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49er Preview

The 49er fleet is massive this year in Palma, reaching the 80 boat capacity set by the organizers.  Qualifying will be shear madness as the two 40 boat qualifying fleets will only have two days to sort themselves into the 25 boat gold fleet.  If the forecast holds, and the qualifying is held in the typical on-shore sea breeze, the starts will be particularly important.  Palma is typically a left favored racecourse in the sea breeze.  Getting  a clean lane off the start is vital to get left, so the already critical starts are of doubly importance.  Sailing fans should prepare themselves for some high profile casualties as it’s unlikely all of the favorites will emerge unscathed.

The 49er field is incredibly deep with talent.  Every single major contender is in Palma except for Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, who are holding back on the amount of European travel they will do and won’t rejoin the fleet until Hyeres.  Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, recently signed by Team New Zealand, are the favorites.  They won the 2013 World Championship and European Championship and have been training in New Zealand with fellow top 10 Kiwi’s Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski.  Another team that likely fancy their chances are the Danish medalists, Jonas Warrer and Peter Lang.  They are a full season into their partnership and will be looking for some podium finishes over the next 12 months to secure a clean runway for them on the way to Rio.

Austrian verterans Nico Delle Karth and Nikolaus Relsh are back and healthy again after having to miss the 2013 Worlds due to a knee injury to crew Niko.  They handily won the 2013 Intergalactics, the first event on Olympic waters.  These pair have a long and successful history in Palma, and this could be the year they take home the big prize.

Last years Trofeo Princess Sofia Champions, Erik Heil & Thomas Ploessel, are back again.  In the 2013 regatta, they totally dominated the first day of gold fleet taking 3 of the 4 races, with an OCS they were first across the line in.  They ended up securing the regatta win with 2 races to go in the Theatre.  Since then they have been up and down the regatta standings.  At the world Championship they faltered in the light air qualifying and were relegated to Silver fleet.  In the European Championship there finished tied for the Bronze medal but lost the tie breaker to the French.  Erik and Tommy are the mostly widely travelled team this winter having done camps in Santander, Rio, and New Zealand.  Will the various camps and new relationships help them on the racecourse this spring?

The two squads with potentially the most at stake in these early season regattas are the British and French.  The Brits have 10 boats entered and the French have 8 boats entered, and all the teams are looking toward qualifying to attend the 2014 World Championship in Santander.  Countries are only guaranteed up to 4 spots at the premier event of the year, making qualification for either of these squads a huge challenge.  Selectors will be looking to see who has made progress through the winter to delegate those spots, and solid World Cup performances are a must.

It will be interesting to see if there are teams from either country who can consistently attain podium positions in 2014.  From GBR, Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign have shown steady progress and remarkable consistency, but still find themselves off the podium at big events more often than on it.  On the French team, it’s been a decade of steady progress for Julien D’Ortoli and Noe Delpech that has brought their podium goals within reach.  At the 2013 Worlds, however, it was their returning countrymen Manu Dyen and Stephane Cristidis who stole the home nation spotlight with their Bronze medal performance at their only competition of the year.

There are 80 ambitious teams in Palma each looking to set a firm foundation for their Rio efforts.  Even though there is still 28 months until the games, these early high quality competitions are vitally important for teams to gain the confidence and resources they’ll need to impress their country selectors.

While we could continue to debate one team versus any other, the bigger picture is 49er sailing now resembles Star sailing of yesteryear.  The Rio quad will be a test of ‘big cat pro’ versus ‘Olympic pro’.  Virtually every serious America’s Cup and Extreme 40 team is reaching deep into the 49er circuit to find athletic sailors who are used to the sailing intensity of 49er racing.  Like the Star class of yesteryear, top sailors are finding their time and focus divided like never before.  The main difference is that 49er sailing demands boathandling perfection due to the strict one-design nature of the class and athletic requirements.   For many top 49er sailors, there is also the moth fleet, where sailors are spending time sailing the foiling singlehander to make themselves more marketable, have fun, and work on high speed skills.  For the history of the 49er to date, it’s taken extreme dedication to take home the gold, with top sailors digging deeper than one another to win the big prize.  Will Rio prove you can’t have two prizes in mind and win Gold or will these ‘big cat pros’ be able to have their cake and eat it too?

49erFX Preview

The 49erFX fleet is 51 boats strong and the second largest regatta ever for this new class.  All of the top contenders are present in Palma, and unlike the 49er fleet these 49erFX teams have been pushing the racing circuit hard all winter, with most teams doing a number of events recently.  In Miami, most of the top teams were present, and it was a battle between Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze versus France’s Sarah Steyaert and Julie Bossard.  In the end of both the North American’s and World Cup – Miami, it was the French team winning out, and they will be looking to extend that winning streak to three!

The only team missing from Miami were the 2013 World Champions from New Zealand, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech.  They spent the winter training at home with a very strong New Zealand Squad and landing Red Bull as their main sponsor.  A few teams like the Germans, and Brazilians went down to New Zealand to visit, but other than some local regattas these two haven’t competed in a big fleet since last summer.  If there is any rust in their game, especially around the start line it could get found out in the qualifying races.

The Brazilian duo are the most travelled team of the 2013 Winter, having done the Rio Intergalactics, Miami, and a trip to New Zealand.  Lets hope their youthful exuberance is enough to fight off all those airmiles.

The 49erFX fleet is still so young it’s really too early to know which teams will end up on top by Rio.  There are still dozens of teams with legitimate podium aspirations, with so much learning and progress still to be made in sailing these skiffs.  The British and German squads are deep with talented teams pushing each other daily.  The Italians are sailing well coming off a silver medal performance in Miami, and there are many other teams catching up to the top crews.

49er.org will carry daily reports and on the water action via our facebook and youtube accounts, so stay tuned to what will be a fantastic competition.  For those looking for email notifications of our live broadcasts, please sign up for our regatta notification list and make sure you don’t miss any of the action.

2014 Theatre Style Finals

2014 Palma World Cup Interviews

2013 Palma Finals

The official regatta website is here

The format of the regatta is 2 days of split fleet qualifying, with 50% of the fleet racing together at any one time.  Then the top 25 teams will make it to gold fleet for 3 days of gold fleet racing.  Finally, the top 10 will race in the theatre, for 3 X 10 minute, single point races.