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APP Pico Challenge 2012

 What is this? The APP Pico Challenge Trophy



Saturday 24th November was a miserable cold and wet day.  We Scots would describe it as dreich1.  However this did not deter the competitors in the 11th APP Pico Challenge which is, arguably, the most prestigious, and certainly the most keenly contested dinghy racing event in the calendar.
 Some of you will have watched the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events held at Weymouth earlier this year.  What most of you will not have realised is that these minor events were in fact the qualifying competitions for the APP Pico Challenge.
Following the gruelling Olympic elimination series, five Olympians were selected to be part of the actual competition which included sailors from Sunset + Vine, the BBC, JP Morgan and others.  The ringers brought in from these commercial organisations were, for the most part, too modest to get involved in the qualifying series.
The towering Olympians and Paralympians included:
  • Shirley Robertson OBE, the Scottish double Olympic gold medallist and former ISAF female Sailor of the Year.
  • Helena Lucas, gold medallist in the 2.4m at the Paralympic qualifying series at Weymouth.
  • Lucy MacGregor, Annie Lush and Kate MacGregor (Match Race Girls) who competed at the qualifying Olympic event at Weymouth and who were so cruelly eliminated by the Russian team in a quarter final which went right to the wire.
This year the competition was held in Sunfish dinghies which may not be familiar to my European readers.  The Sunfish is the largest dinghy class in the world.  That means it has had more boats built, rather than its dimensions are huge.  Laser imported 14 boats specifically for the event and 12 of them were on the water at any time.  The Sunfish, at 4.1m and 54kg with a 7.0m2 sail is a speedy little singlehander.  It has a cockpit which is almost big enough for one, so sailing 2 up proved to be a minor challenge, with crews having to be inventive in finding a comfortable position from which to execute the famous Sunfish Leg Up manoeuvre which is a borderline legal method of gaining an additional fraction of a knot.  Having checked RRS 2013 - 2016 I believe that has not yet been outlawed, even if dropping sandwich wrappers has!
The races were commentated on by ace BBC sailing commentator Richard Simmonds2.  Please note that there is a "D" in his surname if you try to Google him!  The starting sequence was a four minute one punctuated by helicopters and loud music.  Personally I would be in favour of us all adopting this starting method, although I know that not all WOSC members agree.
Racing was keen and there was frequent place changing due to the RRS which were in force.  Competitors at the top of the fleet were compelled to accept penalties and those at the tail end received power tows which quickly landed them back in the middle of the fleet.
There were two Pro - Am heats followed by a Professional race before the main event.  This was, of course, the Pro - Am race for the coveted APP Pico Trophy, pictured above, to be raced over two laps of the original course.  The pre-race manoeuvring was tense as both competitors and spectators listened to the thundering count-down, the volume having been cranked up somewhat.
Richard Simmonds' insightful commentary showed clearly why he is the acknowledged number one choice as a sailing commentator.  His practice stint at Weymouth certainly stood him in good stead in the cold and pouring rain at WOSC.
The race got off to a cracking start with more than some of the competitors near the starting line.  There was no recall, but this may have been due more to the fact that RS's glasses has steamed up than whether anybody was over the line.  The Performance Equalisation rule was brought into effect on the first leg and the leading six boats had to drop their mainsheets to let the performance challenged group catch up.
One competitor thought that it might be good fun to explore the swimming area, clearly not having read the notice forbidding hard hulls.  The mainsheet quickly became entangled in the string of buoys and a couple of tacks (or were they gybes) meant that the team were well and truly stuffed.  The gallant helm jumped into the water after it became clear that this was the only way they were going to get free.  His crew remained warm and dry while being towed to the shore.
Meanwhile the race continued and two competitors managed to detach themselves at the front of the fleet.  They were so far ahead at the last mark that Race Control imposed a 360o  penalty to allow the stragglers to catch up.  Unfortunately this meant that the two leading competitors changed places, but there was an exciting reach to the finish, nevertheless.  The race was won by Roger Thompson of JP Morgan, ably crewed by Helena Lucas.
Once again the APP Pico Challenge demonstrated why it is such an exciting event for competitors and spectators alike.  Unfortunately the weather was not particularly clement, but a great time was had by one and all.  I would like to be able to report who came second and third, but unfortunately I haven't a clue.  If any of my correspondents have a clue, please let me know.
It was wonderful to see so many female Olympians in action, but perhaps next year some of the male Olympians might be motivated to get further in the elimination competition in order that we might see both genders represented.
I believe that the high powered audio starting system will be trialled by WOSC on April 1 2013.
 1   A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich
 2    Richard Simmonds is an expert sailor and broadcaster whereas Richard Simmons (actually Milton Teagle Simmons, but he changed his name - can't think why) is an American fitness and weight loss guru and is past it.  Richard Simmons is also famous for his dodgy get-up.  Or is that Richard Simmonds?