkachu (Pinky) pulled it down and replaced it with a quickly built structure that was a complete bodge job but went above the roof beams - which got used for sitting on to balance coins on the top - and so won beating the Welsh’s beautiful designed and constructed piece of architecture. As it was still not even 10 o'clock John R decided to take us to a local pub for just an hour to sample some Scottish culture. Well after about 4 or 5 hours and a couple of drinking games we left, quite a lot worse for ware. We also managed to loose Pinky who some how managed to pass out on a bench outside, but hey!

We woke on Sunday to signs of sun and a little less breeze, both of which were quite appreciated. But after breakfast we were back out on the water and sailing better than we had been the day before. Although our Picos weren’t going quite as quick as the previous day they were still going surprisingly fast and with my 3rd straight win in the first race of the day wrapped England first class win and with only 1 race to go I couldn't contribute more than 5 points. The wind started to kick about for the last race and after an appalling first beat I managed to pull up to a close 3rd and end a very personally pleasing event. The whole English team had a good last day with Pinky and Tweeks breaking a trapeze wire on their 420 but still winning with redress. 2, 1 2's for Phil and Geoff in the Laser class meant we also won them convincingly. As we sailed in it looked promising as we had won every class except the keelboat but it wasn’t to be, somehow the welsh won and we had to put up with second. It wasn’t the best feeling in the world and an unusual one as many of us had won our fleets but somehow didn’t win the overall trophy.

Tired and disappointed we left Cumbrae that evening and begun our journey to the tropics of southern England. Somehow I actually arrived home the same day but I don’t advise trying it in an afternoon.

My six-day adventures is one that I will never forget and thoroughly enjoyed and hope I can repeat. For 99% of the time you sail for yourself, and even at the international events I have been to before you are still sailing for yourself, personal glory over the other competitors, where ever they maybe from, but the Nationals Cup felt different. You were sailing for England against the other nations and not just people. Going into the last race I may have already won but I still had to battle and not just relax to try and lower England’s points and give an extra 1 to the other nations and this gave it a special quality and a different factor to the racing and event as a whole.

 

Chris Catt