Letter from Qingdao: The Luck of the Irish?

Portugal’s SKUD 18, 2008 Paralympics Practice Race
Brian Todd
Editor's note - the following should not be read by the thin skinned and easily offended. However maybe it does give some insights into the frustrations of sailing in Qingdao - Paralympics or otherwise.

Denis Keily reports on the Irish team's fortunes on day 1 of the 2008 Paralympics

Monday - 1st day's racing
S**t happens - and when s**t happens the CIT Manual of Effective Management says 'get your head as low as possible - and hope your ass doesn't get shot off in the process.' Not until 30 years after my demise will the details be revealed. Just to make the point that it was one of those days and I may not be my usual cheery self.

Sailing Stuff.

Tough day on the water too. Left the dock at 11.30 and didn't return until 17.00. John was still in his Skud at 18.00. The wind was forecast for 110/120 degs [East South East ]- same as yesterday - at 8 Kt, but when we arrived at the race area what little there was, was from 265 degs - more or less 180 degs wrong, [don't be a bloody pedant - it was blowing from the opposite direction] from the forecaster's point of view.

But the wind is never wrong - as I've told you, the wind is God. So God decided to tease us for a few hrs in the baking sun. Steady in direction - just to fool us - and the race officer, into thinking that it was going to stay in that direction and it was OK to lay a course [Top Mark, Bottom Mark - define the land of Zig and Zag, which we have all studied and know off by heart at this stage] which was done. But it never blew above 4 Kts for long enough to get a Start off - first 3 kt, then 2.5, then 4 kt, we could go at that - back to 3, then 2 and finally nothing at all! Was this to be an example of the dreaded curse of Qingdao, no sailing wind?

After about 2 hrs lopping around in the midday sun the race control boat flew a flag signalling that we were all to follow it, and off we set like a paddling of ducks. Mother duck appeared to be heading for the marina and we were all headed in that direction, off the race course, when, little flicker on the back of the neck, the ears, what's that?

Turn around, and there creeping up behind us all, is a perfect sea breeze spreading across the flat water, coming in from the South East. Magic! God was just playing with us - we will get our races in after all. By 1415 a steady 6kt breeze settled in at 150. [Quick, what is ZZ land? Minus 45, 105 on the left and plus 45, 195 on the right - you'll all have to know this s**t the next day! Anybody who doesn't have it is off the mailing list - no excuses - and that includes you Ryan!]

The race took about an hour, everybody away to a clean start going out to the left of the course, a few boats tacking off to the right, zig zagging their way to TOP MARK. Because there are no lanes or anything like that, get to the top mark by any route you choose, one zig, one zag [ ka 'banging the corner' - generally not regarded as good sailing] or 50 zigs and zags, whatever? Its your choice - just get there ahead of everybody else. [in theory/mathematically, any combination of zigs and zags is equal in the distance to be sailed from bottom mark to top mark - that is also the only place it is true - math is like that!] As boats progress up the BEAT [another word for the zig zagging part of the course] the fleet begins to separate out but, unless you're driving alongside the fleet up the course, it is very difficult/impossible to make out what the order is until they round top mark.

Where are they? Is that them there to the right? No that's the French. Is that them there out on the left? I told them not to get caught on the left hand side at the top of the course. Christ! they're tacking [zigging - Maria is very technical!] left again, what is that for? OK they're coming back, short tack; what was that about? Our guys are now approaching top mark from the left, 6 boats are lined up approaching from the right - BIG RULE NO 1, boats crossing from the right, have right of way over boats coming from the left, in ZZ land.

If we cross ahead of the 1st boat of the 6, we're 2nd/3rd boat around the mark, we're s**t hot, we're geniuses, Russell Coutts take a step back [Tiger Woods of sailing]. If we don't cross ahead of the 1st boat we will have to give way, not only to boat no 1 of the 6 but to the other 5 as well, they're s**t, they're asleep, what was that last tack about? They're crossing? no? Christ, they're dipping [giving way to] the other, all the other boats!! Oh f**k! oh s**t, s**t - 2nd to 8th in one easy move! - and that was just my reaction, what Maria said is unprintable.

And that's how sailing is, one minute you're god, the next minute God is God - and you're a cretin - at best! I'll tell you, its a wearing business! As it turned out our guys finished 7th out of 14 in that race - mid-fleet. In the next race we did poorly on the beats - upwind legs, and recovered places on the RUNS - downwind legs [stuff to be worked on for tomorrow] but we finished up 11th - poor result. It was not our worst opening day. We have been here before - and ended the regatta with a respectable overall position. So once more.... tomorrow.

The S**ts- oops, [sorry James - 'YOU CAN'T CALL THE BRITS S**TS'] Brits had a great 2nd race [not so hot first race], were over the line at the start, had to come back, started well behind the fleet, and finished 4th! - great sailing, a race that could stand them in good stead by the end of the regatta.

The Americans won the first race, but had a poor 2nd race. The Greeks were the surprise package for me. But their HELM [driver] was a champion Laser sailor before his accident [quadraplegic - neck down] and it showed today. The Israelies and the French were also sailing well. As an American gentleman, Gene Hinkel [I use the term advisedly] remarked to me coming off the water - 'it will be a long hard series before the winner is known' I agree with him.
Check out this site for more objective reporting http://www.sailing.org/paralympics

Housekeeping
Somebody made the comment that I was in danger of coming across as a soppy old liberal in this email series. Only a perverse reading of the text could lead anyone to such a conclusion - and if this slander is repeated outside the confines of this correspondence - I'll sue, both in the Courts of China and the Irish Courts for the largest sum imaginable!

Good Night.

Denis.