Thursday, August 24, 2006

Robban the Robber

The Man in the blue blazer is Robban "the Robber" Olsson. Why do I and many others now call him the robber? I'll explain. He's the race committee chairman and our race groups head disicion maker. In this picture he is announcing the 8 different fleets winners and passing out the trophies.

The first race a bad decision led to us getting fouled, then hitting the windward mark. We were in the top 3rd of the fleet when it happened and I know why... stay clear of the drama. Overstand the mark and go above the cluster puck and save your position. We went from 8th to 23rd in one bad move. But this is not why we call Robban the robber.

In the 2nd race we were so far out of position at the start that when all the boats went left, we went right and followed one of the top Danes. It payed off. We were 5th to the windward mark, but gave up 6 positions on the downwind, but before it was all over we gained back 5 boats and finished 6th place. But this is not why we call Robban the robber.

In the 3rd race of the day we had our best start yet. I call it the Top Gun start because with 40 seconds to go we put on the brakes and they all flew past us to the line early. With 20 seconds to go we put on the after burners, found a whole between two boats, hit the line at the gun and shot off the front of fleet like a rocket. Now we were free to control our own destiny with clear air and no one above or below us. We continue in 6-8 knots of wind when we realize everyone is behind us, but everyone above us to windward has tacked over to starboard. We follow suit and get private wind like a gift from heaven. The wind is fading and we get to the windward mark 2nd then jib immediately after rounding to get clear air. We lose one boat downwind when we had to avoid anothe boat coming upwind. But at the rounding we stay high on the wind and keep our air clear. The two boats ahead tack, but we keep going. In Europe you tack early and make two extra tacks or hope for fat miracle wind shift that could give you fat gains. Going beyond a lay line is frowned upon because 6-12 boats will slip inside of you and ruin your day. So, we tack earlier than I would like and the wind gets lighter and lighter until it is like a parking lot near the windward mark. We now are seemingly in 6th when Bjorn sees the convection type wind up the course to the right the opposite direction, but above the mark. We tack on port, duck the boat that was in 2nd place, but if this goes well we'll get to the wind first. And we do just that. Sure enoughwe come down into the mark 1st. Marstrand has current, but it is not predictable at all. As we reach the mark we can clearly see we are in about a knot of current pulling us down toward the mark and there is even less wind than before. We are just barely fetching the mark when the wind dies completely, totally glassy water, no wind. We are still carrying enough momentum, but several observation boats and photographers' boats wakes hit us as we try to ooch around the mark. So, I reach into my bag of tricks and pull out a play out of Bill Madison's brilliant ideas... hit the mark, make it around it, get into the favorable current and do your turn while still making progress towards the leeward mark floeating away from everyone. As we hit the mark there was a chorus of groans and foriegn sounds that are clearly displeasure at our success and that they all saw it and we have to do our turn, plus it sort of sounded like damn it the American is beating all of us. It was music to my ears, I'm not know as a light wind sailor, but this might change things. We do our turn and settle into the longest downwind leg I have ever been on in my entire life. 15 minutes later, only one other boat has rounded the mark and it's Arne Olson in Statavarious (the boat we match raced with all the way to Marstrand). Bjorn and Donald are the best crew... they just do everything right. I've never been so set up with two proactive, experienced, knowledgeable sailors in my life. Although Stratavarious made gains we were still over 7 minutes ahead of them at the leeward mark. We ooched around the mark and calmly sat on the leeward rail absolutely rivetted on not pointing too high. "Keep the boat moving." Thanks Roger Rapp. Your words were ringing in my ears all day. We were heading to the finish line, but not laying it. Neither was Stratavarious. We made a tack and a small puff appeared... it was a header so we tacked and now there was no way any boat could catch us. I had finally relaxed enough to believe, really believe it would happen. On the first day of this regatta sailing in Europe for the first time as skipper against top sailors I was going to win my 1st race... something even my father had not been able to accomplish. We were going to open a bottle of champagne that we had put in the bilge and party like rock stars, not to mention moving way up in the general classifications. When everything is going well and victory is at hand and you know it, there is this feeling of power, accomplishment, relief, satisfaction thatis like a drug. Once you have it once you want it more and I was about to get my fix. The whole race we had been monitoring the time and we still had 23 minutes to finish, we were in the clear...

Then, with 10 seconds before we cross the line the race committee fires off 3 guns and abandons the race. . What?! Are you kidding me? What the blankity blank blank are you doing to me!!! This is beyond unfair, this is downright rude. Is it because the American is winning? Is it because Donald asked Robban to speak English at the opening ceremony/skippers' , meeting of the INTERNATIONAL Swedish Championship, which he refused to do. Is it because we have so many general recalls or our boats are too slow to wait for? What gives here? Immediately we and Strativarious throw up the protest flag. Arne sails over to the race committee boat and has more than a few choice words for the young Robban. After much discussion and Bjorn calling several friends including a sailing umpire we come to learn there is nothing we can do. Rule 32.1.e states that the race committee can abandon a race if the conditions are unfair. And since we never crossed the line, we never finished. He hit the guns before we crossed... the bastard. That's why we call him Robban the Robber.

I went though a gamet of emotional responses and Donald, the consumate gentlemen that he is, took my ranting way too seriously... I did threaten to quit the regatta in protest. I would have if we were in SF, but he did his best to calm me down. Since there was no wind we had a lot of time to process what had happened and by the time we got to the harbor... last of all the folkboats, I was over it. No really, I was. I filled out a protest form only to hear Robban make his explaination of his desicion in front of a jury so he couldn't just blow me off and maybe just maybe cool his rock star attitude a little bit to benifit other racers in the future. Plus, I wanted it in writing because I knew no one is SF would believe that I could win a race in no wind.

I would like to thank Bill Madison. I asked him for advice about many things before I left revolving around ettiquette and among all the advice was simply be a gentlemen. Those words were golden and I carried those sentaments into the protest room with me. The hearing quickly turned into an explaination session and Robban graciously and well stated gave his reasons for his decision. He acknowledged that his decision was hasty and may have been wrong. It wasn't looked at as wrong by the 20 plus boats who never made it around the windward mark! What was cool about it all was many of the guys came up to me throughout the next day or two and expressed their sorrow for the decision that ws made. They spoke of how they were happy for me to be here, in a borrowed boat and crew I'd never raced with before and do so well. Yes, it ripped my heart out, but I must awknoledge the truth in the matter; the race committee was well within their rights to abandon the race. 32.1.e is a rule of our sport. An opportunity for a power trip, but part of our sport like it or not. What I needed so desparetly at that moment was a guitar. i was hurting for a way to express myself. I was making up song lyrics all the way back to the hotel...

Won a folkboat race in Sweden, but they took it away from me (3x)

I hate this race committee. To the tune jimmy cracked corn, but I don't care.

More truth: Good sailors in Germany, Denmark and Sweden know who I am now. I've earned a little sympathy and respect all at the same time.

So there you have it. The race I almost won in Sweden. Every time I ran into Robban for the rest of the week, he avoided eye contact with me. On the 2nd to last evening of the regatta at the after party, I had a few beers and was feeling punchy. I turned to Bjorn and said, "I want his shirt." All the race committee had these white polo shirts that had the KGSS logo and an embroidered Marstrand 2006 on them and they weren't for sale. I was wearing my SF Cup T-shirt at the time. Bjorn agreed that I should have it and pushed me towrds him and I went with it. I said hey Robban, let's trade shirts. He looked at me and immedately pulled me aside and gave me a shirt, I gave him mine... That's my trophy from the event. It's fun being 6'5". Sometimes you just get what you want without really trying. ;)


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