The past week we were in Grandson sailing the Star Sailors League Grand Slam of the Lakes. Indeed a mouthful. We travelled there with an empty stomach and rinsing our mouth since we didn’t allow ourselves to drink. The past 2 weeks we needed to shed off 7 kilos to be allowed to participate. The morning we left we were still too heavy but trusted we could loose some more by not eating, visiting a sauna, running in the mountains and ??? The first thing we did after arriving in Switzerland was to be weighted: still 1.5 kilos to go. That was more than we had hoped for. No dinner, no beers and let’s go to bed early after a run in the high mountains. It was a long time ago that we saw so many stars. But it’s so cold here, do we sweat enough to loose any gram? I noticed that after a day of fasting the feeling of hunger disappears. I had found that out several years back when I fasted for 4 days in the desert of Anza-Borrego. Yes, you do become a little weak.
The next morning we run to our friend with the scale. He has placed himself behind a curtain in the hall where the sails are measured. We are not the only ones who want to stand on that scale just in our clean underwear. Shivers of joy creep over our spines and hollow faces: we are in! The lady behind the measurement desk empathizes deeply with us: “I guess it’s now time for a decent breakfast? I recommend you to go to Ackermann. C’est le meilleur boulangier du village!” And off we go. The rest of the day we measure the boat and sails, hydrate and are happy. There is lot of wind and since we need to leave early and dress up for the opening ceremony in Lausanne we decide not to sail. The opening is special. Michel shares his vision: “I took the Grand Slams of tennis as an example. I want to organize a Sailing Grand Slam of the Lakes, of the Sea and of the City. Participants gain points and can rise on the International ranking. The best sailors in the world are invited to these races. We cover these as never before and have an open YouTube channel so that people all over the world can follow the sailors.” Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee shares that he understands that we mourn about the loss of the Olympic Status after so many years (1934-2012) but we may consider to look ISAF in the eyes, not him. The Vice President of the International Sailing Federation is happy to announce that this Grand Slam has gained their Special Event status, just like the Volvo Ocean Race, The Americas Cup and the World Match Racing Tour. Michel -the man behind this Grand Slam- looks like he experiences one of the best days of his life: “I love it when a plan comes together,” as Hannibal of the A-team series concludes every episode. My dear crew and son eats all the snacks that are offered. “Do you like shrimps these days?” I hear myself asking.
Our first day of racing is a wake up call. 5 beaufort and almost 70 Stars on the line with Olympians is different from sailing between the islands of Loosdrecht where I’ve spend the past years most of my time. Okay winning the Worlds in the FD from 116 competitors 17 years ago might have been similar. But that for sure is a long time ago. Tacking under the boats that overstood the topmark is not a good idea. Sailing low after rounding that mark isn’t a good idea either. Hitting the downwind mark -with the jury boat next to us: “Please take a penalty turn mister otherwise we see ourselves forced to disqualify you” is better than hitting the other boat. Then we need to take 2 penalty turns. And gosh what sail these guys fast. And for my son everything is new. Including how I can scold at myself. “Dad, do you know that you all dress the same?” “Sorry what do you say?” “You all wear polo’s with embroidery of past regattas, short trousers with 1000 pockets and flip-flops or Nikes. Sunglasses make your outfit complete. So that’s not what I am going to wear.”
The second day we find a bit of a rhythm. Over breakfast we debrief the other day and set new goals. We start pretty well, can speed-wise keep up with several of the topteams but these guys don’t make many mistakes. And ours are punished badly. Every time it costs many positions. But we feel way more happy than the first day. When we arrived yesterday in the dock, Jim shared: “Dad, an alternative to sailing is rally car racing. I noticed how you are taking the hairpins to our apartment up in the Jura. I assume you fancy racing. I offer to be your navigator.” “Hmm, I guess you’re right. In Topgear they found out that with a car of 700 bucks you can have a lot of fun… that is the cost of a jib.” But today we have enjoyed sailing. Next to sailing legends, we ooch, pump and rock the boat just as fanatic as they do. Out of frustration they decide to gybe away since they can’t overtake us and we round in front of them the downwind mark. YESSS. Then follows a beat with many snakes and ladders… including weed behind the rudder. And if you’re not too confident about your boat speed, it takes a while to notice.
The third day is spent on the shore in the sun, in the rain, in the bar, in the lounge area where the past races are shown but not on the water. No wind. We remeasure the trim of the boat, make new friends and eat the great pasta that is offered every day by the organization. At 16.00 it’s called a day and we visit the COOP to buy cheese fondue with Fendant. The 7 races of the qualifying rounds are done and the top 12 will fight Saturday for the prize money and the honor of being the first SSL Master of the Lakes.
The races are shown on a huge screen and if we look under the screen we can follow the races live, with a good espresso from the Jura coffee machine, just like home. The media team does an awesome job. Never before have races been shown as expertly as overhere. It’s better than the Olympics and comparable to the standards of the Americas Cup. There is little wind today but enough to sail the quarter-, semi- and final. George Szabo with Patrick Ducommun (who assists us in the morning of the final day to hoist our boat out of the water, the Swiss stay humble) win the final after several lead changes. We step in the car and will do our utmost to stay our current weight.
For pictures and video: http://swissopen.starsailors.com
PS: after all these sailing posts it’s time to get back to work. Meaning: head next week to Switzerland to the United Nations to save the world :-).