The world’s top skiff sailors have converged on Athens for the 49er World Championships, due to take place from 14-19 April. With just four months before the Olympic Games, tension is running high in the boat park of Nautica Club Katikon Vouliagmenis. A total of 81 teams from 28 different nations have come to battle it out for supremacy in these historic waters.
This regatta means different things to different people. Some have simply come for fun. You don’t need to be chasing Olympic medals to appreciate the charms of the 49er. She is one of the fastest and most exciting boats in existence. But while some are smiling, just soaking up the atmosphere and the warm sun, others are frowning with intense concentration, focussed on last minute preparations that could spell the difference between death or glory.
Some nations have yet to qualify for the Olympic Games, and this regatta represents the ‘last chance saloon’. Ireland is one such nation, and Tom Fitzpatrick and Fraser Brown are determined to be back in Athens this August. “We have been training for this for over three years,” said Fitzpatrick, “and we plan to do everything in our power to gain one of those qualifying places.” The Irish have come close to qualifying in previous World Championships, but a 24th in Cadiz last September wasn’t good enough. They have since employed the services of Ian Barker as their coach. “Ian won a Silver medal at the Olympics in Sydney four years ago, so he knows what it takes to win at this level,” commented Fitzpatrick. “He has been helping us improve some technical elements of our game to give us the edge of boatspeed that we’re looking for.” Other nations yet to qualify include Finland, France and New Zealand .
For others, the nation may have qualified but the team may not yet have been selected. A case in point is Denmark, where there are many high quality teams looking to claim their return flights to Athens.
On paper, former European Champion and Olympic representative Michael Hestbaek has the strongest record, but there are many other teams vying for Danish supremacy. Aside from Hestbaek, four other teams finished in the top 20 at last year’s World Championships. Most intriguing is the recent change around in set-up of Jonathan Persson and Thomas Iversen. Helmsman Persson has swapped roles with Iversen, who is now doing the steering while Persson does the hard work pulling ropes in the front of the 49er. It’s a brave move to have made so close to such a crucial event. For other teams, the pressure is off in some respects, because they have already qualified for the Olympics.
Reigning World Champions from Great Britain, Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, can afford to look upon this is a practice regatta. But this is still a World Championship, and you can be sure they’ll be looking to claim a second crown. “We are really excited,” said Draper. “We haven’t raced an important regatta for a while. And we start with a big one. These Worlds will be more like a good training race – the Games are much more important to us.”
Marcus Baur and Max Groy may have been selected for Germany, but Markus Steeg is determined to give them a run for their money. “The adrenaline is pumping for this one. Of course Marcus and Max are seen as the best Germans, the ones that will go to the Games, but we will beat them,” he laughs.
Nothing is certain at such a tricky venue, however. Stéphane Christidis hasn’t been in the class long, but crewing for Marc Audineau he is aiming at winning the French trials and qualifying France for the Games. He is expecting a tough fight. “It won’t be easy on the water because the bay has got many islands and the wind can be influenced by the topography, such as the Meltemi wind (Northerly wind). It will mean that we must have a sharp eye outside the boat and react really quickly.” Three days of qualifying races begin on Wednesday, followed by three days of final racing.
Good start to world championship for Draper and Hiscocks (Team GB report from the RYA)
The worlds top skiff sailors have converged on Athens, four months before the Olympic Games, to test their skills at the 49er world championship. Today saw the first day of racing for the 81 teams representing 28 nations.
After three races the 2002 world champions Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain lead the fleet from the reigning world champions, Team GBR sailors Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks. Draper and Hiscocks made a good start, winning the first race and following it up with a second and a fourth to place them second overall, one point behind the Spanish. The 2003 world silver medallists Christoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim of Norway are one point behind in third place.
Draper commented before the event, “We are really excited about this event. We haven’t raced an important regatta for a while and we start with a big one! These worlds will be more like a good training event – the Games are much more important to us.” Fellow Team GBR sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes also had a good start to the championships scoring a second, sixth and a fifth and are currently placed eighth overall.
The fleet have two more days of qualifying before racing in the final series from the 17-19 April. For further information log onto the event website www.eio.gr.
Wacky Races: (49er class report from Camille Parrain) After a year missed through injury, it was a momentous return to form for Spaniards Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez on day one of the 49er World Championships in Athens.
Having dominated the 2002 season with victories in the 49er Worlds, Europeans as well as many Grade 1 international events, both helmsman Martinez and crew Fernandez took it in turns to be injured throughout 2003. Unable to defend their World title on home waters in Cadiz last September, some were beginning to wonder whether they could ever re-establish their dominance of past years. A scoreline in today’s qualifying races of 4,1,1 suggests they can, although it is very early days, and defending World Champions, Great Britain’s Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, are just a point behind with race finishes of 1,2,4. “It was a nice day’s sailing,” commented Draper.
Whether others saw it that way is arguable, however, as the sudden unexpected gusts played havoc with the fleet. “The wind was quite changeable,” he admitted. “It was blowing 8 to 10 knots in one race, until the final run when it got up to 25 knots.” Boats were capsizing left, right and centre, and many failed to finish within the time limit. The USA’s recently selected Olympian Pete Spaulding injured his leg quite badly, although with helmsman Tim Wadlow managed to record a reasonable score to be lying just outside the top 10.
Considering the wildly variable conditions, it is surprising just how much the fleet is running to form at this early stage. Just behind Draper and Hiscocks are their training partners, Norwegians Christoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim who were second in Cadiz last year, and Germans Marcus Baur and Max Groy, fifth at the last Worlds.
Britain’s Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith are the exceptions, currently lying in 23rd overall, although they managed to climb from a similar position last year to finish fourth in Cadiz. No one takes anything for granted at such early stages of a World Championship. With the 82-boat fleet currently divided into three qualifying groups, all you can do is sail your best and try not to worry what the rest are up to. With another two days of qualifying to go, the first priority is to book a ticket into the 25-boat Gold Fleet final, where the battle really intensifies. The priority for the competitors this evening is to check over their boats after a gruelling first day, ready for round 2 of qualifying tomorrow.
Results after day 1: 1, Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez, ESP (4,1,1) 6 pts 2,
Chris Draper/Simon Hiscocks, GBR (1,2,4) 7 pts 3,
Christoffer Sundby/Frode Bovim, NOR (2,2,4) 8 pts
Other GBR 8, Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes (2,6,5) 13 pts 16,
James Mcintosh/Philip Kennard (4,3,15) 22 pts 18,
Alister Richardson/Alex Tobutt (9,4,9) 22 pts 23,
Paul Brotherton/Mark Asquith (6,10,13) 29 pts 29,
John Pink/Alex Hopson (11,10,13) 34 pts 49,
Ben McGrane/Jonathan Clegg (16,14,20) 50 pts
49ers blown off course at world championship (Team GBR report from the RYA)
Racing has been cancelled on the second day of the 49er world championships due to excessive wind conditions. A start was attempted in 15 knots of breeze, which had to be abandoned due to a large wind shift. Shortly after that, the wind increased to 30 knots and racing was forced to be abandoned for the day. In order to make up the lost races, tomorrow will see the competitors racing at the earlier time of 10 00am.
The event is due to conclude on the 19 April. For further information log onto the event website www.eio.gr
Race to the shore (49er class report from Camille Parrain)
No racing took place on Day 2 of the 49er World Championships in Athens. Well, the only race was the one back to shore after the race committee postponed and sent the fleet scrambling back in to the beach before the wind increased any more. When the two morning fleets headed out for racing it was blowing a perfect 15 knots, but the wind suddenly dropped to zero. The first heat got underway, but the committee decided to abandon it when the breeze shifted from NW to NE, and started increasingly rapidly to 30 knots. As the Olympic skiffs ran for shelter, the new wind played havoc with the fleet, causing many capsizes. Coach boats worked at full tilt to get their teams back ashore before any serious damage occurred to bodies or equipment.
It was great sport for the spectators, but that was about all. Chris Rast from Switzerland said it was the right call to come ashore when they did. “It was getting dangerous out there,” he said. With no sign of the wind abating in the afternoon, the race committee eventually sent the competitors home, with all racing abandoned for the day. Many were relieved at that decision, still licking their wounds from a tough first day of qualifying on the previous day. So the Spanish team of Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez maintain their position at the top of the leaderboard after three heats. Still recovering from a torrid past 12 months of injury, Martinez counted himself lucky to have avoided the nastier conditions of yesterday morning and to have sailed in the more mellow 8-10 knot Red Fleet races of the early evening. “Our performance will depend on the wind conditions. If tactics are the main thing, then we are OK, but if the weather conditions are tough then it would be probably more difficult as we haven’t trained much. We’re not in perfect shape yet.”
Martinez and Fernandez have yet to be selected for the Games, and this seems more important to them than repeating their World Championship win of 2002. “We will see what happens. We are planning to be in the top 8 to 10 here. But we will give 100 per cent for the Games.”
Results after day 1: 1, Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez, ESP (4,1,1) 6 pts
2, Chris Draper/Simon Hiscocks, GBR (1,2,4) 7 pts
3, Christoffer Sundby/Frode Bovim, NOR (2,2,4) 8 pts
Draper and Hiscocks qualify for final series in third place
The qualifying series at the 49er world championship concluded yesterday with the top 25 boats going on to race for the world championship title. The variety in weather conditions is providing the competitors with a tough challenge and yesterday was no exception with three races taking place in strong winds.
A seventh place in the first race, after a capsize, for RYA Team GBR sailors Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, was quickly followed up with a fourth and a third, and they are currently placed third overall going into the final three days of racing. Fellow Team GBR sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes also had a good day, scoring a fifth, second and their first race win of the championship, to move up to fourth place overall.
The 2002 world champions, Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain, continue to lead the fleet by two points from Christoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim of Norway. The points however, are really close with just five points separating first and fourth place. The final series takes place from the 17-19 April. For further information log onto the event website www.eio.gr.
Windy Conclusion to Qualifying (49er class report from Camille Parrain)
The Qualifying Series at the 49er World Championships concluded in customary controversy today in Athens. The scramble to make the Gold Fleet final of 25 boats always results in a last-minute flurry of protests, but today many of those protests were levelled at the race committee.
Some teams were given a five-point penalty for failing to sign in for racing earlier today, but when the signing-in papers went missing, race crews were understandably distraught at having received a penalty, whilst being unable to prove whether or not they had signed in correctly.
With the 82-boat fleet divided into three groups, a five-point penalty equates to 15 points, a huge price to pay in such a tightly contested fleet. Among the penalised teams were No.3 ranked team from the Ukraine, Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk. More crucially perhaps, a five-point penalty put the Irish team of Tom Fitzpatrick and Fraser Brown right on the cusp of Gold Fleet qualification in 25th place. [Eventually the committee decided it would be simpler and fairer to cancel all penalties]. So if the positions stay as they are, then the Irish have guaranteed themselves a place in the Olympics this summer, along with Finland, France and Japan.
This means that just one Olympic place remains available, with New Zealand and Sweden currently locked in a duel that will continue into the Silver Fleet finals of the next three days. It was another windy and unforgiving day out on the water, with even reigning World Champions Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks capsizing in one heat. But they have only fallen one place in the standings to third, conceding second place to their
Norwegian training partners Christoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim, with the Spanish team still holding first place. Peter Kruge described the conditions as “crazy”, but Pim Nieuwenhuis from the Netherlands loved it: “Racing the 49er is great, all your energy goes into it. If you had a satellite that could measure the level of concentration, you would see a hot spot of activity focused on Athens today. You have to keep your eyes open to everything going on around you in these conditions, gathering as much information as possible.”
There were some high-profile casualties who failed to make the Gold Fleet cut. Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith finished tantalisingly close, just a point off the Irish, while the Brazilian team who finished 9th last year were five points behind Brotherton. But the Olympic selection battle is alive and kicking for the Danes, with five teams through to the Gold Fleet. The Finals begin tomorrow.
Results after day 3:
1, Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez, ESP (4,1,1,3,1,(6)) 10 pts
2, Christoffer Sundby/Frode Bovim, NOR (2,2,4,2,(9),2) 12 pts
3, Chris Draper/Simon Hiscocks, GBR (1,2,4,(7),4,3) 14 pts
Snakes and ladders at 49er worlds
On the first day of racing the final series at the 49er world championship, the light sea breeze provided the 25 teams competing in the gold fleet with some challenging conditions. Light airs meant the race course turned into a game of snakes and ladders and everyone struggled with consistency. Because the level of the fleet is so high and one small mistake in a race can cost dearly, the overall results were turned inside out with a new top three established after the days racing.
Despite scoring a 20th in the first race of the day, Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain sailed well in the next three races and maintained their overall lead. They have now established a nineteen point lead over Marcus Baur and Max Groy of Germany.
Team GBR sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes were quick out of the starting blocks this morning, adding a second race win to their score line. This helped to see them move up into third place overall, whilst fellow Brits and reigning world champions Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks are currently lying fifth overall. Only five points separate third and fifth and with another five races to sail and more breeze forecast, there is still a long way to go in this championship. The event concludes on Monday 19th April. For further information log onto the event website www.eio.gr
Shaky races in close fleet (49er class report from Camille Parrain)
After protests from yesterday, penalties were cancelled. Anyway it wouldn’t have affected the qualifications to the Gold fleet but some sailors were discouraged after hard fights on courses and sailing their best. They didn’t want to end the qualifications with 5 points of penalty. First finals were held today. They started with no wind and postponment. Some were already packing their boat. A Portuguese team, Pedro Andrade and David Aleixo went back home. David was already ill before the Worlds but still wanted to race. He is now at the hospital until Monday after an infection in one of his finger. These regattas were erratic.
They were held in a light sea breeze (8 to 10knots). Leaders Iker Martines and Xavier Fernandez from Spain finished their first race with a 20 position but performed next races with a 2 and a 1. Iker asserted “Everybody is bearing arms against each other to get the title. All fleet is good and it makes it hard to sail.”
A tough fleet and Chris Nicholson from Australia was not really happy of his day: “It’s a sign we haven’t raced a lot before the Worlds”. Surprisingly the Norwegian team Christoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim, who did really well in the beginning of this championship, dropped in the rankings. It is not just a competition to get the title but also one that would select a team for the Games.
This regatta is one of the Trials for Denmark. Peter Kruge and Jonas….who were fifth overall yesterday are now passed by Michael Hestbaeck and Dennis Dengsoe.
But positions were always fluctuating. In fact Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk started as well with bad races but managed to fight to get a third position. Actually according to the coach of Germans Marcus Baur and Max Groy, the wind was really shifty and it was really hard to see where the wind would come first.
But it is mostly because, as said French Emmanuel Dyen and Yann Rocherieux it is a tight Gold fleet and every single mistake can make you lose your leading. In silver fleet some countries still can qualify and are giving a last chance to their country.
Sweden is now in front of New Zealand but only from 2 points. This fleet has been dominated by Brasilian team. After success with a 9 at the last Worlds in Cadiz, Brasilian were a bit disappointed by being in the Silver fleet. Andre Fonseca explained: “
We sailed a lot in Brasil but our last regatta was Cadiz. Our only training partners have been the Portuguese that came to visit us during 2 weeks. The rest of the time we were alone. We thought going to Barcelona could be a good training before
Athens but nothing happened there because of the weather. We started the season with a World championship…” Bronze fleet waited on the beach this afternoon and were keeping itself busy by learning 49er to some friends. They still have a smile on their faces. Among them Canadian teams who are planning to do the European circuit and are looking forward to going to the next Worlds in Moscow (2005).
Results after day 4: (gold fleet)
1, Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez, ESP (4,1,1,3,1,6,(20),2,1,4) 23 pts
2, Marcus Baur/Max Groy, GER (5,5,1,3,10,9,4,1,4,(15)) 42 pts
3, Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes, GBR (2,6,5,5,1,2,1,15,10,(20)) 47 pts Other GBR
5, Chris Draper/Simon Hiscocks (1,2,4,7,4,3,14,9,(23),8) 52 pts
13, Alister Richardson/Alex Tobutt (9,4,9,4,10,4,(19),4,16,11) 71 pts
Wind causes setback on penultimate day of 49er world championship
On the penultimate day of the 49er world championship, the weather caused another setback when the wind failed to materialise, giving the race committee no other option than to abandon racing for the day. With five races still left to complete the schedule, the race committee are hoping to get in as many races as possible before the cut off time of 16 00 hours tomorrow in the hope of crowning a new world champion. The event concludes tomorrow, Monday 19th April.
Crossing the fingers: (49er class report from Camille Parrain) The weather was not on the side of the sailors today. After a delay, the bronze fleet went out in a really light sea breeze. They tried to do one race but could not finish in time. Wind had dropped – hopeless.
Gold fleet went out as well but came back ashore under the rain before thay could do any racing. It was a really nice day! Christoffer Sundby (Nor2) said that by waiting on the course with no wind and a nice swell he was starting to be sea sick. Alas with no racing results haven’t changed yet. Sailors just got one more day to catch some places. It will be their last chance…They can be disappointed with a day like that.
The ones that didn’t do so good yesterday feel they have no chance of getting better final results. As if victory was slipping away. Some are relieved, others, such as the Polish or Danish teams are still a bit nervous. In fact Mazcin and Kzysztoff from Poland are having their Trials, finish top 17, they go to the Games if not it will be their collegues Pawel and Pawel. While waiting in front of Katikon club, silver fleet was quite relaxed but some were not at ease. Are we talking about the ones that still could qualify their country? Swedish team was a bit nervous because nothing is done yet and if they lose their lead they may miss the last Olympic spot New Zealand, behind is threatening…
Tomorrow will be the last chance for all of them. For the teams and for the countries. So keep crossing your fingers, everything will be concluded tomorrow. Some teams will probably quit after these Worlds. The Russian, Martin packed his boat today, his helmsman being ill.
They probably won’t go to next events because of sponsorship issue. They will try to go to the next Worlds that will be in Moscow. But they are from Vladivostok on the other side of Russia… Sailors gave us their opinion about the last few days and the Games, while we were all waiting on the shore. Stevie Morrison (GBR): “We tried to keep ourselves out of trouble during the qualifications. Yesterday was hard. With these light winds conditions anyone could win.In last Worlds we hoped to be top 15 and we finished 6th so we reached our goal more than we expected. This year we hoped to be on top 10 to consolidate our ranking. We are doing better now but anything can happen. It goes really quickly…”
Dimitrios Benakis (Greece): “Greek team is not really experimented but worked a lot the last two years. We started 6 months ago. We lost Gold fleet by capsizing in hard conditions. We didn’t have top quality so we have got to work more. 49er sailing requires to work on specific things. It is really demanding. Concerning the Games, they will make it. I’m living here and I know that everything is ready on time. It will be nice. For Greek people it is a really special moment because of past history. They have to succeed. People are waiting for this worldwide event even though it is difficult financially.”
Thomas Ruegge (Switzerland) “We started training last October. We hadn’t sailed since Sydney, which makes 3 years of rest…I had to finish my studies first. I went back on sailing because I want to sail full time before working and especially because my aim is to go to the Games again but it will be difficult as Chris Rast is sailing really well.I went there once and I would like to go again. If Chris doesn’t sail really well then maybe we can do the qualifications. We are going to decide what to do the coming months. I love sports and love sailing. It is good! It was hard to see some friends sailing while I was studying at university.”
Results: (gold fleet)
1, Iker Martinez/Xabier Fernandez, ESP (4,1,1,3,1,6,(20),2,1,4) 23 pts
2, Marcus Baur/Max Groy, GER (5,5,1,3,10,9,4,1,4,(15)) 42 pts
3, Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes, GBR (2,6,5,5,1,2,1,15,10,(20)) 47 pts
Link to Photos