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Optimist European Championshiips – Poland

The European Optimist Championships 2010 took place at Kamian Pomorski in Northern Poland from the 2nd of July to 10th of July. Kamian Pomorski is an estuary connected to the Baltic Sea by a narrow channel.

The Irish Optimist Team consisting of four boys and three girls had an heroic and outstanding performance at the event. In particular, the boys team, en bloc, produced the best ever overall result for an Irish Optimist team at the Europeans. To put that achievement into it’s deserving context, it should be noted that in the previous year, the best Irish result was a 50th position. At that time, that had been the best result of an Irish sailor for many years.

Consider then the fact that each of the four boys bettered last year’s best result and you will have some idea of how the standard of the Irish Optimist team’s sailing has improved, under the watchful eye of Irish team coach Thomas Chaix and all of the Irsih Sailing Clubs’ commitment to achieving excellence.

This was already evident at the 2010 Irish Trials but became more and more apparent as the Teams sailed with great skill and a new found determination, in Poland.

In the boys, we had Peter McCann (RCYC) finishing in 7th place overall, in the prizes and the first ever Irish sailor to achieve such a high finish. He was followed by his teammates, Sèafra Guilfoyle 22nd (RCYC), Sean Donnelly 30th (NYC) and Patrick Crosbie (RCYC) in 40th.

The girls team also put in a most admirable effort in a fleet of 101 boats and finished Sophie Brown 33rd (TBSC/RCYC), Jil McGinley 69th (RCYC) and Erica Ruigrok 87th (SSC/HYC/RSC)

Sunday 4th July:

Race 1: The opening days racing was in light and shifty conditions and with the boys away in the first flight Sean Donnelly had a great 11th place finish, while Sèafra Guilfoyle overcoming a yellow flag finished in 17th . In the next flight both Peter McCann and Patrick Crosbie did a harakiri on the start line with both of them OCS.

The girls got away to a great start of the series, with Jil McGinley in 11th , Sophie Browne in 17th and Erica Ruigrok turning in one of her best results in 20th.

Race 2: Patrick and Peter firmly put their OCS first race behind them with Patrick finishing a marvellous 3rd and Peter in a great 4th finish. Sean raced a tremendous race to secure 7th place and Sèafra the tallest Irish sailor in tricky light wind finished in 23rd place.

At the end of the days racing for the boys, we were all proud to see Sean Donnelly’s name in 5th place overall on the leaderboard. Sophie for the girls pulled off their best result and finished a very creditable 15th

Monday 5th July.

As always the Irish were one of the first teams to arrive at the venue and were rigged, ready and briefed well in time for launching. However, despite the apparent light breeze on land, all 247 boats were launched and made their way painfully slowly to the race area. We were to remain there for the next few hours until racing was abandoned and all of the 247 boats were towed back to shore.

The Irish consoled themselves with the assertion that at least they had held their positions on the leaderboard after the days “racing”. Then it was back to the Jantar Hotel where all of the International teams were staying and where the sailors relaxed for the evening.

Tuesday 6th July.

The wind was up, to the delight of the team and an earlier first gun meant the fleet was out on the race area by 11.00 a.m.

Race 3: Best results for the boys were Sean 15th, Peter 16th, Patrick 17th and Sèafra a victim of swamping, in 32nd place. The girls had Sophie in 28th, Erica in 39th and Jil in 44th.

Race 4. With the wind holding, but dropping, we had Sèafra 11th, Peter 19th, Sean 27th and Patrick 39th. The girls all had solid races with Jil in 25th , Erica 27th Sophie in 28th

The PRO wishing to make up for the drought of races on the previous day decided to run a third race in conditions where the wind was continuing to drop and was shifting.

Race 5. The results for the boys in this race reflected the conditions with Sèafra 20th, Peter 25th, Sean 37th and Patrick 52nd. In the girls, Sophie had a great race and finished in 12th,  with Jil in 27th , Erica 27th.

Wednesday 7th July.

The day started with similar wind to the previous day and there was a steely determination in the eyes of the Irish team. They eagerly launched and made thereir way to the race area. As the day unfolded, it was a proud day to be Irish.

Race 6. In each of the two flights the boys threw themselves into the fray with such courage and skill that it was a joy to watch. Despite the now shifty conditions, Patrick pulled out a 20th and Sean a 24th. Sèafra had thrown the kithchen sink and put everything he had into his race, crossing the line in fifth place only to find he was OCS which like all the other Irish OCS was going to cost him and the Irish team dearly. Then came the epic, Peter McCann took off around the race course like a scalded cat, he came to the gates with great boat speed, rounding in third position, he calmly put the two leaders in his sights and with an assured and confident display, overtook both leaders to record Ireland’s first race win.

In the girls races Sophie Browne showed remarkable spirit to grab her best result of the event in 8th place and the lightening conditions did not suit Jil 44th and Erica in 48th.

Race 7 . By the start of this race the wind had dropped again but that did not seem to concern the boys who gave everyting they could, with Sean giving a little too much when he was blackflagged at his start. However the other three were to turn in a tremendous performance with Peter 4th, Patrick 5th and Sèafra 7th. A truly remarkable result to achieve 3 top ten finishes in the same race. By the time the girls races got under way the wind had lightened further and their finishes were Jil 28th, Sophie 28th and Erica 48th.

As they sailed in that evening they were all eagerly looking forward to the remaing two days of racing with five races yet to come. Their performances had kindled a new sense of self belief and they now knew they could sail with the best that Europe had to offer and not forgetting that the USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Australia and New Zealand had teams in the event.

Alas, it was not to be, as a consistent wind was never to return. Thankfully, the following day was spent on shore due to the common sense approach of the Race Officer.

Then on Friday, the final day, there was a promise of a good breeze and the fleets launched. Irish hearts were lifted at the chance of repeating their heroic performance of the previous Wednesday. Unfortunately, the wind just would not settle, it kept shifting constantly until after nearly three hours waiting on the water, the OD signalled the end of racing. In response, there was a resounding cheer from all the sailors who at that stage were fed up of being cooked in the sun.

Due to the weather conditions, three days racing had been lost and the Irish were to rue the misfortune and ponder wistfully, of what might have been.

That evening, Peter McCann draped in the Irish tricolour, proudly climbed the stage in the waterside square of Kamien Pomorski, and to the accompaniment of the cheers of his team mates and supporters, he accepted his 7th place prize and his place in Irish Optimist sailing history.

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