Skippers report from the Global MBA Trophy regatta in Athens

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Crew: Steve Ellwood (Skipper), Lynn Ellwood (First Mate), Robert Schroeder, Tom Brackenbury, Carl de Verteuil (Team Organizer) and special guest Joost Kamermans, Rotterdam MBA.

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The boat: Beneteau Platus 25

The venue: The Yacht Club of Greece

Situated on the Piraeus coast of the Saronic Gulf, on the hill of Koumoundouros Microlimano, an ancestral heritage site, built on the foundations of the ancient temple of Artemis, as well as parts of Kononeion walls. Yacht Club of Greece was established since 1933.

 

 

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This was the view of the yacht club from our hotel room

 

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The sailing venue

 

Why? For the past 10 years the European business schools have held various sailing regattas around Europe. Henley has participated in the last six events hosted by Cranfield School of Business run out of Port Solent on the Solent in southern England. This year the Henley sailing team decided to embrace the challenge and organize to attend several MBA regattas on the circuit.

Athens for our first stop.

Now, sitting with a cold Heineken in hand, looking over the beautiful sailing venue from our hotel balcony we can tell the tale.

Greece is a very hard place to be mildly OCD. The times posted on agenda are to be considered more ‘guidelines’ than facts. 1 or 2 hours needs to be added to any specified time before you can expect anyone to show up.

The agenda provided said show up at 0900am Thursday morning to pickup the boat and begin practice.

At 0845 we showed up ready to queue to deal with the administration, did you bring your actual ‘sailing license’, do we have details of exactly who is on your crew…etc. etc., the bureaucracy of events that are insured. Well…

The lonely sound of crickets comes mind. No one, not anyone, no other teams, no staff, no one was around. We were alone. Maybe they moved the venue…

We had the good fortune at about 0930 to bump into George. It turns out that George runs the firm that is orchestrating the provisioning of the race boats we are sailing. He was busy finding the innumerable bits and pieces for each boat, this one has no spinnaker sheets, that one has no jib, etc. etc., and endless headaches for him.

But he was very kind to us. The night before it had rained and the rain was … dirty. I mean there was dirt in the rain. Something about the dust blown over from the Sahara. I don’t know. When we flew in Athens air looked like L.A. and we thought, oh, they have smog. Nope. They have dirt suspended in the air. So the rain dropped all this dirt all over the boats.

Seizing our opportunity we offered to clean one of the boats to have George and his team (also great guys) the trouble if we could actually then take that boat out and practice.

By 1000 we were on the water. George told us we needed to be back for about 1100 because things would start happening then and he wasn’t really supposed to let people take the boats out – bless him.

The winds were steady and delightful, say 10-12 knots. The water was a little choppy but offered no concern. The weather was warm and the sun was shining. Lovely.

Now a 25’ sailboat with a 6’ bulb ballasted keel is more like a laser dinghy than a real keelboat. It was sort of like steering a bar of soap across a wet bathroom floor.

The five of us (no Joost yet) spent the time figuring out the boat, its lines and workings, and the various roles. We managed.

Back at the dock, well, still nobody… that cricket sound again.

We thought perhaps the yacht club – yes the building way way up on the hill 465 steps above the yachts – perhaps was were we needed to be. We took the hike. We arrived on a lovely – breath taking actually – terrace with vistas to die for and found a guy smoking a cigar having a meal with his perhaps too young lady companion and a waiter confused about our presence – especially because we had neither ties nor jackets.

“I’m sorry gentlemen and lady you cannot stay here…”

“No, we know nothing of the regatta for the MBAs”

Right, down we go.

When we return, the office is miraculously open and we pay our security deposit and we are officially allowed on a boat. Which one? Well….

We jump on the one we had in the morning and head out before we have confirmed permission from… well…

More practice and more lovely sailing. Five people on this 25 footer is no joke. There are lots of tasks to do but not much room to do them in. Carl, our beloved organizer, misses a que and ends up dragging along in the water holding on to a stanchion post.

Perhaps it’s time go do in.

By 3pm we are at the dock only to have the boat we now consider ‘ours’ to be ‘taken from us. Another crew wants to practice. We suggest ‘let them get their own boat’, but there aren’t quite enough boats to go around just yet. We have to share. Ok. And the new crew nearly pushes us off the boat. I’m reminded of people trying to get on an elevator before others can get off.

Back on shore we are feeling pretty comfortable with the boat and the venue. We can do this.

The regatta organizer, Rob Cotterill, arranged a get together at a restaurant near to our common hotel and the yacht club. Thank heavens we followed Rob to the place or we would still be looking for it. Roof top, harbour view, good wine, great conversation – who could ask for more?

At the gathering we encountered Joost who told us he was the organizer of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University regatta and would be in that role for the next few years. We took an immediate interest in him 😉

We found out that he was at the event not to sail but to observe the event and learn about running it. We offered to have him as our 6th crew person for the regatta provided no other team needed a 5th. In the morning he accepted and as they say, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The first of the two race days dawned windy. Windy windy windy.

We had the skipper’s meeting and selected by draw our boats. The race committee told us to forget about going out in the morning. We were confined to the dock.

We drew the boat actually owned by George. It was renowned to be very fast. A good boat. Excellent.

It turned out to be pretty much the same as the boat we had the day before. Well except in a shoe maker’s shoes way, it had no boom, no sails, no lines… We watched it being assembled as everyone waited get the regatta started.

At last it was ready and it was time to get the show on the road.

Except for the problem of wind. It was still windy, too windy.

More delays. In truth I was annoyed. We can handle the big breeze, we are sailors for heaven sake.

15-20 knots – big deal, I recall saying.

So we waited, and at about 2pm we were told we could go at about 3pm. In the mean time George and his team tied in a reef into each boat’s main sail and instructed everyone – no spinnakers and use only the jib.

Out we went.

I am glad they delayed us. Oh man, these boats are light and a hand full in the breeze.

We head to the starting line, screaming along. The mainsheet blocks break – a pin snaps and is fired off the boat. ‘Houston we have a problem’.

One of George’s team, a rigger, comes along side in a ‘rib’, a rigid inflatable boat, and starts the repair.

Once repaired we have a really short time to the start of the first start. Practice be damned, let’s race.

Great start, although I am going to have to buy a beer for the skipper I squashed on the line, sorry ’bout that.

We end up 3rd of 8. Not bad.

The race was won by a Greek fellow who races these boats from this yacht club. Local knowledge…maybe. Second place goes to a Russian team that showed up unannounced two days before the event to start practicing.

We learned that the boat was fast when we put three of our six crew down below in the very very small cabin. ‘Riding the pine’ they call it, because the floor boards in the cabin are often made of pine wood. Our crew valiantly scarified the joy of not feeling seasick for the extra speed. What a team.

We get a 4th in the second and as it turned out the last race of the first day.

Tired and, well, really tired we leave the boats in the harbour and make our way as predictably as salmon upstream to the sailors bar to work on our ‘confusion about the rules’.

 

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Then downstairs for a lovely buffet dinner.

I am told some of the sailors danced the night way into the wee smalls. Lynn and I only heard about the goings ons.

Race day two presented a glassy ocean of dead calm. Nada, zip. Still.

We have the boat, we have the crew, everything we need except wind.

But come 1100am the breeze is up (a little) and it’s race day. We are delayed onshore but we are freed to go out and practice. We all do.

The Henley team (and Joost) head for open water. We work on tacking like it is a dance class. Step 1, 2, 3, 4. We blow it time after time. After about 45 minutes of practice we figure we can tack without losing too much ground. Time to practice the spinnaker.

We hoist it up and attempt to lower the jib. It is jammed. We struggle and eventually decide we can learn to work the gybe (change from the spinnaker pole on one side of the boat to the other) with the jib still up.

Just then George in a committee boat approaches us. I figure he is coming to tell us to head to the starting area and get ready to start the first race, just like yesterday. But it turns out the 1st race of the day had already started. George asks ‘where were you?’ I politely say we weren’t hiding we were in plain sight. I later learn that they knew one of the boats was missing but they thought it was another crew – a crew that they feared might be wrecked on the rocks so they were hunting along the shoreline and never thought to look out in the harbour. Naturally.

George comes on board and using his superior ballast he yanks the jib down – it had jammed at the block meant to allow halyard twist – one of our crew unintentionally taped this fitting in such a way that it wouldn’t twist – live and learn.

With the 1st race of day two underway we observed the racing from the sidelines. The Russian team was fast, tight and together. These guys knew how to sail. The other teams had various problems mostly around getting the spinnaker up and getting it down.

The Russians won by, well, 1/2 mile maybe more.

On Saturday we had 7 points, putting us in fourth overall. We started the second race of the second day by adding a DNC (Did Not Compete) to our score line which cost us the number of boats in the race plus 1 – 9 more points. Yuk.

By making fewer mistakes than everyone except the Russians we picked up a 2nd and 3rd in the last races.

Our overall score put us in 4th place. If we had sailed that first race of the last day and got our normal 3rd, we would be securely in second place at the end of the day. But you have to play to win. No bling for us this time.

Back to the harbour where we all debrief with the other boats, now our sailing companions and friends. Horror stories and triumphs are told and retold.

There is a dinner at the Yacht Club of Greece’ hill top facility. Grand views, lots of table talk and good fun.

As the music starts and the dinner tables are pushed to the side Lynn and I make our exit.

The next morning we meet up with some of the crew who are telling stories of returning to the hotel at 5am after closing a few night clubs.

All in all the regatta was very well run (except for the minor point about ‘when’ things would actually happen). The boats were fantastic little go fast machines. And the teams were all friendly and supportive. The venue provided challenging yet safe conditions. Who could ask for more?

Next up is the Cranfield MBA Regatta 2014 hosted out of Port Solent UK on Beneteau First-40’s in early July. That will be followed by the RSM MBA Regatta in the Netherlands.

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