J24 Kiel Week 2016 report from Hitchhiker

Posted 29 June 2016

The Magic Ingredients by Andy Taylor

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With Hitchhiker having hibernated in Cuxhaven near Hamburg courtesy of Peter Langhan of the German Fleet, we had the perfect excuse to head over to Germany to have a look again at the strength and depth of their fleet before the Plymouth Euros in August.
We had hoped more UK boats would attend the event but with so many of us tied up with family and work commitments it proved too difficult, even for us to pull together our crew, and we had the boat mostly near the venue already.
We have through out our J24 sailing tried to sail with the recognised pace setters to learn as much as we can and search for the magic ingredient to lift us beyond our mid table performances.
Lack of available crew for the Kiel event and our chance neighbouring berth at the Worlds last year next to Travis Odenbach of Quantum US presented an opportunity for us keen amateurs to further our experience and thirst for knowledge by having him come over to helm for us and to bring with him a set of Quantum sails which have transformed the results of their clients in the US recently.
We called on Paul and Izzy from other local UK crews and combined with Stringer ( answering to any of slinger/ stinger/ tobacco bringer) and myself we formed at the last minute an international melting pot crew, with a mix of experience and lack there of, various forms of absorption of nicotine, sobriety and sobriquet, and one common language muddled by colloquialisms.
From the moment we arrived and dropped the boat to the trailer park for the Audi sponsored Q7 to take her down to the crane, the regatta organisation was superb. With hundreds of boats racing at the event including Olympic and youth classes there was great vibrancy and socialising, indicating again to us the attraction of having the class events included in larger regatta formats. The SAP regatta Trac Trac was brilliant and all races can be seen on website, here – direct link to J24 races
We watched the 49ers train with NZ dominating, and it was great to see Nathan Batchelor campaigning his 505, although the dinghy was having some gear failures he wouldn’t have had issue with in a J24……
Day 1 – we set off and having set up the boat to our usual settings did 20 minutes of getting to know each other and training on the genoa, then the breeze built, with gusts up to 18 knots so by the time of starting, us and most others were onto the Jib which we hadn’t seen until then. The first race set the tone for our week. We liked the left with the land up that side and Travis gave us a great start with speed off the pin end and we lead off showing phenomenal speed on the quantum jib and Travis pushing us hard to windward in the puffs. With the wind moving slightly right the middle of the course boats hung in there with Rotoman the leader. We tacked back and crossed behind a couple of boats and settled into a drag race back to the right, working really hard to hold our lane and force off one boat above , rounding in 5th before the one genoa in the fleet up on Henk powered past on what was to us an unusually long tight reach to a spreader for the outside course.
The Quantum kite looked big out of the bag and we had great speed to gain a place down the run before turning the corner for the second beat. Forced off to the wrong side at the bottom we then played the shifts and with good speed eventually managed to get through Vitesse at the top mark into 2nd and to hold them off until the finish while Rotoman powered on to win.
We followed up with another solid 2nd in Race 2 before a poor decision by the tactician at the top mark and then playing the middle down a run in no pressure left us with an 8th in race 3….lesson learned…………While it was a tough last race for the opening day we were very pleased. We had gone from what we thought was a realistic target of a top 10 finish pre regatta for a new crew with an unknown cowboy driver who had never sailed the boat, to recognising we had phenomenal pace and thinking we were possibly in with a shout of a podium if we could iron out the wrinkles.
Day 2 was marginal jib/ genoa and having over thought ourselves and tinkering with mast butt positions, we found ourselves with the jib on expecting the wind to build when in fact it was lessening, which made really hard work of race 4. Race 5 when we were finally committed to get back on the Genoa and mast to neutral all went to plan; a wire to wire performance as we went like a rocket up hill with the Quantum sail giving us speed and height to make decisions at will. Race 6 we started badly in the second row at the pin end with a breeze going right which killed us. It was a hard road back and reminded us the importance of getting bow forward at the start line and able to make our own decisions.
In the morning of Day 3 for Race 6, after the previous day few slippages and the crew having had a few rums the night before to bolster conviction, we decided we would have a go at Rotoman as we felt that they were being gifted a lane by the fleet, with the royal treatment of no one starting around them on the line in their usual spot 1/3rd of the way down from the committee boat. While they were fast we felt with jib on and shifting breeze, if we could pin them then we could force them back into the pack to count a higher score and bring them back to us on the leader board. Travis started us up underneath them in their spot and we sailed up through them before covering them as they tacked right having been forced back to mid pack. As a big right shift came in we tacked off to take the shift which lifted us to the front couple of boats but also allowed Rotoman to tack and sit now above and lifted. As we pushed through we ended up fighting for the lead with them and Daniel Frost on JJone with the Swedes not far behind. We had a great tactical fight downhill where Travis drove us Amateurs through some hard boat on boat match racing manoeuvres before we won the inside for the Port gate to round and then overtake Rotoman in the first cross of a tacking duel. The Swedes were able to peg us both back with our in-fighting and we rounded the top mark with them before they marched round the outside to win, with us and Rotoman following. It was the most exhilarating race and managed to even dust off the rum induced cobwebs for the remainder of the day. We had great pace in Race 8 and when leading Rotoman up the final beat thought we would have won for not the another fleets participants careering down their run not giving way to us and forcing a crash tack onto port and the outside to lose out. A great day rounded off with yet another 2nd after another master class from Rotoman who ended the day with yet another win.
The results pretty much sealed the deal for final places going into the final 2 races on the Tuesday, but we felt we should have a crack at Rotoman just to make sure they weren’t celebrating too early. Unfortunately we lost position on the start line when hunting them down and slid back to second row at the pin and they sailed off into the distance to win the race and the series.
Congratulations to Rotoman, they are having a great season after a couple of regatta wins in Italy prior to Kiel, and look to be a serious contender for the Europeans in Plymouth; also to Sullberg who finished the week in 3rd and were gentleman on the race course.
A big thanks to Travis and Quantum for imparting his knowledge and patience in sailing with us. We learnt to continually look at the basics to change gears and get the maximum speed out of the boat and to push for every place as they all count! A massive thank you to the German fleet who were gracious hosts and tolerated our sometimes loud use of various English speaking colloquial expressions which we occasionally didn’t even understand on the boat.
We had a great time and have already begun to plan next years trip to Kiel and would urge all UK boats to look at how we include this great event as one of our qualifying events for the UK Class to encourage people to make a trip over next year. The cost of the regatta is no more extra than a few tanks of fuel and a ferry than sailing in the UK, especially if you’re happy to camp, which we did, and the racing is very competitive.
We look forward to seeing everyone at the Europeans in August where Hitchhiker will be sailed by Team Gekko of Japan who finished 4th at the 2015 Worlds, while we will campaign our second boat, Phoenix with go faster Quantum sails.