21/10 Palma Match Day 1

Belmont wind from the start was a pain
Making rhythm quite hard to obtain
But our sailor top scored,
We compiled a good board
And tomorrow must do it again!

Today brought what the team had come to Australia for: the Palma Match.   The day’s importance was clear to and the wonderful combination of seriousness, anticipation and nerves was apparent in the subdued atmosphere at breakfast.  Safely assembled at the range the Captain spoke briefly but with heart before the now-familiar warm up routine began.

The teams drew for targets at 0845 before a brief blow off period between 0900 and 0910.  These preliminary steps out of the way, the team was set for the start at 800 yards.

GB was drawn on the centre right bank of targets at 800 yards with the same flicking headwind that had proved so entertaining during the World Individual Championships providing entertainment for the coaching teams.  Though light, this wind changed rapidly and surprised some with the adjustment required.  With expectations at this first range set so high by GB’s scores in 2007, there was some disappointment at dropping points but Belmont is not Connaught and shooting clean was simply not a realistic outcome in these conditions.  In contrast to other teams, therefore, GB took their time at the outset to ensure they had a proper grasp on the conditions.  The main coach might have described the 800 yard target as  ‘barn door’ but we’d turned up with some very fiddly banjos!  This patience paid off though, as GB finished the range 6 points ahead of the USA.

Though the temperature rose to make things more comfortable for the spectators, the wind conditions at 900 yards proved more difficult.  Drawn on the left side of the range, GB had to work hard to balance the possible shelter provided by the trees on the edge of the range and the lack of warning available when the wind did change.  And change it did.  Both strength and angle varied with as much frequency as earlier in the week.  Fortunately from a firer’s perspective the coaching team could operate together to pick the best patches and so avoid the disasters that had befallen so many of us in the individual competition.  The margins between the teams remained, as ever, very slim.  After another 100 minutes of battling Belmont’s winds, GB finished the range a solitary point ahead of the Australian team. 

The all-too-brief lunch break over, the team set up again at 1000 yards.  This was made easier by the huge amount of effort put in by the reserves, adjutant and armourer (assisted by the U25s) in setting up the vital gazebo, water supplies and (perhaps less vital) scoreboard.

GB had been drawn on the extreme right at 1000 yards.  This exposed us to the most significant wind conditions and greatest risk of calamitous visits to the low scoring sections of the target.  (A reminder – it is quite possible to score an outer on these ICFRA targets that would be an inner on a normal Bisley target.  Indeed, anything not much more than half way in to the ICFRA inner is likely to be a bull on a ‘normal’ target.)   

Perhaps intentionally, the time period for 1000 yards ran from 1410 to 1550 and so would almost certainly finish before the late afternoon brought calmer conditions.   Notwithstanding this, it was clear that Australia (next to us on the range) had no intention of starting promptly, as, with twenty minutes gone, none of their firers were on the mound.  GB’s start was careful rather than delayed but conditions for the first few firers were fiendish.  Though there was clearly (with hindsight rather than from the coaches’ chairs perhaps!) a core call of around five left, this was rarely available for any extended period and in between gusted up to nearly double this or angled away to almost nothing.  This led to long waits and regular use of sighters out of turn but was rewarded by the very infrequent forays beyond the bull and inner.  (Even down on the more sheltered left side of the range it seemed that outers and magpies on both sides of the bull were all too easy to get.)

These difficult conditions continued for most of the allotted time and so by the end of the day’s shooting there were some very tired faces across the range.   Again, GB had won the range.  But, as before, the margin was tiny – a mere three points ahead of the USA.   This left GB with a lead of 25 points at the end of day 1. Veterans of previous Palma Matches might note that insurance policies just aren’t what they used to be.

After a brief wrap up and bidding farewell to the U25s, who return to the UK tonight, the team returned to the hotel to watch the third place play off game between Wales and Australia and have a quiet dinner together.