I’ve sailed ten regattas so far this year, and all provided excellent competition. But looking back, none even came close to the all-new “degree of difficulty” standard set by the 2011 Snipe Worlds, which were hosted by the Royal Danish Yacht Club in Rungsted, Denmark.

This is of course completely appropriate; a World Championship should be the pinnacle of any sailor’s annual calendar. So I’ll go even farther out on the one-design limb and say that in two decades of high-level international sailing, the 2011 Snipe Worlds was my Hardest Regatta Yet. Here’s why.

Team Cronin takes advantage of a postponement on day 3 to do a few boat projects.

Team Cronin takes advantage of a postponement on day 3 to do a few boat projects.

Tough competition
All 59 boats had earned the right to be on the starting line by pre-qualifying, so the fleet was extremely deep. The eight US teams had all finished in the top three to five at one of three national regattas last year. Most of the other seventeen countries represented (including Japan, Italy, Argentina, Great Britain, Spain, Canada, Puerto Rico, and most of northern Europe) probably had similar qualifying systems. I have no idea how Brazil—which claimed the three podium spots, with all five teams in the top ten—selected their Worlds team, but we'll get to that in a moment.

Changeable weather
While the locals insisted “It’s never like this here,” we sailed in everything from drifting to planing conditions—sometimes all in the same race. The wind blew out of a completely different direction on three of the four days, with a few 30-degree shifts to mix up the scores. And on day three, we received 80 percent of the usual monthly rain total. Clearly this was no typical week of sailing.

Difficult sea state
Denmark is not known for its beaches, and there is very little wave-absorbing soft shoreline along its east-facing coast. As a result, the chop was always bigger than the breeze—and so irregular that even the famous Annapolis weekend slurry began to seem as flat and predictable as fresh pavement.

Snipes line up for measurement. Photo: Nicolas Brandt Hansen

Snipes line up for measurement on a rare day of sunshine. Photo: Nicolas Brandt Hansen

Challenging boat
No matter where in the world we sail it, the Snipe demands a unique combination of tactical wisdom, feel, and physical stamina. Upwind in light air, the inefficient daggerboard (a flat sheet of aluminum) requires focused steering from the helm and constant attention to jib trim from the crew to keep the boat going through the chop. And that’s one of the easier conditions we saw at this event.

Most of the racing took place in "hiking breeze," which means anything over 10  knots and requires a combination of physicality and fast rig settings. That means both boat and bodies must be prepared well in advance, rewarding those who balance geeky tweaking and tuning with sweaty jockish workouts.

Kim and I scored well on the body prep; unlike many other teams, we were still hiking hard for the last race of the regatta. If we hadn’t been 30 pounds light, we would’ve had an even better last day than we did.

Boat preparation, however, was a large failing. Like the rest of the US teams, we chartered a boat, which is akin to driving a rental car around a high-speed racetrack. With only a few hours available to practice, we spent the first two races of the regatta finding our groove. Even after we settled in, we’d sometimes find ourselves fumbling for a line that wasn’t quite where it would’ve been in our own boat. In the multilingual heat of a crowded mark rounding, those fumbles cost us quite a few points.

By now you’re probably asking: Why bother to travel so far and spend all that money just to finish 33rd?

To answer, I will quote Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics: “The most important thing… is not to win but to take part.” Hard though it was, steering the Snipe Worlds was an experience I will never forget. I have no regrets about doing the best we could with the equipment (and bodies) we had, and I look forward to putting our newfound knowledge and skills to use.

Now, about those Brazilians and the schooling they gave the rest of the Snipe world: Snipe sailing is a weekend pursuit for most of the world, but in Brazil it’s a career path. Five-time Olympic medalist Torben Grael won both the Junior and Senior Snipe Worlds 20 years ago, and he recognizes the Snipe class as an important building block of his legendary sailing prowess.  I’ll be looking for the names of this year’s winners on future Olympic, Volvo Ocean Race, and America’s Cup teams.

Competing in the Snipe Worlds was an excellent reminder about the benefits of preparation. But it was also a reminder that regattas can be fun even for those of us well out of the top 10—as long as we set achievable goals. I’ll never forget leading the regatta winner Alexandre Tinoco around one leeward mark, on our way to a fourth place in race six. Quite an accomplishment at the Hardest Regatta Yet.

For more information,  visit the Snipe Class website.