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Way Over In Weymouth

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  • Way Over In Weymouth

    The two halves of the 49erFX qualification series took place today in a 15-18 knots easterly in Portland Harbour, delivering spectacularly fast conditions for the women’s skiff fleet. While Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey have upped their game significantly in lighter conditions, the British duo were back in their favourite breeze – strong and gusty. Scores of 1,1,2 lift them to top of the leaderboard, tied on points with second-placed Brazilians, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze.

    A container ship near the Portland shore on the right-hand side of the course prevented a straightforward tack into the corner, forcing a couple more tacks out of the teams. “We quite liked the container ship there,” said Dobson. “It made it a bit more interesting. The gusts were pretty hard though, you couldn’t see them coming. There’s quite a lot of weight in the wind and being so close to the shore there wasn’t much warning before the next gust hit. So it kept you on your toes, you couldn’t really relax for a moment.”

    The Brits’ closest rival on their side of the draw is the young Swedish team who were leading after day one, Vilma Bobeck and Malin Tengstrom, who continue to tear round the track at high speed, scoring 7,4,1 from the day. “We train with them a lot,” said Dobson. “They’re probably a bit faster than us in the breeze but we managed to be a bit more consistent on the race course.”

    The other side of the draw saw a three-way battle play out between three 49erFX World Champions past and present. The reigning Olympic Champions, Grael and Kunze, had the best of it with 1,1,3. The Olympic silver medallists from New Zealand, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, notched up an ever-improving 3,2,1, lifting them to fifth overall, one place behind the other high performer of the day, the reigning World Champions Annemieke Bekkering and Annette Duetz of the Netherlands. The Dutch were still grinning after a fun day on the water that brought them scores of 2,3,2. “We love that stuff,” said Bekkering. “We don’t get to sail in such flat water very often, and the boats were flying today.”

    Bekkering and Duetz are definitely enjoying the weather so far in Weymouth, although the breeze is set to drop in the coming days. They’re strong in all conditions, but so far the higher wind – which floated between 15 and 20 knots – is making life harder for their rivals for Dutch Olympic selection. A few weeks ago Odile van Aanholt and Marieke Jongens won the Hempel Sailing World Cup regatta in Genoa, Italy, in very light winds. This gives them a significant advantage going into the second and final part of the trials here in Weymouth. So far, Bekkering and Duetz are doing a good job of staying in the fight, but that is exactly what the reigning World Champions need to if they hope to stay in contention for a place at Tokyo 2020.

    They’re not long back in the boat after their two-and-a-half year holiday in the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, but Peter Burling and Blair Tuke are back at the top in the 49er after firing three bullets in a row today. “Nice day out,” smiled a typically straightforward Burling, checking carefully over every part of the rig after a testing outing for the 96-boat fleet.

    It’s not that it was that windy, but the easterly breeze had kicked up some big waves in Weymouth Bay, offering plenty of opportunity for a high-speed pitchpole. The Antipodeans are muscling in on the European party, both Kiwis and Aussies enjoying the big breeze, big wave conditions. The only European team in the top four is Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Lopez who were almost as dominant as the Kiwis in their third of the qualifying draw, scoring 2,1,1. “It’s so nice to be racing in good conditions again,” said Lopez. “Today was a great day for 49er sailing.”

    The Spaniards are just a point off the Burling/Tuke lead, and just two points off the Spanish are the Aussie brothers Will and Sam Phillips who scored three second places behind the unstoppable Kiwis. “Got to be pretty happy with that,” said Will. “Still a long list of things to work on, but we’re getting there with our starting and boat speed was pretty solid.” His favourite bit of the day was the two-sail blast back across Portland Harbour, back in the relative safety and comfort of the flat water after the lumpy challenge of the Bay.

    Rio 2016 bronze medallists Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel were fast out of the blocks in the morning, winning their first heat, but ran out of steam as the day progressed. “I was getting tired,” smiled Heil, sounding like a broken man. They pitchpoled in race two but recovered to a still respectable 10th place. “I was losing concentration because we were getting tired.” Then they capsized again in the final race of the afternoon, this time only managing an 18th. Even so, the Germans hold on to 7th place overall.

    images © drew malcolm photography

    Austria’s Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl struggled in yesterday’s conditions but got their mojo back on day two, scores of 1,1,5 lifting them to 12th overall. Great Britain’s Chris Taylor and Sam Batten had just put together a good set of results – 7,4,9 – and were enjoying the ride back home across the harbour when their forestay snapped at the top terminal. “The rig dropped back but the boom sat on the leeward wing and sort of supported the mast until we had time to re-tie the kite halyard as a temporary forestay,” said Taylor. So no real harm done, and a big day’s sailing that has planted a big grin on the face of the 49er fleet.

    Of the nine teams in 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 that won medals in Rio, at least 1 team will not do so in Tokyo 2020. The five teams or sailors locked in selection battles won’t all make it to the next Olympic start line.

    Since sweeping the 2016 Quad, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke went on to with the America’s Cup and the each narrowly missed out on winning the Volvo Ocean Race separately. Two years removed from the Olympic circuit, and with America’s Cup responsibilities, they are back in the 49er for another go. Hot on their heals, and beating them in winter training are fellow Kiwis Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn. Can the worlds best sailors beat their own team mates?

    The Australian Nacra trial are spoiled for choice. The defending Silver medalists are rolling and have won three regattas in row. But 49er Gold and Silver medalist Nathan Outteridge has teamed up with sister Haylee, and they came 4th in their first Worlds. Only one team can claim the Australian spot, who will it be?

    Eric Heil and Thomas Poessel (GER) took Bronze in the 49er in Rio and have been running at half throttle since then. Each is finishing studies, and only now getting back to full time campaigning. Three other German teams have top 10 finishes at recent worlds, including their Rio sparring partners Justus Schmit and Max Boeme. Can Heil/Poessel win their selection?

    Katja Iversen took bronze with helm Jena Hansen (DEN) in a four boat shootout for the medals in Rio. Jena sailed Volvo while Katja studied, but after the duo returned to win the 2017 Worlds Jena decided to retire on a high from racing, and has moved into coaching. Katja has teamed up to crew for Alan Norregaard and these two bronze medalists from the skiff are mounting a late charge for the Danish Olympic berth. They must beat out team mates Lin Cenholt and CP Lubeck, who are in great form and were 4th at the 2018 Europeans. Only one can go!

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