England, June 3, 1998
I loved sailing through my Cool Britannia experience
weeks ago, a fearless crew of eight PW Moscow adventurers set off on
grand challenge. They had a date with destiny, the 1998 Price Waterhouse
Windsor Winch Yacht Race, in Port Solent, England.
The eight assembled quietly in Portsmouth on Thursday night, getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with the inhabitants and weather of the area. Once the sun rose Friday morning, the crew slipped out of the hotel and made their way to the ship they hoped would bring them luck. There she sat, sailboat No 29, smooth, clean, and ready to sail. The crew quickly climbed aboard and found their places, then promptly switched places. Actually, complete confusion regained since only half the crew were experienced sailors, with the other half armed only with enthusiasm.
Vlad watches the competition as Corin mans the helm.
Corin Hobbs (Tax), the skilled skipper, quickly brought the boat to order and assigned all the positions. The two strongest men, Vladimir Runov (Tax) and Alexander Fedotov (ABS) manned the ropes and winches, ready to pull up a sail or pull in a rope on a moment's notice. Michael Bird (Finance), as the navigator, swiftly plotted the course out of the harbor while Andy Tyler (ABS) and Claire Newman (Tax) quickly prepared the sails on the foredeck. Alexei Lurie (IT) scouted out the best shots as the race photographer, and yours truly (Wayan Vota, Finance) just tried to stay out of the way.
Once out of the harbor, Corin lead the crew through a series of maneuvers to show us the ropes (pun intended) and make us practice raising and lowering the sails. The crew came together quickly, with only a few minor mishaps that luckily, did not involve anyone going for an unplanned swim.
All day we sailed in circles, practicing tacking, coming about, dip pole jibes, and spinnaker releases. By that evening, we knew we were good, but the question was, 'How good?' See, last year, the Moscow boat surprised all the competitors (over 25 boats) with its skill and knowledge, coming in second overall. This year, everyone knew us, and they were not going to spare us an inch.
That night, after dinner with several other crews, the race strategy was plotted. Corin knew we would have to start fast, and never let up, to be able to beat the lead boats. Copenhagen, Paris, Switzerland, and the many boats from England were semi-professional crews. All were very experienced, with most crews sailing together every weekend in the summer. Our team, a bit inexperienced, would have to be stellar to be in the top 10 boats.
Claire scans for ferries
Sasha, in the eye of the storm
The morning of the race, an ominous fog rolled in over the channel we were to race in. The fog was so thick, the large ferries that ply the channel could be heard sounding their fog horns in warning. None of us knew if the race, which we had come so far to compete in, would be called off moments before the race began. Finally, over the radio, we heard the great news, the race was on!
Sasha, winding the sails
As the boats circled the starting line, angling for the best position, Michael plotted the fastest course, via the buoys indicated by the race boat, to the finish line. Sasha and Vlad arranged, then rearranged their ropes for the best combination, while Andy and Claire helped Corin find the best tact to take for the start. Alexei counted down the seconds to the start, and with a bang!, we were off!
The first race was very tense. As we left the start line, different boats took different courses to the first marker. Some were headed across the path of others, while everybody tried to steal the wind from their nearby competitors. A few near misses later, the pack broke up and we were all alone, sailing as fast as we could in the light head wind.
At the first buoy, we were ecstatic with third place behind the Swiss and the French, then King Neptune, the Greek God of the seas, turned against us. As we sailed down a long tack, three boasts slowly passed us. We were all sailing the exact same boats, on the same path, with the same sails, but no matter what we did, we fell further behind. The next buoy changed the tack, and we held our place, but we could do nothing to make up that lost time. We finished sixth in the first race, bewildered, but confident we could still improve our place.
Andy hanging on
After a heated discussion between Corin and another skipper, we started the second race in first place again. This time we took a different tack as we left the line, leaving all the boats to fight for wind and space in a tight pack. As we approached the first buoy, we could not believe our eyes. The French had passed us again!
Vlad sheets in the genoa
Determined not to lose to them a second time, we fought bitterly to maintain our place, but Neptune's curse continued. At the next buoy, the wind disappeared just as we hoisted our spinnaker sail, causing it to wrap around the mast in a tidy tangle. Luckily, the wind left all the boats behind us too, and we were able to untangle the sail and continue while only dropping behind one boat. Over the next several runs and turns, we tried valiantly to regain the lead, but we were unsuccessful, with a fifth place finish.
That night, at the awards ceremony, we received a round of applause for our good spirits in face of such a curse, but the sight of the French, Danish, and the Swiss taking first, second, and third respectively, made the party a bit tough. The crew did enjoy themselves in spite of our standings though; we were there for the fun of sailing and the team spirit, not to make enemies. Sasha and I were given champagne for our separate achievements, Sasha for sailing on a Russian missile cruiser during his military service, and myself for being brave enough to swim in the cold waters of the channel between races.
The next morning, with a stiff wind blowing, the crew was ready for the final, and the toughest race of the weekend. In a Force 5 wind, we set off with six other crazy boats to race in wind only experts dare sail in. This time, as we maneuvered for a starting position, we were not gonna let the French anywhere near the sweet starting spot.
Michael and Sasha, clam in the chaos
As our boats aimed for the same spot in the water, Corin began yelling warnings at the skipper of the French boat as he got closer to ours, but to no avail. At the last second, the French skipper realized that Corin was not going to change course, and tried to avoid a collision, but it was to late. With a jolt, a 'thud,' and everyone holding on tight, the boats hit each other, bouncing away just in time to miss hitting the race boat, anchored in the channel. We passed the staring line, right on time, but the race boat crew was so shocked that they survived without as much as a tap, that they never blew the horn.
The crew watching the French get crazy
This time, we knew we had the French. They had to circle around to pass the race boat on the proper side, to start the race. Our skipper has us leading all the boats to the first marker, with the bow of our boat crashing through waves and wetting the crew. As we passed the second marker, with the Danes mysteriously ahead of us, we looked back in horror.
The French, casting all caution aside, had launched their spinnaker in the high winds! Now the tides of the race had turned. A spinnaker is a huge sail that flies on the front of a boat, giving it amazing speed, but is usually only used in light winds. The French, in a mad gamble, were literally risking their boat (and their lives) to win the race. Corin, knowing the skill of our crew, overrode the chorus from the crew to launch our spinnaker, and held fast to our course. As the French sailed ahead, and left the rest of the racers to scramble for second, we were in awe. Now that was a professional crew (or an insane one), who were willing and able to launch a spinnaker in that wind and not capsize their boat.
Alexei, doing his best in recording the event
We fought diligently with the English boat from Southampton, and while dodging a ferry and several pleasure boats, we were able to take third place by half a boat length. The improvement we showed over the weekend, going from sixth to third out of twenty boats from all over Europe, is a testament at how good we were, and how fast we improved. For the second year in a row, and only the second year competing, PW Moscow was one of the top five boats in the PW Windsor Winch Yacht Race.