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2009 August eNewsletter

So far all the races I have sailed this year, (with the exception of Antigua), have been in light to very light conditions. I cannot remember a year with such lack of winds; is it climate change or the recession causing this phenomenon I wonder! Even stranger, the minute the boats are back on the trailer and on the way back home, the wind arrives!

Having sailed the French Championships in La Baule, the Grand Prix in Kiel and the Gold Cup in Skagen, I can report that organization both afloat and ashore have been outstanding. More or less maximum level of participation in all the races, which is great news in these times. Christian Boillot won in La Baule, Markus Wieser in Kiel and Ruslana Taran in Skagen. Very well sailed and well done to you all; my results were nothing to write home about; 3, 5 and 11. Another race with cancellation of some races due to lack of wind, was the Marblehead Trophy sailed last weekend. Tommy Mueller, the host and defending champion, suffered a black flag. With all races counting, this put him out of the frame. The Danes put up a strong challenge and took four out of the first five places; Jens Christensen/Kim Andersen won. They will be deciding the venue of next years' Marblehead. According to my snout (Gavia) it was a very well organized event and Tommy did a brillant job hosting the teams. I am now looking forward to Medemblik, and hope for a bit of wind so at least two of the crew can sit on the weather rail instead of to leeward.

In Skagen we had also to contend with a strong and unpredictable stream/tide; Tommy Mueller reported one day 20 meters in one minute. This caused "up and down" results for quite a few people including myself. An innovation at the Gold Cup was the use of Track Track devices. We were all supplied with this tracking device; collected before leaving and returned after racing for charging. Three large screens were set up in the tent, and the Dragon followers could "see" the race live. After racing, the Dragon sailors could replay their own race or others; all this caused a great deal of amusement. What was not so funny, were the questions of our loved ones when coming ashore. "Why did you go to the right where you could only do 3.7 knots while on the left they were clocking 4.5 knots?" "Could you not see that windshift"? In my long life of racing, I was always able to "camouflage" my mistakes and come up with a good story for home consumption or in the bar after a bad race. However, I can now see that the good times are over. Anybody, anywhere in the World, can follow the race and see our mistakes being made. Sorry guys, we are all in the same boat and there will be no place to hide. Can you imagine a situation in the future with the wife or girlfriend calling from home or office during the race and tell you; "you have just gone from No. 5 to No. 65; why don't you tack now". One solution could be to introduce a ban on mobiles on board, so at least we would not have this problem to contend with as well.

Joking aside, it was fun to have the Track Tracks and I can see this is what we all will have in future races. Another plus would be if a Dragon went down; the salvage people would have no problem finding it. Which brings me to the next story:

You will all remember in Cannes during the Regatta Royale in 2007 two Dragons went down; a third sunk a couple of weeks later. You may also recall that Tommy Mueller and Mike Hayles immediately arranged a meeting with the boat builders and IDA officers present at the time in Cannes. This resulted in substantial rule changes effective almost immediately; and increase in buoyancy from 1800L to 2500L; we decided to go for a bit extra and ours is 2700L. Peter Boyd was the middle man and co-owner of BBC, one of the unfortunate trio. After Cannes, he joined forces with Stewart and Catriona Coltart and carried on Dragon sailing on the Medway. In April this year, they took delivery of a new Dragon and Stewart reports as follows:

"I have had a few exciting downwind moments in my time in Dragons but this particular incident was a bit special. We were battling for the lead with our erstwhile competitors, Julian and Clare Sowry (Scimitar GBR 730) on a Saturday race on the Medway. The course on this particular leg was directly downwind with gusty force 5 winds oscillating unpredictably. It was an exciting spinnaker run and we went deeper than 730. The boat behind us had elected to stay with white sails and was not losing any ground to us. I was about to drop the spinnaker when an abrupt and violent gust arrived which put us 20o by the lee. The boat sheered violently to leeward exacerbating the situation along with a rapid windward roll. Rudder authority was lost as the mast tip went under water (the rudder in effect became an elevator instead). The three of us were left staring at the sky with water pouring into the boat. My wife's head went underwater along with her boots filling up with water. We seemed to lie there for about 15-20 seconds and she slowly righted. Curiously, there was no involuntary gibe despite being so markedly by the lee. I was particularly worried that the boom would crash over and hit one of us on the head knocking us overboard completely. When upright, we wiped the salt out of our eyes and rapidly dumped the spinnaker. The pole had snapped with the roll to windward. We had a considerable amount of water in the boat, about 30- 50cm above the floorboards and I was concerned that she might wallow and go down so a course was set for some shallow water. However, it became apparent that she had plenty of buoyancy and importantly, there was no fore and aft instability with risk of submarining. The electric pump proved highly effective and within 3 minutes or so (time becomes very approximate in these situations) she was dry helped with some bucketing from us. In the end we only lost two places from this escapade. Like fishing stories, it is easy to exaggerate on such a tale but our crew Peter Booth was aboard BBC GBR683 when she sank off Cannes in Oct 2007. Yes, that was in open water with waves but the depth of water in the boats was similar if not more. What was different was the better buoyancy of the new hull to a Jubilee Dragon. In some respects, the new Valkyrie felt like a dinghy rather than a heavy displacement keel boat with the feeling that she was lying higher in the water than an older boat thereby reducing the ingress of water. Very reassuring particularly when sailing in waves in deep water."

We were told at the time that in theory the additional buoyancy would work; however, there is nothing like putting theory to the test. All Petticrow Dragons from March 2008 have this extra buoyancy. It looks like it works; thank you Tommy, thank you Mike for all your efforts.

I told you I am testing the new mast. In general, I am very happy with the new Aero profile, but will need more time. It has only been used in light conditions so far; I will do an extensive report in my next newsletter.

I have to take my hat off to the French Dragon Association, AFSID with their continued efforts to promote the Dragon Class. They have again arranged to have Dragon on the Paris Boat show in December, which is great news. This is not the first time AFSID is giving a good example in marketing the Dragon Class. It is not surprising, I think, that the French Dragon Fleets continue to grow. Many French Dragon sailors are involved; Eric, Xavier, Jean-Pierre just to name a few. Great job!

The Irish on the other hand have not been coming out to play so much this season. Could Mick Cotter be to blame for this? He is racing his big Whisper quite a lot (I spotted him on a CNN programme on the Fastnet) and a big boat like his needs a lot of crews; or walk-on Tools as they are referred to on that great ship. Is he using all the Irish Dragon sailors as Tools, so they have no time left to sail their own Dragons I wonder? I would like to know please Mick

The Aussie Fleets are building too, which is great news. Robert Alpe has done a fantastic job promoting Dragons down under. Richard Lynn from Perth is the first to come out and play with us in the Gold Cup this year. A few more are expected in Medemblik, including Wolf Breit (another mover and shaker in Oz) and St. Tropez. We will all need to get in shape for the Worlds in Melbourne in 2011; the Aussies are good sailors, and not to be under estimated.

After Medemblik I will be at the Regatta Royale and St. Tropez. Hope to see you around.

All the best,