VR Solo Spring Championship Report
Monday, May 11, 2020
VR Solo Spring Championship, Sponsored by Rooster Sailing
80 SAD (sailing addiction deficiency) sailors took part in the inaugural VR Solo Championship on Saturday May 9, hosted by two very tech savvy HISC Solo sailors, Andy Voysey and Alec Powell with support from family members, such was the popularity of this event.
The 80 competitors were split into four flights for the initial series of three races before advancing to Bronze, Silver and Gold finals. This system provided a glimmer of hope to those who finished in the top 13 of their flight races and, having factored in the permutations I had already visualised my own route to the podium. Unfortunately, the choice of the J70 for the finals would be my downfall, an experience shared by other fellow Solo sailors, with no lust for speed and little understanding of asymmetric angles. The first two flight races had been in Stars, the slow tacking, deep downwind lanes, right in a Solo sailors comfort zone but alas, with a similar cold hearted omission of the Star and Finn classes from the Olympics, the guys at HQ opted for the sporty J70, hoping for a seat of the pants crash and burn display for the virtual spectators. They got what they wanted but thank god they were talked out of using the 49ers, no one would have finished.
Possibly the hottest flight of the group, Charlie Cumbley, Andy Davis, well they have about 20 titles between them but could they transfer their undoubted sailing talent to a virtual world where physicality is commodity no one needs? Paul McCombie had been the first to enter the competition so he must fancy his chances and then there is Simon Law, aka Rulebreaker66, I gazed at the home screen and wondered if he had stock piled vouchers to trade in for enhancements? I would not be going down that rocky road, and, having received the code info from the Zoom room headquarters, which incidentally worked like a dream, lay down into my capsule and transported myself to my Avatar. The Sudden release onto the virtual waters of Aarhus, my Star’s colourful sails flapping in the cool Scandinavian breeze took my back to a happy place when my body worked properly and I would dismiss an injury as nothing more than trivial. I scanned the horizon, absorbing the shades of breeze as they filtered down the track via the overhead map, skilfully steering my Star up and down the bright red start line, checking the angle of the generously long boom. Other competitors materialised around me and with the 1 minute gun echoing through the speaker, my tummy began to contract with nerves. From my short experience of the game I was well aware that hitting the line on time was a no no, they software team need to address this glitch as I absolutely nailed race 2, I swear. Unfortunately, when the fleet go, you are drawn forward too, this game really is very real. The three races were something of a blur for me and I found myself in default mode, on more than one occasion heading off to a corner in the hope of a lift from the gods. Pretty much doesn’t happen in the virtual world, real life has more miracles and more disasters, they need to factor that into the game. At the top of the pile in Red Flight would be Paul McCombie, two bullets and a 2 which would see him, Cumbley, Paul Rayson and Robin Hodges through to the Gold Final. Neil Firth, Andy Davis, Jamie Holmes and Rob Vincent advanced to the Silver final. The Bronze qualifiers were Nigel Thomas, Nick Marden, Richard Beechey, who had won a race and myself, sneaking in virtue of a sixth in race 2.
Arguably, equally strong but to be fair, it is difficult to ascertain to the quality of a competitor on the virtual platform unless you know they are regular game players or you happen to know they have small nubile fingers, not something I look at in the dinghy park. The four qualifiers for the Gold Final would be Stephen Holcroft, Toby Peacock, Jonny Wells and Alex Powell.
Among those who qualified for the Silver Final would be Jonathan Moore with 4-7-13, nothing there then to worry the podium. Andy Hyland, my pre-event favourite, Nigel Appleton, who took a bullet and Chris Goldhawk featured at the front on a few occasions also made the Silver Final but Jack Hopkins missed race 3 following a 2nd in race 2 so dropped to the Bronze Final. There were a few first world problems during the event, loss of broadband, multi-tasking with family among the culprits.
Possibly the strongest flight….Chris Jennings took two bullets, Gold Final with Howard Edwards, Mike Dray and Steve Conroy who was a lucky reserve. Mark Flew, Nation’s Cup winner James Boyce, Derek Gibb and Ross Underwood would advance to the Silver Final. Geoff Carveth was another with connection problems, the mountains around Lake Garda scuppering his chance of adding to the trophy cabinet. No doubt he will now drop out of society for 6 months and submerge himself into the one goal of mastering this skill to Player 1 level.
I drop myself back into the world of pixels, the warmth of the Brazilian sun heating my Mac keyboard to high. From extensive experience of watching the 2016 Olympics from the couch I was well aware of how the local topography ,especially Sugar Mountain, would affect the racecourse but I ignored all that and just winged it, again. Carefully hovering my curser over the spinnaker hoist/drop button I lined up with the other J70s, my bow lifting and falling in the virtual chop and in rhythm with my heaving chest as the fleet crept towards the line. Pin favoured and 10 seconds later I am in second, my Will power pseudonym sitting proudly near the top of the on-screen table as I fiddle with the trim keys and train my eyes on the tell tail as it switches from red to pale green. I fumble with the zoom button and find myself pinned out to the left by some idiot, using the moment to reflect on the number of times that has happened to me in the real world…a lot then. I have dropped down the pecking order by mark 1, the fleet blazing off to the spreader mark, spinnakers raised and pulling as the top guys bear off on to the hot angles. My trigger finger is failing me and I manage to Chinese gybe and drop further back, why they even factored that scenario into the game I will never know. At the top of the final beat it is Richard Beechey, who had finished 11th in the red flight earlier from Simon Law and Nigel Thomas while I plodded up the left as the wind swung left, compounding my ineptitude and putting me well over the lay line. Constant button tapping was beginning to take it’s toll and the final blow came when the palm of my hand sagged onto the hoist button as I tacked on the windward mark…the J70 stalling as the huge spinnaker flapped like a wet handkerchief. The leaders screamed through the finish line and would make it to the Silver Final.
I had set up my Fujifilm S1 with tripod in front of the 50 inch TV, mirror screening the VR for the optimum experience. My wife contained her own excitement and left to walk the dog, clearly not as gripped with the action as I. Bob the dog was equally enthusiastic to get out of the house. With the camera on record the fleet of J70s powered up the beat with the majority favouring the left and over standing just like I had earlier, that’s Sugar Mountain then. Bronze final podium Nigel Thomas was able to nip in on port with Jonathan Moore just ahead of Matteo Mancini. Carnage followed as the port tackers barrelled in like gate crashers at a wedding, six of them receiving penalties which would scupper their dreams. James Boyce and Chris Goldhawk held fourth and fifth as the fleet spread across the generous course. At the gate it was Thomas from Mancini and Goldhawk, who had both hooked in to the stronger breeze, denoted by the darker blue in the overhead mode. The ability to trim with one hand while tracking through screen options and breathing was starting to reap dividends. At the gun it would be Mancini from Jonathan Moore and Mark Flew, the latter pipping Bronze medal qualifier Simon Law by no more than a layer of carefully applied gelcoat.
These three would now go forward to the Gold Final.
I was all set to go, camera set up - tick, zoom room microphone set to talk - tick. With 1.15secs to go I hastily clicked the spectator mode on the laptop. In a microsecond I was transported to the deck of a J70…I was in the race line up! I quickly exited the race area, hoping that the 70+ spectators had momentarily blinked as my pseudonym flashed onto the screen, clicked my curser on the close window option, swore and quickly re-opened the VR Inshore site to try and gain entry again. I was this time transported to the drone that would provide the kind of exposure to racing that we should have enjoyed in Tokyo next month…roll one 2021.
The fleet were already 25 seconds into the race, I sat back and embraced the spectacle, feeling the exhilaration that this sport generates when the sun is out and the wind is blowing. My commentary of the race should have been entertaining, witty and full of the drama as it unfolded….well that was the plan but the use of pseudonyms It is therefore fortunate that the race winner and one of our foreign competitors both provide accurate reports of the race.
Winner Paul McCombie provides a blow by blow account of the Gold Final.
“Very tricky start - slight committee boat bias but more breeze to the left. I won the boat end and was doing well initially although pretty soon all the guys to the left started to do better. I tacked to the right hand lay line and was 5th around the top mark with a whole cluster of boats who had over stood the port tack lay line smashing in just behind me. At least 6 penalties I reckon!
I took the hit of sailing through the lee of the boats reaching to the spreader and gybe set to pick up the better breeze. Mega gain for me downwind staying in the good breeze. Swapped gybes with Mike Dray and Mark Flew and rounded the right hand gate mark in 3rd. The two boats ahead made mistakes at the bottom gate - one with a very conservative drop and the other went to the unfavoured gate mark. Howard Edwards had got into the mix and I managed to get clear air up the final beat, picked a very slight left shift to put me precisely a boat length ahead at the top. Howard unfortunately sailed into the back of me and copped a penalty which presented me with a healthy lead. Uneventful final downwind just staying in the strongest breeze to take the win and the VR Solo Spring Championship.
The back story to my VR prowess is that I was stuck in South Africa waiting to fly the final flight home before they shut South African airspace due coronavirus. We weren’t even allowed to leave our hotel room, so 72 hrs later I was a pretty good VR sailor and had preserved my sanity!
At my home club St Andrews SC we race 3 times a week and its a great chance to keep involved - I think lots of other clubs are doing the same.”
Ted Bakker (NED) gives his view of the race and overall event.
“IT WAS GREAT! super well-organised and competitive racing. From what I remember from the racing is that in the yellow fleet I started three times at the pin and built on the left towards the first buoy. It was super important in the Stars to be in clean air downwind so I changed to top view to see where the boats behind were going towards so that I could steer away from them. This tactic got me two bullets. The third race in the J70 was a bit more difficult but fought my way back to 3rd. The finals were tricky as the left AND the right were favoured. but I got stuck in the middle. I got back to 6th on the last run downwind towards the finish. Great fun and to my surprise I won a voucher for winning the quali's! (had to bail prize giving as my bbq was ready to start (one hour later in NL)”.
Overview from NSCA President Doug Latta
“With Solo sailors up and down the country itching to get back on the water, there could be no safer way than to meet online and refine our tactical expertise, than to make use of the excellent Virtual Regatta Inshore and to organise a Solo style re-union online. With sailors entering from all walks of life, from the nimble-fingered youth to those who hung up their dinghy boots some years ago, it was clear from the outset that the Solo fleet was going to be setting the bar high in terms of turnout as well as depth of expertise. I knew the HISC team of Alec Powell and Andy Voysey had been organising some pretty slick club-racing at HISC on VR, but when I asked them if they would like to organise our VR Spring Champs, they knew they might be looking at a different scale of numbers. With 80 entries accepted by the cut-off point on the Wednesday night plus 4 reserves, the stage was set and the team set about working out a way of getting everyone racing in heats before competing in bronze, silver and gold fleets to determine the championship.
With sponsorship from Rooster Sailing, the VR event had all the attributes of a classic Solo event, and the generous sponsors provided vouchers for not only the top 5 overall, but flight winners and runners up too.
It's highly likely that this will have been one of the UK's largest sporting events of 2020 to date, and once again shows the seriously great following the Solo Class enjoys. Class Membership is actually up on 2019, and as we await the next advice from the RYA on when sailing can re-commence, we see with some envy the Portuguese Solo sailors re-start their programme down in Lagos - the venue in October for their National Championships. Food for thought, and maybe worth booking a ferry if travel restrictions lift somewhat! In the meantime, the boat bumbling continues, there will be some seriously sparkling shiny boats on show once we are able to get back on the water. Next steps....? The NSCA is looking to create a national series of club races, as we take the next baby-steps towards our final release! Watch this space!”
Congratulations to winner Paul McCombie, 2nd placed Mike Dray and third placed Mark Flew.A big thank you to Andy Voysey and Alec Powell at HISC for their magnificent organisation and pats on the back to all who took part.
Will Loy NSCA Publicity.