The 2008 European International Championship for 18ft skiffs got underway in Six Fours, just down the road from Hyeres in the South of France, launching from the dramatically named Brutal Beach. Ronstan UK with Ian Turnbull, Paul Constable and Alec Mckinlay on board are tied in the lead with news boys on the block, Jarrod Simpson with David Cunningham and Adam Ovington on TMF.
The Championships is one of three key events, along with the North American Championships and the JJ Giltinan in Sydney that determine the class' global ranking. So the European fleet was joined by a number of travellers from Australia and the US. Also joining the fleet although not competing was the Swiss Mirabaud foiling skiff, trying out its performance against its conventional peers.
The first day and Brutal Beach was definitely not living up to its name. A light sea breeze and baking hot 30+ temperature on the water was the order of the day - in short fairly typical Mediterranean conditions. Still the 19 boat fleet fleet left the shore in a steady 8-10 knot breeze, just enough to get the crews fully out on their trapezes. The first race got underway promptly and with a slightly port biased line it was previous JJ Giltinan Champion, Californian Howie Hamlin with Mike Martin and Paul Adam on Wild Oats Chardonnay who got the best of the bunch towards the pin end and quickly established a lead on the short first beat. despite having been in a container from Australia since February Wild Oats sailed the race with almost clinical precision to lead from start to finish.
They were followed for most of the race by another previous JJ Giltinan Championship winner, Australian John Winning with David Gibson and Andrew Hay on Yandoo Ssangyong, who was just taken on the final run by the first British boat TMF, the newest addition to the UK fleet competing in Europe for the first time.
Ronstan UK made steady progress through the fleet after a mid fleet start to take fourth and the Danish team Bodotex of Jesper Broendum, Jan Saugman and Martin Friderichsen looked fast in the light conditions to take fifth.
Race two got underway in similar conditions, although with signs the breeze was starting to fade slightly. Again Howie Hamlin on Wild Oats Chardonnay got the best of the start and rounded the windward mark first followed by a bunch that included Bodotex, TMF, the Hungarian Liberty Sailing team (Miklos Uzhelyi-Gaspak, Zsombor Szepfy and Matyas Majthenzi) and Ronstan UK.
Over the following laps Ronstan were able to move through the group to be right on Wild Oats transom by the final leeward mark and in the fading breeze were able to find a little extra pressure to the left of the course to cross Wild Oats at the top of the final beat and hold that lead till the finish. Bodotex held on for third place, the consistent TMF took fourth and the Hungarian team took fifth. The second day started breathlessly calm and hot. Although a light sea breeze set in the committee kept the fleet ashore a full two hours in the hope the breeze would build. However, the wind did not climb much over five knots and the committee eventually sent the fleet afloat in the hope of at least getting a race in.
In the light and fitful sea breeze once again it was Howie Hamlin's Wild Oats Chardonnay who lead the fleet around the windward mark, followed by Yandoo Ssangyong, then Grant Rollerson, Anthony Young and Cam Macdonald on the brand new Slam skiff and a group of three UK skiffs, headed by Gill/Wet & Wild sailed for the day by Mark Addison with Mark Tait and Penny Hooper. Then Andy Richards, Andrew Fairley and Dave Richards on Pindar and TMF.
Slam took the lead on the first run and were never challenged, Yandoo Ssangyong held on for second and Pindar worked clear of the next group to take third. Gill, Wet and Wild took fourth but were later penalised for not signing on and TMF came in 5th. Wild Oats had an uncharacteristically bad day and slipped back to ninth, loosing their overnight lead in the process to Ronstan UK who came home sixth and are now tied on 11 points for the lead with TMF, but have the advantage of a race win.
With the breeze again dropping the fleet were then sent back to the beach after what had been a frustrating and trying days sailing for most. 18ft Skiff - leading positions after 3 races (no discard)
1 Ronstan UK - Ian Turnbull (GBR) 11pts
2 TMF - Jarrod Simpson (GBR) 11pts
3 Wild Oats Chardonnay - Howie Hamlin (USA) 12 pts
4 Slam - Grant Rollerson (AUS) 14pts
5 Yandoo Ssangyong - John Winning (AUS) 15pts