European Championships

Well what a week it was! After a grim and wet start to the event, the week slowly improved. In land sailing, this means the beach dried, the tide stayed out and the wind picked up. And did the wind pick up!

125 pilots, what seemed like 300 WAGs, a handful of scorers and marshals and of course the elite inner circle of land sailing big-wigs made for an impressively large group of people. Land sailing, land yachting, sand yachting – whatever you want to call it, is an obscure sport in the UK and it feels great to be part of a big event such as this. It reassured me that I wasn’t alone and there are others out there just like me. We all went around hugging and kissing to draw strength from one another. Oh, sorry, that was just the continentals saying hello.

We parked Hans at the sand yacht club courtyard a few days early to nab a good spot. We were right opposite the club room door so we could have some space to open our door. The club was expecting the courtyard to be sardine-packed full of motorhomes and didn’t fancy being wedged in. As it turns out, it was only us, another British pilot, along with a handful of Germans, a van of Belgies and a token Dutch lady. I’m sure there’s a joke in there. The massive French contingent decided to all camp along the promenade or on the grass opposite the RNLI station. I’m sure we didn’t look unfriendly, but maybe the French who arrived fashionably late thought the courtyard looked too Germanic for their liking! Just a reminder for those who think we are unique, English is a Germanic language and we are Anglo-Saxons. That’s why we can understand many German words but Welsh is foreign.

It was great to catch-up with some of the characters I’d met in De Panne last year at the World Championships. Disappointed though that Swedish Tony wasn’t attending so I could bang on about the pros and cons of Swedish culture and ask if Sweden is really like Wallander. Maybe that’s why he stayed at home.

I’m not sure if it was because this event was on home soil, but there seemed to be more of a team spirit in this rag-tag bunch of individuals that make up the British team. After very disappointing results at the world championships, the British Class Standart Pilots all agreed to share information about beach conditions and areas on the course to be wary of. You might think this is how any team would operate, but the British are not natural pack animals. After last winter’s heavy snow falls people couldn’t make it to work. They were wandering around the streets with toboggans and acting strangely by doing things like saying hello to each other. My friend Nicci noted that it takes a good snow fall or war for the British to talk to each other. So for a bunch of British land sailing pilots to actually act as a team is quite remarkable.

On the subject of team spirit, I was given the great honour of being nominated British Class 3 team captain. With much consideration, of course I dutifully and humbly accepted the position. The burden of responsibility that lay before me was great, but I knew I would serve the team with honour and integrity. The fact that I was sleeping just opposite the club house where 8.00am captain’s briefing’s were to be held had nothing to do with it of course.

Taking one for the team

So how did I go? Well, the opening race was a cracker. Fast drag-racing bits, technical tacking and sand bank navigational bits. A good mix to even out the various traits of the pilots and characteristics of their yachts. I had my best finish in an international event with a 20th out of 32 Class 3’s. The next race was a drag race with no real tactics involved but it was fast. I started well but slowly slipped down the field with every crossing of a deep channel of water that was being blown in with the wind – despite the tide being on the way out. This channel was exciting to cross, but really not the sailing master’s best course of the week. As I said, there were no tactics, no decisions, the only way up or down the beach was to plough through the water dangerously close to the yachts heading down the beach in the opposite direction. My lack of bulk and possibly the non-aqua dynamic front end design of K144 didn’t help through the water.

The next day the beach was a different beast. Dry with an angry wind blowing force 6/7 or up to 40mph. Face stripping dry sand was screaming across the beach and the yachts were twitching uneasily on the start grid like a herd of enclosed wild horses waiting for their chance to break free. In the moments before the flag fell, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wanted to pee but couldn’t because the equipment was hiding. Have I mentioned my lack of bulk combined with a powerful class of land yacht? Well there’s another problem. Once I’m off, the fear-safety-switch seems to malfunction and I get carried away. Two thirds of the way through the race I decided to really crank up the old girl. After previous laps just testing the sand inland where it was muddy and boggy I assumed that it would now be hard enough for light old me to risk a long tack inland so I’d have a clear run down wind to the bottom turn mark with right of way all the way down the beach. Woooooh! Did she move?! The boggy sand carried me, K144 was humming and I think I gained 3 places. How fast was I going? Who knows, but getting on for 100km/h seems plausible. Sounds good anyway.

So around the bottom mark in a sideways fashion, which I didn’t enjoy at all because I’m concentrating on being more “technical” as ex-British champ Mr. Borrill keeps telling me, then everything goes a bit pear shaped. Why pear shaped is bad I don’t know. I like pears. Mast rotation still out, too much power, into some pot-holes, front end bounces, soft sand ahead, turn damn it, turn! Hard to port I said! Do I have to think in Russian to make you turn?! Doof, I’m hiking already (up on two wheels) and the nose ploughs into the top of the soft bank. There’s no pleasing hum in soft sand, just an eery quiet as the horizon turns in front of you and for a millisecond in an aesthetically pleasing way, lines up with the mast before continuing on its journey then stopping with a thud. Thankfully this type of capsize doesn’t hurt as it all happens relatively slowly. Adrenaline pumping and those 3 places to think about, I hauled myself out and jumped onto the sand. Ran around the old girl to check she was OK and was about to lift the mast when I noticed a huge crack and bend in the middle of the mast. Game over. Strangely I wasn’t angry, just accepting of my lot. The marshals were not allowed to rescue me until the end of the race. So I stood behind K144 out of harms way and watched the carnage. Two other class 3’s capsized and racing was cancelled when we finished. In the previous Class 2 race a yacht’s mast came away from the body and the yacht flipped right over. Not sure I’d like to add that type of tumble to my list. If you want to see how to do it in style, check this sequence of photos (mums and aunties, look away now) – –

The right way up

The expected way up

Are you really going to make me stand here for the rest of the race. I’m forming a new sand dune! Hurry up, Walter is taking photos of me.

Emerson, Hoylake and Palmer. Not dry ice, but definitely a Prog Rock performance from Graham

Mr Borrill being technical

Clement being French

Jens in his retro-classic with a shorter mast. A Class 3 as they used to be

Rhys in his Standart enjoying the high winds

After chatting to a few pilots I discovered that some of the French pilots place up to 30kgs of sand or lead in their yachts when the wind is up. Mmm, this has got me thinking. As well as adding weight and having more experience on beaches, I need to try hard to leave the fear safety switch on and think more about how much power I’m using at different points of the course. Oh and avoid soft sand. All this without taking the fun away.

Frenchies, Belgies and Germans continue to dominate, but there were some good results for little old Blighty. Dave Green won the last race in Class 5 in a yacht that had not been tested until the day before racing. Tim Spears (ex Class 5 world champ) finished 10th overall in the individual Class 3 event. The team results (the best three pilot’s results from each country) looked even more impressive for UK with a 3rd place in Class 3 and third place in Class 5.


PS. Special thanks once again to Graham for transporting K144 to the event as well as bringing a “pov-pack” of freshly dug veggies plus some jars of chutney and jam. Isn’t it lucky Hans has such a huge payload!

Feature photo, thanks to Gareth Rowland –

Credited photos by Walter Carels website –

Other pics by me when I was watching for some reason.


Terrific pictures and commentary. D, please send me a copy of K144 thrashing the water. Now, about there being a joke in the group of people you described; there is indeed a joke, and here it is. At the rugby world cup, a Kiwi an Aussie a Pom a Welshman an Irishman a Scot a Frenchman an Italian an Argentinian a Namibian a South African a Tongan a Fijian a Canadian a Georgian a Russian a Samoan a Japanese a Romanian and a Yank were going into a bar. The bouncer stopped them and said “Sorry you can’t come in here, you don’t have a Thai”. Ka Mate Ka Ora!

As a humble and windswept spectator at the championships I’d like to record my admiration for D. He was a fearless dare-devil putting his mast on the line and, ultimately, on the beach for his team. If you don’t mind a bit of hanging around it’s a very exciting sport to watch even when the venue is one of the bleakest places you’ve been to (and remember, we’ve crossed the Hay Plain!). It tells you something about the beach at Hoylake that no landyachting is allowed within 300 metres of the prom.
A couple of photos I took, which I can’t add to this (because it won’t allow me to, not because I’m incompetent) show D’s disadvantage in standing water. The nose (bow?) of his yacht is lower than the others and the body (hull?) is flat-bottomed rather than oval. Given these facts he should be moved up several places in the table!

Categories: Beaches, Landsailing, UK | Leave a comment

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