The K25 Team report back from the J24 Europeans
A report from the K25 Team following their recent event in Crouesty in South Brittany: The dust has settled on the 2015 J24 European Championships and the Howth Yacht Club K25 team have returned home with the under 25 trophy and a top ten finish. Overall we are very pleased with our results. It was a very windy regatta and one which could easily be lost by boat breakages. Not only did we compete on the same level as former European Champions and World Champions but we have a clear idea of what we must improve to get to the very top.
A total of 5 very competitive youth teams battled for the U25 prize and it was very satisfying to win it with the Germans hot on our heels.
Our regatta almost took a fatal hit in the second race of the event when the pin in our gooseneck fitting broke. We not only surrendered at the front of the fleet but risked missing the 3rd race of the day and having to carry a DNS we could not discard. This was disappointing as we had done a lot of work on Kilcullen in the months preceding the regatta. This included big jobs like refitting the pulpit and pushpit which had started to show signs of cracking at the end of last season and replacing the rotten balsa under our jib cars with sturdier plywood. The gooseneck fitting had been one of the jobs we tackled. Our boom broke shortly after the 2013 worlds in Howth and it had not been possible to replace it with the same brand and there has always been a mismatch between the mast and boom fittings. We were unhappy with the longevity of last years solution so we had a stainless steel spacer made up to snug the gap between the bigger mast fitting and the smaller boom one. On the final gybe of the first downwind the mast fitting bent open, causing the ring to break off the gooseneck pin and both the pin and the spacer to fly overboard. Initially we thought that we would have to go to shore and replace the mast fitting, but with nothing to lose we decided to start the second race with a screwdriver in place of the pin. This solution held for the race and the following days races until we were able to find a suitable replacement.
Our overall plan was always to go for consistency. We felt that with 11 races and only one discard in a 32 boat fleet as strong as this one, one bad race would severely impact our overall standing. After our mishap in the second race this was more important than ever.
From the previous week we knew that a big wind was forecast for the event; the real question was whether or not it would be sailable. The fact that the wind was offshore meant that there was no opportunity for a big sea to develop and combined with an even worse forecast for the rest of the week the race committee sent us out. The was no argument in the sail choice, with all boats opting for the jib over the genoa. After a quick practice race we decided to depower by tightening the rig up to the second highest setting, we felt comfortable going upwind in the lulls and were able to keep the boat flat in the gusts by playing both the main and jib sheets.
From early on in the pre-start of the first race we could see that the fleet was racking up well back from the line. This allowed us to pull the trigger slightly earlier that the rest of the fleet, get bow out on the boats around us and get in phase with the oscillating breeze coming off the shore. We rounded the last mark in 5th position but we had difficulty keeping three boats who were close on our tail behind us and so crossed the line in a downwind finish in 8th.
After retiring from the second race we had a more difficult third race. Before the start we reckoned a big pressure increase was permanent and decided to wind up to our highest setting of rig tension. This move cost us as the wind decreased and we spent large parts of the upwinds underpowered. We managed to rescue a 12th position from what could have been much worse by playing the shifts much better than those around us.
If the first day was marginal, the second was all out survival. We felt comfortable all day on the highest rig tension setting. It was also clear that everyone was willing to be a lot more aggressive on the start line, making it harder to find space and hold a lane. While the wind direction was the same as the previous day, the race committee opted to lengthen the course, putting the windward mark right up next to the beach. The flow of the tide around a nearby headland and along the beach meant that it was advantageous to approach the top mark on port tack.
The first race was a difficult one. The increased aggression at the start line meant we were forced to tack off early and were caught the wrong side of the first shift. We crossed the line in 15th, getting overtaken by the American Mike Ingham in the final moments of the race as we broached trying to soak down to the finish line.
We were smarter with our starting in the next two races, getting into phase immediately and rounding the first mark in 2nd and 4th respectively. Our conservative approach meant we slipped down from these positions, crossing for an 8th and 9th respectively, results which we were happy to count.
We were just about to hoist our main when a French sailor pointed out that they were preparing to fly the AP. Word got out that there was gusts of 37 knots on the race course and following the hospitalization of a competitor the previous day due to high winds the committee were content to keep us onshore.
We spent most of the day on the dock and managed to attract the attention of J24 legends Stuart Jardine, a multiple European Champion, Mike Ingham, multiple North American champion and Will Wells, current J24 world champion and former trainee of HYC's Fergus O'Kelly. These guys gave the boat the once over and advised us on things such as backstay length, stanchion angle and length and crew positioning. It was great to be in the position to accept advice from the pros on the tiny details that make their boats tick better.
Racing finally started at 5 o clock and with all the advice from that day we were sailing quicker than ever. We crossed the line in 8th, which would have been better had it not been for a costly boat handling error at the last mark.
After the blowout that had been the first few days the wind died to nothing shortly before the first start. Without a breath of breeze after 10am the race committee abandoned the remainder of the event at one o' clock.
Team Set Up
In our post event debrief the factor we identified that was most important in getting this result was our role definition. Onboard Kilcullen every job is broken down and assigned to a position in the boat. The way we designate the jobs is something we originally got from our coach Graeme Grant but which we have fine tuned over the past few years by putting the hours in on the water.
We dropped the boat off in RCYC on the way back from France for the J24 Southern Championships next weekend, the following week we will travel to the Sovereigns Cup and ICRA Nationals in Kinsale. We feel that attending such a big event at the start of the season sets us up nicely to be competitive in both these events. From then we cast our eye on the nationals at the end of August and potentially to the worlds in Germany this September.
We are already busy trying to put our knowledge back into the young sailors in HYC. A second youth J24 has been brought under the K25 framework so we will have a training partner to bring about the next set of gains. We will be running a J24 sailing clinic in HYC in July, watch this space for details, and as always the squad will be around HYC throughout the summer and more than happy to talk sailing to anyone who will listen.
We would really like to thank Helly Hanson and North Sails who have partnered up with us this year. We also would particularly like to thank the ISA who helped us enormously by giving us the use of their van.
Brian McDowell, our team manager; Graeme Grant, our coach, and Paddy Gregory without whom we could never have made the trip.
Thanks to Brian Turvey, Emmet Dalton and the committee for backing the squad every step of the way.
We would like to thank Carl Hanratty and all the staff in the office, bar and marina at HYC who have been extremely supportive as always.
Finally, the support the team have received from club members has been incredible so thank you to everyone who has bought raffle tickets, attended the table quiz or even just wished us well in the last few weeks.
Cillian, Sam, Gordon,Cian and Harry