|BANG - and they're off ...|
Sailing – in my case the ongoing story of the steep learning curve. Started sailing last year, bought a H-boat in April, and worked in the Racing Office of a sailing event – the Soling Class European Championship (having sailed all of two regattas in my whole life – just the week before. As ballast).
So if anyone has a fresh, if not naive impression of what goes on at a regatta, it must be me. Not for long though, because I must admit that I have been bitten by the regatta bug: the speed, the chaos, the know-how. And of course the people involved: young and old are sailing concentrated, even doggedly determined. And I shouldn't forget the people who make their contribution to a sailing event in other, indispensable ways: the women and men who raise and lower the flags, man the boats and keep the barbecues burning.
That's what I am thinking now, at the end of the championship. On Monday 10 June, I had hardly formed myself an opinion about regattas, other than that I was worried about the flagging bit: would I be able to remember it all? (Of course I wasn't. Luckily, there are books, and helpful people who patiently answer obvious questions).
The first thing I noticed was: what are these tall big men doing in such small slender boats? I asked Johan Offermans, the president of the International Soling Association, himself a tall man (if I stand on a chair we can just about see each other straight in the eyes – that tall), but he adroitly evaded an answer by saying that he had a bigger boat at home – yeah right. Ludwig Beurle, Yann Neergaard, Roman Koch. No gaunt little men. By the way, almost all competitors were men, except for one woman: Susanne Kuchta.
The second thing I noticed is the chaos and heated temperaments at the start, and the (relative) quiet immediately afterwards -except for some skirmishes when the ships were rounding the marks.
The third thing I noticed was the importance of the weather. In order to sail you need wind. But the wind is not always there. And no wind is a terrible thing in sailing. On the second day of the championship, Tuesday 11 June, there was too little wind, and I have never seen so many bored men together at the same time.
Or there is too much wind. Or the wind is not continuously blowing steadily from one direction, like you wish it would, but hopping about, dwindling to a mere breath one moment, and blowing up to a storm the next. Before and during the regatta, the Principal Racing Officer (in this case Thomas Jørgensen) was keeping a close eye on the wind, together with helpers along the racing course. Reason for this is that the wind has to blow form the same direction all the time during the race, otherwise it's not fair. The nice thing is that you can move the course easily on the water: just move the buoys a couple of degrees, and you're ready. Not something that would make cyclists happy at the Tour de France. But then of course the Alpe d'Huez doesn't change that much from day to day.
The fourth thing that attracted my attention was that club life is the same everywhere. Well, in the Netherlands you wouldn't have an all-male meeting with little dishes of gummi bears and other sweets on the table, accompanying the coffee. You will, though, in Kaløvig Bådelaug... But the dedication, from early in the morning until late at night, the fun, the jokes, the problems (sometimes) and the mutual generosity are the same. Recreational sport is 'hyggelig' – and, let's not forget, the breeding ground for professionals!