Charlie Allen and Team USA Sail Opti's in Belgium

The Allen’s European Opti Adventures…

Submitted by International Correspondent Charlie Allen

During the USODA Team Trials in April at Key Biscayne Yacht Club, Charlie Allen (Pewaukee Yacht Club/BMRT) qualified for the US National Team and also to travel with 14 other sailors to be part of Team USA at the Topsport Vlaanderen – Nieuwpoort Regatta in Nieupoort, Belgium from June 30th through July 4th.

There were four days of practice leading up to the regatta which were used to try to learn how to race in very strong and tricky current and 5-7 foot waves.

Here are some excerpts from their travel diary:

Travel day (6/23):
Early morning flight from Chicago to Toronto. Nine hour layover. Original plan to go up CN Tower was literally dampened by pouring rain and heavy fog. Went to the mall instead and exercised the favorable exchange rate. The fog eventually cleared enough to go up the tower. Back to the airport for sushi and our flight to Amsterdam.

Arrival in Amsterdam/Brussels (6/24):
Arrived at 7:15 am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Unfortunately luggage did not arrive at all. One train from the airport to central Amsterdam and a second to Brussels. Met up with Team USA friends from Chicago and shopped for necessities due to the missing luggage. The trip to the mall in Toronto helped the situation slightly! Enjoyed dinner and wandered the streets. Visit included Belgian waffles, fries, and chocolate.

Arrival day in Nieuwpoort (6/25):
Drove from Brussels to Nieuwpoort. Checked out boats from charter company. Team dinner at the hotel to meet everyone. Kids from NJ to FL to TX to CA. Midwest contingent of MI, IL, and WI. We went to bed early, but woke up at 1:00 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. Made a rough start to practice day one.

Practice day one (6/26)
Blowing stink; drysuits were needed, Charlie had to borrow sailing gear from generous teammates due to missing baggage, first experience of sailing in current like a toilet bowl, known as one of the greatest currents on earth. Lots of tired kids! Received news that Meredith’s luggage was located, but unfortunately not Charlie’s. 🙁

Practice day two (6/27):
Warmer and more sun; still good wind. Midwesterners dialed back gear to super warms/wetsuits instead of drysuits. Practiced with Belgium, Australia, and some other countries. “Best sailing day ever” was the quote from Charlie after leading most of a practice race over Australia’s top sailor. Received word that Charlie’s bag was found as well! Retrieved the lost luggage with a trip back to the Brussels airport. While in Brussels, we also traded our Mercedes wagon rental for a vehicle which could actually fit all four people and luggage on the way home the very (not) sporty Citroen Spacetourer.

Practice day three (6/28):
Similar to day two. Continued to adjust and learn lessons of current. Charlie sailed to 1st and 2nd place finishes in the practice races.

Practice day four/regatta start (6/29):
Opening ceremonies were held at noon.  Speeches in a few languages from the yacht club and local officials and flag raising for all attending countries. Kids were excited to wear their Team USA polos and wave the flags.

Race day one (7/1):
Late start compared to regattas at home. First race scheduled at 1:15pm. Didn’t start until after 3:15 due to lack of stable velocity and direction. The race committee finally moved a mile farther offshore to get more breeze and got two races in. Charlie port tacked fleet in first race but then fell victim to the 6 knot current before the first mark and on the last downwind. Ended up 13th. He was a victim of current again in race two and got BFD. Sitting in 70th of 108 boats.

Race day two (7/2):
The organizers pushed back the harbor start to 12:15pm based on forecast. Ended up with a steady 18-20 knots with gusts to 25. Sailed three races. Good start first race and finished fifth. Second race was a bad start, but he hiked hard, used current to his advantage to make up ground on the upwind. Made up more with the current and surf downwind to finish 11th. More big wind on the third race. Continued to work the current well and ended up 6th.

Race day three (7/3):
Harbor start was set for 12:30. Went for waffles before racing. It turns out that waffles are NOT a breakfast food in Belgium and nothing was open at 8:30 am. Charlie and his friend Annie from Chicago walked the beach and jumped in the waves a bit. This was the first day of the fleet being split to gold and silver. It proved to be the windiest day thus far with 25+ mph winds and 7 foot waves. The plan was for three races, but they came in after one race due to rough conditions. Only half of the silver fleet even finished the race due to the extreme conditions.  Charlie got a 32nd in the gold fleet.

Race day four (final day) (7/4):
Much lighter winds and an earlier start of 9:30am. Three races were sailed which gave them a second throw out.  Charlie didn’t sail as well as he would’ve liked posting finishes of 23, 35, and 30. Once racing had concluded, Charlie ended up 25th overall out of the 108 competitors. He missed being the top American by one place. Thanks to finishing earlier than planned, we were able to go and explore nearby Brugges for dinner and sightseeing. Incredibly old and beautiful city dating from the 1100’s with gorgeous architecture and canals. It seemed odd to not have fireworks on the 4th, but with sunset at 11:00 pm, it would have been difficult anyways!

Post regatta day one (7/5):
Left Nieuwpoort and drove back to Brussels with Chicago friends. Took the train back to Amsterdam and had the chance to explore the city. Traded in Belgian waffles for Dutch pancakes, cruised the canals, and saw every possible type of bike imaginable. Overheard many American accents which was very different from Nieuwpoort and actually met someone who went to UW! Go Badgers!

Post regatta day two (7/6):
Time to head home. Although it was an amazing and memorable trip, we were very happy to be headed home to family, friends, and our own beds. Plus, there was more sailing to be done at home! Arrived just in time for the heart of July regatta season.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words, support, and interest. It’s all greatly appreciated.

Other Memorable Moments:
Foosball at the hotel, World Cup football on TV (go Red Devils!), lots of French fries, confusing street signs, grocery stores closed on Sunday, 14-15 foot tides, only bottled water, cobblestone streets, lots of bicycles, “heat warnings” at 77 F, when things don’t make sense – “it’s Europe”

Charlie Showing PYC Pride
Charlie and proud Momma Meredith
Team USA
Team USA
The Launch
The Charlie
The Competition