After two days of multi-hour ‘AP on shore’ to start the day (and nobody but Aeolus to blame) yesterday’s – Friday’s – racing started with no AP and caught some of the competitors napping. Or at least having a second cup of coffee at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club before going afloat.
PRO Mark Pryke took advantage of 5 kts of breeze on the ‘outside’ race course, hoisted signals, and went into sequence on time – only to find that he had very few customers. To be precise, Neil Pryde’s HiFi. The remainder of the Racing class were still scrambling, engines on, to make the start line. A reported ‘drifting pin’ caused a few minutes delay which alloed everyone to get there on time, but not all other classes following in the sequence were so lucky – one IRC 2 boat, Neil Anckorn’s Mat Salleh, had left the dock at the same time as the Committee Boat, when the AP didn’t go up (if you see what I mean) but found that even at full speed a slightly tired engine just wasn’t going to keep up with a brand new police patrol boat and get them there on time. There were others.
The RO is perfectly correct to start on time, and it is undeniable that it is the competitors’ responsibility to be in the starting area on time, but in an regatta that is more a Club event than a World Championship it may be that a little give-and-take would have been a good thing when a substantial number of boats were involved. After all, the RO has been heard to say at post-racing press conferences that it is his intention to ‘act in the best interests of the competitors, and provide the best racing possible.’ So, hang on a minute, and let ‘em race. It was a grumbly start to the day for some.
The course signaled was a windward-leeward, and it was a long race in what turned out to be a gradually dying breeze. Ray Roberts’ Evolution Racing nipped round the track in 1h 30m for a first place, but the slowest Multihull and the ever-patient Eveline (Ocean Rover class, built 1911) ran out of time past the 2hr cut-off, even on shortened courses.
And then we waited for a new breeze. And waited. And waited. Four long hot hours and something, to be less than precise, before a radio call from one of the Racing class suggested that a look at the ‘inside’ race course, in Bass Harbour, might be a good idea. And off went the fleet en masse to find that indeed there was breeze in front of the RLYC, but by the time a course was dreamed up and started to be laid, if fizzed and died, and racing was abandoned for the day. Some suggested that ‘a look inside’ a little sooner might have been a good idea. Others noted that if the Racing fleet had been restarted immediately they finished their first race in the morning, they would have completed another before the breeze died, and another race would have been ticked on the card.
Last day of racing – today – Saturday. A short AP, but no lack of breeze and no hesitation from anyone. Out into Bass Harbour, courses laid, and straight into sequence. It was a grand day on which to finish a regatta – 6 to 11 kts of breeze (we checked), sunshine (look at the pictures), and one of the most scenic racing areas we know. Ok so we haven’t been everywhere, but you really will have to go a long way to improve on the flat water and beautiful Geopark scenery of Bass Harbour when the breeze is in.
A combination of windward-leeward courses (with extra bits) for the speed demons, and triangles for the less quick classes, had everyone round and finished in a little over an hour. Time for more of the same. And then, an hour later, time for more of the same again for Racing, IRC 1 and 2, and the Sportsboats who needed an eighth race to make a full series.
Some of the classes’ finish positions were already decided at the start of the day (Gren Fordham’s Nina had the Multihulls sewn up with straight wins in every race to date) and Niels Degenkolw’s Phoenix (IRC 2) had a score sheet of all bullets bar one second. Jing Jing and Katsu were set to argue the toss for IRC1, and in the Sportsboats (Platu) division it was game on for Mitrmitri (Jaray Tipsuk) and team Viewpoint (Rolf Heemskerk). Over recent regattas it seems to have become standard practice that Ray Roberts (Evolution Racing) and Neil Pryde (HiFi) will scrap it out to the end of the last day. In RLIR 2010 it came down to the very last race, and it was the same at the Raja Muda and Phuket King’s Cup last year. This time there were two points in it to start the day, advantage Evolution Racing. Two wins and a second for HiFi against Roberts’ two seconds and a win kept it ‘advantage Evolution’ by just one point, and the boys in the red shirts picked up the Prime Minister’s Challenge Trophy for the sixth consecutive year.
It was a tough regatta for all concerned, and probably won’t go down in the record books as Langkawi’s finest, despite all the glowing plaudits uttered on stage this evening at the closing ceremony and prizegiving. The wind didn’t blow nearly enough, but that’s not anybody’s fault. We are all at the mercy of the breeze, and accept that. It was tough for the sailors, sailing slowly, or not at all. It was even tough for the spectators, photographers and journalists, grilling just the same on the media boats. It was tough for the volunteers on the mark boats and for the Royal Malaysian Polis support teams. The only place we know for sure had air conditioning was the bridge of Polis PA 53, the Committee Boat.
Thoroughly-salted Race Officers will tell you that RO is a relatively easy job when there’s breeze, but it’s the light-air regattas that really sort the wheat from the chaff. The RO who can keep everyone happy when there is very little breeze and it is proving difficult to get the races in, is a hero indeed. Unfortunately this was not the case at this event, and there were lots of mutinous grumblings ‘below decks’, on the docks, and in the bar.
Day 1 saw a short course with a rather odd finish line for the Racing class, and an abandonment for everyone else. It was not an auspicious start. Day 2 was raced on relatively long (for the wind strength) windward-leeward courses, which all had to be shortened. Why not, people asked, have shorter courses, and more of them? And why consign the smaller and slower boats in any given division to death by slow cuts as they tried to flap their way to a short finish in a dying breeze when the class leaders had already finished? The grumbling was getting louder. Shorter courses, more races: good idea. Day 3 produced the Le Mans start scenario and then a four-hour wait before the call was made to check out the breeze inside Bass Harbour, followed by… nothing. The grumbling got louder still.
Instead of windward-leeward courses with the bottom mark to leeward of the start line, why not courses ‘in front of’ the Committee Boat, with two top marks, one (further away) for the faster divisions and another (closer in) for the slower divisions? When asked, the PRO said that this was not operable due to shortage of race management personnel to man the four mark boats, but we understand that there were 25 volunteers available for the job which rather does sound sufficient – we know, personally, regattas which operate efficiently with a much smaller management team.
Is it necessary to wait for all classes to finish before starting another race? It is common practice at many regattas to send the faster classes (for example, the Racing division) away on a second race as soon as they have finished the first.
The grumbling got louder, and in spite of many very positive comments made at press conferences concerning ‘fairness of racing’ and ‘giving the competitors what they want’, many competitors did not agree with the sentiments when quizzed over a cup of coffee. One boat owner suggested that what the regatta lacked was a Race Officer with ‘practicality, common sense, and decisiveness’. The growling grew in volume.
Saturday’s racing was grand. Actually, it is a well-known fact that it is only necessary for a regatta’s last day of racing to be good for all the previous days to be forgotten and the event declared a resounding success. And Saturday’s racing really was great. Everyone enjoyed themselves, even the media. So it was a bit of a surprise – or a reminder - when a young Chinese-Australian journalist asked a the PRO at the final press conference, ‘A lot of sailors have told me that they will boycott this event next year if you are the Race Officer. So will you be here next year?’ You could have heard a kleenex land on the stripped pine floor. The 900-pound gorilla in the corner shifted from one foot to the other.
The young lady journalist never did get an answer to her question, but some comments were made about ‘negative reporting’ and ‘damaging the regatta’. So now we have a question – what will ‘damage’ a regatta more? – existing entrants failing to return because they are not satisfied with the race management of the event, or newcomers failing to enter because they have heard (or read) someone’s opinion that the event’s race management was not satisfactory? Answers on a postcard, please.
Meanwhile, congratulations to all the trophy winners at the Royal Langkawi International Regatta 2011:
Prime Minister’s Challenge Trophy – Evolution Racing. Ray Roberts.
Commodore’s Challenge Trophy – Smystery. Charles Hay.
LADA-IRC Trophy – Katsu. Ben Copley.
Langkawi Sports Trophy – Team ViewPoint. Rolf Heemskerk.
Malaysian Multihull Challenge – Nina. Grenville Fordham
And last (but absolutely no means least), the Tunku Abdulla Sportsmanship Award which this year went not to a boat, not an individual, and not even to a competitor. This was presented to a stunned and delighted DSP Tharamadurai and his Officers and team from the Royal Malaysian Marine Police for their first class support and rescue services throughout the regatta. You can’t miss Tharama at the RLIR – he is the man in the Big Black RIB. Three cheers! And here’s to RLIR 2012!