Ten Summers of "Pohjantahti" 2001-2011

Ten summers of “Pohjantähti” (“North Star”): 2001-2011

Some time ago I was on the phone to Helsinki and spoke with a friend to mine, Kari Karpio, with whom we go way back. He encouraged me to write a summary of my 10-year journey with the Fleuret trimaran. I had second thoughts for a long time because the homepage of the trimaran already has a wide range of race descriptions. They are still there at www.pohjantahtisailing.com. Some people reminiscence about their beloved dogs. That Danish Fleuret is also something to reminiscence about.

We brought the boat from Sweden in November 2000. Finland still had marks but we paid the boat in crowns. I went to see the boat, thinking I might buy it, with my brother Matti. We travelled by car, and we had a trailer with us, too. Matti, who had a long history with keelboats, saw the boat standing next to a garage and realised one could win the Päijännepurjehdus race with it. I just wanted a boat which could be sailed on the lake. Anyway, I knew something about the boat and its properties as I had prior experience with multihulls. I had previously had a Trailertri 680 called “Scorpion” and an Iroques 30 which was a catamaran.  We managed to get the boat to Jyväskylä in one piece even though the upcoming winter with slippery roads made it challenging.

Some pearl of an antiquity store! By this I mean that I got most of the sailboat hardware second-hand. For example, the sails, some of the blocks and cleats were from Matti. And the first jib was the flat storm jib of an Albin Express I used to have. Originally, the boat had a roller main and drifter. There was one winch and a clamcleat. That marked the beginning of working on the boat and finding suitable blocks and cleats and there was no end to it as long as I had the boat. Funny how you can always find places for new blocks, cleats, ropes and sheets on a boat. We needed to get barber haulers for the jib and the genoa, and running backstays for using the gennaker. Before this boat, I’d never renewed cleats in such a good condition. This much maintenance probably speaks about the boat and how motivating it is to adjust the sails when you can immediately feel the effect. Different meters and measuring devices told us about changes in boat speed, and we then knew we had to do something. If the speed was picking up and the boat going upright, we knew we could relax and have some beverages. The speed didn’t always pick up and trimming the main took time in light wind, but once we found the right shape for the main, the gurgling wake would tell us we had the speed we wanted. I got a new main from WB-Sails in 2003, and that made a huge difference especially in tacking upwind in light conditions which is the trickiest direction and wind condition. We got jibs and gennakers from the Melges 24 of the Thelen brothers and had adjustments made to them. Olli Ahonen lent his big gennaker in case our big blue gennaker would tear in manoeuvres. This is how we prepared for Päijännepurjehdus. He was a fair man, what he did still makes my heart warm.

Crew. My youngest brother Matti, who’d long been sailing keelboats, was probably the most competitive one of us. There we were, two skippers, both skilful, so we had to agree on responsibilities that would make it work. All’s well that ends well. This is how it goes, but I had some learning to do because mistakes weren’t allowed. Matti watched over me with a grim face. I also learned that motivated crewmembers shouldn’t be disturbed by shouting and rushing. Sometimes we listened to and laughed at the hassle on “Auvo”, one of our competitors, when they were figuring out what to do. We were three and they had more than ten persons on board. We once tried it with four. My brother Tapu joined us. If there had been more than 12 m/s of wind, it would’ve worked. Tapu promised to be stand-by. He was an important person in case someone got sick. Antti Kanninen, a relative, grew up and became adult and a steady crewmember during the years I had the boat. We mainly competed with a three-person crew, always with the same set of people and the same duties. In the summer of 2011 Antti took part in a race in Stockholm and Tapu was our third crewmember to win Päijännepurjehdus and to get Ruori (‘The Steering Wheel’), the trophy given to the fastest boat. This means all four of us have a memento wheel on our walls. Sometimes Matti and I or Antti and I took part in Wednesday races just with a two-person crew. I also did some evening sailing on my own, which gave me a good chance to sort things out in peace and quiet. The crew was always taken care of, and there were strict rules about what to eat and drink and when. I think this was good. At Päijännepurjehdus we always had food and beverages for 14 hours of sailing, and we always had something to eat or drink in every two hours.

Races. Every summer we first did some rehearsal races, and our main event of the season was Päijännepurjehdus. After the race, we’d spend the rest of the season cooling off. All the races were in the early summer, in May, June and beginning of July. This included the club races at JVS (Jyväskylän veneseura), Keitele Regatta, and LindingöRunt in Stockholm. At the PÄM race at Tehinselkä, held a week before Päijännepurjehdus, we always tested ourselves (for example against “Auvo”). We studied the racing waters by heart and got something extra for rough days. We practiced starts for example at the weekly races at our club. “Pohjantähti” is six meters in width and at best twice as fast as its competitors, which means we had to practice. Many won’t believe it but we were usually the contenders, not the favourite. If we had had a trimaran like Seacart 30, twice as fast as the Fleuret, the situation would’ve been completely different, meaning we would’ve paid a lot more for the fun. Luckily, we had the Fleuret, “Pohjantähti”, and we had our ups and downs, we won some races and lost some too. Some of the glory belongs to us, some to the boat. It’s also true that the handicap number of a boat dictates what many skippers can get and do and because of this they aren’t able to compete on a reach or run with boats from other classes. Our goal was to get the equipment which would enable us to compete with other fast boats. We beat some Melges 24s, an Over 33, a Hendersson 30 called “D”, an Aussie Skiff, Scows and Corsair tris among others. This was possible because we had sails for rough and light winds both.

Parties. We always let our competitors do the partying the night before races, as Matti Laurila did in his time with his crew. Maybe Antti would’ve wanted to join the parties, like the rest of us when we were younger. I’d like to think that because of this, though, we had clearer goals for the races. Back in the days there was no Internet and weather forecasts, and we stayed up discussing the weather and route till early morning. I guess you have to go through all that, and as you get older, you can skip that. In 2006 when I first won Ruori, the Steering Wheel trophy, I got a phone call from Radio Keski-Suomi, the main radio station in Central Finland. They asked for an interview. Markku Saarinen interviewed me and Pekka Vesamaa took photos. At the end of the interview Vesamaa tried to blow some life into me by suggesting that this was the time to brag about the victory. Me, a dull guy! I explained that race preparations, working on the boat and mental preparation, start already in the autumn. And if you’ve lived the race for six months before it, you only feel serene and happy afterwards. The interview may not have been very lively but I don’t mind. It felt good that we’d been noticed because working on the boat was often lonely. In the early years, in 2003 and 2004, we weren’t allowed to win Ruori. We were just the fastest. We pleaded with the race committee about the original racing rules which had no mention of multihulls because there was only multihull, “Arkkienkeli” (“Archangel” Snowbird 32 mod.) and it was no threat to others. Anyway, I hope Päijännepurjehdus remains as it is in the future, a ranking race for boats of different classes.

The boat’s homepage, www.pohjantahti.com, was created for two reasons. First, we wanted to share our stories about sailing, past and present. The website of our club didn’t provide a chance for that. Secondly, Antti’s studies included some ICT. I did the writing, Vesa Lilja took photos and Antti uploaded them to the website. This is how it got started. The feedback we got gave a reason to continue maintaining the website. This also resulted in cooperation with Marjut Nättinen and Petri Hakala from Korpilahti as we did a Facebook video called “Skipper’s evening walk on Pohjantähti”. The video can be watched at the homepage, too. All this has made sailing even more enjoyable. There’s no better way to learn than writing about what has happened and checking out the GPS track. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed, the homepage is still there!

Here, in brief, a few of our secrets. Best regards, Pena, Matti, Antti and Tapu