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Ben Palmer 470 Update

470 sailor Ben Palmer wrote to us with an update on how his year is going so far:

2012 started with some cold 470 racing in Palamos. I teamed up with Bleddyn Mon in October. Bleddyn had previously raced 49ers for a year, lasers and 29ers at youth level. So jumping into a symmetric boat proved a little tricky to start with but soon got the hang of it. Palamos Christmas race is a good event to do in the winter to be able to judge how the winter training is going and get some racing practice.

First day of racing in Palamos we had cold wind from the north that was gusty and shifty, we struggled with starting but our good boatspeed managed to pull us through the fleet to get a 7th, 9th and 3rd.  The next few days had westerly equally cold light winds and improving our starting, and racing we got a 12th, 1st, 26th, 15th and 5th which put us in 6th going into the medal race. The medal race was a very light wind race, which started poorly for us as we were over at the start and had to go back, we managed to beat the boats we needed to beat and moved up to 5th overall out of 30 entries. We were happy with our racing and boat speed in this regatta and went into the next phase of training focusing on starting and downwind tactics and speed. The cold conditions made the MUSTO MPX Drysuit the best piece of kit to have, with the warmth of your layers underneath but the quality of material of the drysuit keeping you dry and flexible.

I was also in my final year of university, studying BSc Geophysical Sciences, and independent research project deadlines, and exam pressure made juggling studies and sailing hard. We went to Palma, Princess Sofia probably not as prepared as we would have liked. Palma was a light wind regatta with emphasis on starting boatspeed, and boat on boat tactics. We found this regatta very difficult, after the first day making some starting errors we were able in the subsequent races able to get to the windward mark in a stop 10 position only to struggle with the windward mark rounding or first downwind due to lack of boat speed. We ended up finishing at disappointing 71st out of 91 boats. Unfortunately Bleddyn and I decided to go our separate ways after the event as we were not working well together.

After Palma I took a little break to finish my university degree. In this time the Nacra 17 was selected to be the mixed multihull for the 2016 Olympics. I have though that this may be a good option for me, since I am quite tall and could be well set up to crew a cat and have good experience in the 470 which I could bring across . I tried catamarans a couple of times and found cats very exciting, physical and fast.

After finishing university I went to compete in the Giraglia Rolex Cup in a J109. The offshore race went from St Tropez to Le Lavondo, around a rock off a headland and then a long leg to the Giraglia rock on the northern tip of Corsica before up to San Remo on the Italian Rivera. This was a very exciting race as it was my first offshore race. The race started with a little upwind leg in 25 to 30 knots of breeze before rounding a mark and heading out of St Tropez bay and up the coast to Le Lavondo. On the 3 hour upwind leg, we had 30knots of breeze which made it very tricky and hard work. We managed to work the wind bends off the coast line and shifts up the beat to start over taking boats who started 10 minutes ahead and in the faster fleet.

In MUSTO BR1 Trousers and Short Finger Performance Extreme Gloves

We rounded the rock at Le Lavondo in 40 knots of breeze on our ear and started the long downwind leg to the Giraglia rock. Nobody to start with hosted a kite in the 40 knots of breeze and big waves, and there was a dismasting close to us, and a number of broaches. This was really tough conditions; we got up to 17 knots of boat speed on a surf without on a kite on a J109 is impressive.

The wind gradually dropped and boats started to put spinnakers up and when they did they took off and were gone if they could keep it upright. Our problem was we did not have a heavy wind spinnaker on board as we are restricted on the number of spinnakers we can take and the forecast predicted slightly lighter breeze. This meant we lost a lot of time and distance to our rivals as they were travelling at speeds around 18knots where we were averaging 10 to 11knots. This weather continued most of the night, and I was tired when it came to change watch at 12:30am when I had been on main since 6:00 in the evening. 3hours later I was back up and the wind had dropped a little and gone forward to a reach, still too windy to put a kite up. Then after 3 hours went back down below, in the morning we were very close to the Giraglia rock and could hear our rivals call in as they rounded the rock on the radio.

However the wind then dropped from 20 knots to 0 knots, and we had to work very hard that day with constant sail changes and breeze hunting in the hot weather to use every puff to get round the Giraglia rock at midday and by the evening we were only 7 miles past the rock heading towards Italy. That night we had a good night, using the weapon which was the code zero, averaging 6 knots of boat speed in 6knots of breeze, and we were flying overtaking bigger boats. We still had a few issues with light breeze around 1 o’clock in the morning and shipping.

In the morning the wind went aft and we were running down to San Remo with the running spinnaker up we had a few boats behind us but couldn’t see anyone ahead so we had no idea how we were doing. We got to 6 miles away from the finish line, in sight of land when the wind died as the sea breeze fought the gradient, and we parked up there for most of the day and just managed to get across the line at 5:00pm that evening, 53 hours after the start and just enough time for me to get to Nice to catch the flight we had booked. We came 5th in our class, which we were happy with considering it was a water line length race with the big boats breaking the record and finishing in 13 hours in the strong breeze.

I really enjoyed my first offshore race, doing tactics and trimming. It was exciting at times and a great challenge and sense of achievement. It is really interesting and fun as the decisions are made with tactics, navigation and sail selection and how the race turns into an endurance race and how the team is split up. We were very fortunate to have some wonderful sunsets , sunrises and night skies in the Med with a number of shooting stars spotted, we also had the pleasure of a pod of dolphins playing in our wake on the second night and seeing a large Giant devil ray just off San Remo. After the Rolex I have invested in MUSTO MPX Salopettes and Jacket, which were a must for the race, and will be excellent for the J109 nationals at the end of July.

Ben Palmer in his red MUSTO MPX Drysuit at the 470 Europeans

After getting back from the Giraglia, I got back into a 470 to do the 470 Europeans in Largs. I had Tim Carter crewing for me, who has come out of 420s with little 470 experience. Couple of days training before the event in sunny conditions before the wet weather arrived in Scotland, I have never seen so much rain, every day without fail. The first day was a light easterly which wrapped around the Firth of Clyde to give a northerly. The first race we came 29th but had an incident with the Aussies at the leeward mark. The second race we had a good first downwind to get into the top ten, during a massive rainstorm before losing out on the second downwind in a dying breeze to finish 21st. We protested the Aussie’s for the leeward mark incident which we resulted in us getting disqualified because the jury believed we were outside 3 boat lengths because they thought you can’t tidy a kite away inside 3 boat lengths. We later found the next day the incident is shown on the promotion video and shows us inside the 3 boat lengths, we tried to re open the hearing with this new evidence but the jury weren’t keen.

The second day was a windy southerly, we got the rig set up well and had great boat speed, which made up for our lacking boat handling and starting skills. We nearly crossed the fleet in the first race and nearly rolled the Croatians (the event winners) in the second but didn’t due to boat handling errors caused by a lack of time in the boat. However we came away with a 4th and a 11th that day.

windy bear away

Day 3 had a moderate first race from the south and a light second race from the west. We struggled on the first beat and run of the first race however were able to put a good second beat and second run together overtaking 5 boats at the leeward mark to get a 17th. We had a good start on the second race however we got on the wrong side of a persistent right shift and ended up on the left and struggled to get back into it.

Day 4 had similar westerly breeze, the first race the fleet pushed the line hard, and being conservative due to our DSQ we had a bad start and struggled to get back into the race until the second beat, however 10 boats black flagged meant we got a 18th. The second race we had a good start and played the shifts well to get a 16th.

Day 5 after a postponement we had a northerly shifty breeze, we had an average day with a 22nd and 23rd, pulling through on the first race at the end again.

Day 6 also had a postponement and racing got underway in a light southerly in the afternoon. We had a good first race coming back after a bad start to get a 16th, and were looking good in the second race however we picked up weed on the foils on the second beat and after finding out we couldn’t hold a lane and realised we had weed we had already dropped back to the back and had to work back up again to a 27th on the last downwind.

The last race on day 7 was a light race in the tidal channel between the club and Cumbrae island, we had a poor start convinced people were over, but managed to work the shifts and pressure well to get a 5th and finish the regatta 19th overall. We were happy with the result as Tim had little 470 experience and we showed good speed and racing skills and mental strength overtaking boats right at the end to get a counter, and only our starting and boat handling let us down. The winning bit of kit was my MPX Drysuit again, as it felt like winter up in Scotland.

Ben Palmer leading the pack to the finish when they were 4th

I am now looking forward to my next event which is the J109 nationals in the Hamble at the end of July and watching the Olympic sailing!

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