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Newtownards 2014 Report

GRANDFATHER MING - IRISH SLALOM AT NSC

Your image of your typical grandfather involves a pipe, slippers, watching too much telly and being nice to children - rather like Wookie really.

It doesn't involve charging around a choppy course at high speed and coming in fourth over all in the first round of the Irish Slalom Series. But that's exactly what Ming the Merciless did last weekend. And in case you're wondering why I was so indelicate in my choice of title for this missive - it's because he dictated it to me. And, like everyone else I live in fear of the platinum megalomaniac! And the day after the races he did indeed become a grand-emperor. One can only speculate if the baby had come a day earlier whether he'd have been at the bedside - but one suspects it might have turned into a water birth. At Newtownards. See results here.

Anyway, enough of domestic bliss. What of the races do I hear you ask in desperation?

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Well there were some. Actually there were 15 which tells you it was windy. But it didn't always seem that way. So when we arrived on the Saturday morning, there was much muttering in the ranks and implications that Angie looks better than she forecasts. 9m plus was being rigged.

Fortunately for all concerned there were some monumental cock ups which delayed things. Minor details the OOD not being there on time, the boat trim not working despite having just had a major overhaul (cured by a huge dunt with a hammer) and Paddy running around like a demented duck on speed. All of this meant that by the time we were ready to start racing the wind had had time to think about it and was, rather like certain racers, beginning to belatedly wake up.

Quite a few of us were on 9-ish metres and the first race was peppered with rather more swearing than usual as people struggled to hang onto what were suddenly stupidly big sails.

Quite a few people changed down for the second race. I tried to be too clever and figured correctly that my only chance of a placing (other than a mad man appearing on a boat with a machine gun) was to be on a different sail from everyone else and then for the wind to die. It didn't - in fact it went up. I'm quite surprised I made it round the course as after that I changed down to a 6.5m!

i was in fact last, but thereby hangs a tale - or a tail. It turns out that being last is quite a good result relatively speaking because people who didn't finish - and there many of them in most races - were penalised heavily in the marking system. So it was better to complete than to abandon.

Even this was fraught with difficulty because the OOD, no doubt feeling guilty for the late start, was determined to get a pile of races run before the wind died. He was quite right of course but this meant that finishing last gave you a good chance of not being back upwind and in position for the next race. On at least one occasion I came in a gallant last (but finished) and arrived at the start line just in time to gybe and start the next race. Some didn't even make this.


You may have already gathered that there were in effect two races going on each time. Speedy people like Maurice, Hannes and Wookie had a normal race with the intention of winning. Ming, the merciless grandad also aspired to win. The rest of us knew our place - and our place was to come last, which at least was better than not coming at all...

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For any of you who haven't raced, it is great fun. You sit around in the shallows and wait for the seemingly random sequence of flags from a boat. The serious guys have special electronic timers strapped on (now you know how to win a race - buy a strap on) which they start at the 3 minute flag. The rest of us count elephants. When the 1 minute flag drops a game of chicken develops. The general idea is to start about 50m before the starting boat and  time it so as to be crossing the line at full speed just as the flag drops and the race begins.

Get it wrong and you cross the line too early and have to double back or be disqualified. Get it wrong the other way and you've no chance of ever being near the front and you have just joined the grumpy brigade fighting it out for last place or worse.

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The nice thing about racing is that you can get in other people's way. It's allowed and in the race for last place it is positively encouraged. Thus I developed the knack of wandering in front of my rivals as we sat in the water so that when the moment came they couldn't waterstart. I was very popular, but it helped my position.

On one start I got caught in a gust when I went to water start and the sail crashed on the wrong side. So I decided to take a seat. OK it was on Paddy's sail - but sure he wasn't going anywhere with it - I made sure of that.

And round the gybe marks was carnage. The strap-on brigade went through first and probably had quite flat water. The no-strapons coming through afterwards had to deal with what I imagine must be something like the water in Andy's loo bowel. The result was a lot of crashes of course.

Some people were fast, but often fell at gybes. Surprisingly Big Robert was one of these. The reason was that this was the first time he'd sailed his new (old) kit. I got most of my gybes so I'd often be ahead of him, he'd fly past me on the straight and then I'd pass him wallowing at the gybe mark. There are by the way some people who think his excuse about the gear is a smokescreen - the real reason he fell in a lot was because he'd lost his lucky shirt. You know, the one with the 4 year old curry stains on it.

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The first day started late and we flew through a lot of races before a late lunch. The theme of disarray continued after the excellent lunch (courtesy of Paddy's extended family) as you had to be psychic to know when the races were starting again. Somehow it all worked and the pitched battles continued.

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There were casualties. Finishing a triumphant last in one races and very worried if I'd get back to the start in time for the next I saw a body in the water brandishing half a boom. So I told the finishing boat to go and rescue him - knowing the delay would give me a chance to get back to the start and get my breath back. I had my best finish after that finishing 7th I think. The field was officially 18.

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Maurice broke a mast but sadly this didn't affect his results - he's so good he doesn't need a mast. He in fact won the overall event - despite his recent marriage. And there were a lot of dents on boards where intimacy had taken place on the water - usually round the gybe mark.

Explosion of day, normally a given for Chris L when he does his pre-sail bowel clearance, had to go to Nick Fletcher. Now Chris is annoyingly fast and was going at his usual speed when it just all went wrong. No-one knows what happened but there was a huge splash and he took a while to get back up. A huge catapult. He texted later to say that he was feeling fine - apart from his neck, shoulders, arms, back and legs. The general medical opinion is that he had whiplash - so no doubt we can all expect our car insurance to go up as a result.

Update - it turns out that it was more than whiplash. Poor Nick actually broke a bone in his neck and is now wearing a neck collar. No word yet on whether he is going to get a Titanium supplement from Ming.

Glen is normally a good sailor but he was hanging around the rear a lot - a popular pass time with certain windsurfers but we won't go into that here. Anyway they were sailing from the car park. It turned out that he was becoming seriously ill. He woke up the next day unable to move his legs and had to be taken to the doctor. Hannes, being a true friend, then drove him to Dundalk and so missed the Sunday morning races. However he'd already done so well on Saturday he still came in third. A truly remarkable performance.

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Saturday night was the social side when windsurfers are encouraged to wear their natural clothes - garish shirts and flares. So everyone felt very much at home - although for some reason there were very few women around. We had a great feed and then some music in the bar along with a raffle.

I'd like to tell you tales of huge amounts of drink taken and general debauchery. I'd really like to tell you - but there weren't any. The Grand Minger only had 4 pints - normally his aperitif on a Saturday night. And he and many others retired to their vans at a respectable hour. And just to prove that he really is made of Titanium, Wookie and I brought him his McDs at 9 the next day and he rose like Lazarus from a bench he'd assembled in his van. Monks would have organised protest marches if they'd been given something like this to sleep on.

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By Sunday lunch time we'd completed so many races that most of us had lost the will to live. There was supposed to be a master blaster across the lough. It was as well organised as everything else on the water. That meant that various people just got on their boards and sailed off. It was a lovely trip over but with the wind continuing to freshen, the trip back was seriously hard work. I trailed in exhausted (and not last) with my 6.5m in what was by now very 5m weather.

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Richard Honeyford came fifth overall. A good result for him but the real story is that he was exuding at all orifices having some awful bug. We don't know yet how many windsurfers are now afflicted. Thanks Richard.

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We finished with a prize giving where Maurice presented himself with the top prize and we all gave heartfelt thanks to Paddy for excellent off the water organisation and for having the good sense or luck to have a family of great cooks.

Wookie had his usual great result. He was second overall but more unusually for him he had a great result pictorially. There is a great shot which appears to show him jumping over a boat. While this is something he might be likely to do - in this case it was an optical illusion. Who'd have thought that Mr Wookie would ever look good in a photograph?

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David Corkhill sailed very well and fast. He would have done even better if he'd been able to master more gybes in the pea soup of the turns. Still his waterstarts were fast and he got some excellent video footage, mostly of passing me it has to be said, from the camera on his mast.

Now I have to mention the other other races. There were sufficient entries to run a silver fleet. 9 people were racing and it was great to see a pile of new blood (in some cases literally) in and occasionally on the water. The same excellent organisation was evident with the Saturday morning races being run on two different courses simultaneously. But this is small beer compared the brilliance of these guys (and girl) just being out there and giving it a lash.

As we left, the sun was out, it was still early and it was 5m. But no-one had any energy to sail it. See results here.

Tags: Newtownards 2014, Slalom 2014 Reports

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