The Big Palma Preview
Palma is Back
There has been so much disruption over the past few years to the sailing calendar. World Cups were restricted, the Sailing World Cup Final was added, sites turned from Rio to Tokyo, it was not clear what winners and losers would emerge in the regatta circuit.
The fleet has spoken! Palma is back, and the fleets are huge. 850+ sailors is right around the largest it’s ever been. With 93 49ers, 48 49erFX, and 48 Nacra 17, the skiff and cat fleets are right at the highest they’ve ever been too. Both laser and radial fleet maxed out at their quotas and the RSX fleets are huge too. The beaches are bursting with teams ready to head out and push hard for the European haul.
A few years ago Palma chose not to attempt getting World Cup status. Last year wasn’t huge, but this year it seems like that move has paid off, with the beaches and bay full of sailors from around the globe. In a months time the circus will shift to Hyeres, which is limited to less than half the Palma entry, and it will feel small in comparison.
Are There New Contenders?
Particularly in the 49erFX fleet, the door is open for new contenders to climb into top contention. Martine Grael, Tamara Echegoyen, and Jena Hansen are all involved in the Volvo Ocean Race, although Jena and Katja will be racing this week with Jena back and forth in her offshore role. Giulia Conti has retired from competition and is now coaching the up and coming Americans. That leaves only Alex Maloney with Molly Meech and Annemiek Bekkering with Annette Duetz (NED) as the only contenders who have been focussed on Olympic sailing since Rio.
Palma will be the first chance for the chasing pack to see who’s winter training has shifted them up a level.
Biggest Aim of 2018?
It might seem obvious to many to say the biggest aim of the year is the World Sailing Championship in Aarhus. Not so however for the growing Asian contingent of skiff sailors. 2018 also marks the year of the Asian Games, and in some ways it rivals the Olympics in importance for Asian sailors.
Singapore will use Palma as their Asian Games qualifiers, so watch that battle through the week as well as which Asian teams can set the mark as favorites heading into the Asian games.
Can Anyone Challenge Fletcher and Bithell?
Rivals to Dyland Fletcher and Stuart Bithell (GBR) seem to be falling by the wayside at an alarming rate.
Benjamin Bildstein (AUT) reinjured his shoulder and went through reconstructive surgery since Miami. His rehab routing is intense, and he’ll be back soon, but missing a chunk of months at the begging of the season is far from ideal.
Another rival went down this week, with Fynn Sterritt (GBR) injuring his foot a few days ago, and is back in the UK for analysis and facing a few months of rehab himself. He and James Peters had a fantastic season last year moving into contender status, but are looking at a few months out of the program. James will be watching from the coach boat this week. “It’s something I’ve never done, so I’m looking forward to viewing the racing from another vantage point. That said, I think by the second day I’ll be aching for the racing.” He’ll pull as much as he can from the fleet viewpoint this week, and it is valuable to see racing from the outside, but if Fynn’s injuries are substantial that’s a real blow to their 2018 ambitions.
Returning from injury are Spaniards Diego Botin and Iago Marra. The duo have been training hard in Palma and will be looking toward a better season this year.
There is a ton of depth in the 49er fleet, many having training hard all winter, but Dylan and Stu had their number last year and haven’t taken the foot of the gas all winter. If they have another season like they did in 2017, where they won both Euros and Worlds, it could set up a huge showdown with Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) in 2019 if they step back into the boat as expected following the Volvo.
Anyone’s Game in Nacra 17
2017 as a rough year to use in gauging the Nacra 17 fleet. Teams got their boats in staggered succession mostly with little time to train before Euros and Worlds. The fleet then scattered to all corners of the globe, with the biggest training groups in Auckland, Cagliari, and Miami. It seems like the Auckland group got the most sailing time once they were there, but had to endure long periods of being boatless during shipping. The Cagliari group also had a fantastic run of good breeze while the Miami group got a top level regatta. Add to that a growing fleet and it will be a fascinating year to see who can master this new beast of a boat.
Training in Palma has seen the fleet tackle the biggest waves they’ve seen to date and it’s taking a toll. Roughly 10 masts have buckled in the three weeks before the start of the regatta. The typical waves are large and short so boats are nosediving downwind on a frequent basis. Previously that would have resulted in pitchpoles, but with the elevators holding the sterns down, it’s the sailplan that’s loading up through deceleration and the supported column is what’s buckling. Look for teams to be diligent in trying to avoid the worst downwind this week to escape back to flatter waters later in the summer.
There are too many teams to mention that have a shot at the win this week. Of more note is how fast the fleet is growing. 48 boats in Palma, already 71 are registered for Aahurs, making it likely the full quota of 80 will be reached. Considering there were only 43 teams by the end of the 2016 quad, that’s a solid vote of support by the Olympic sailing community embracing the new configuration.
Don’t Call It A Comeback – It’s a reload
With the departure of Robert Scheidt last year, the sailing world lost a chance to see just how fast a hero could make it back up the fleet in a totally new class, but we’ve got plenty of other chances this year.
Johannes Polger (GER) is fully committed to a Nacra 17 campaign with Carolina Werner. Caro raced the nacra last quad, but Jojo hasn’t raced in Olympic fleets since his Tornado campaign in 2008. He did a small stint in the star for 2012, but they seem committed to trying the foiling cat. Check them out – Reload Sailing Team
We also have two more legends from 2008 joining the fleets this week. Fouth place overall from Beijing, Pietro Sibello jumps into the 49er for a guest appearance. The mild mannered helm was a top level 49er sailor for a dozen years, and eight years later looks in good shape, but he’s just along for a fun week. Also, at the last minute one of the “Three Blondes in a Boat’, 2008 Gold medalist Sarah Ayton is jumping onto the bow of a 49erFX for the week. She’s been all over the British press in recent years, doing some extreme sailing series events and more interestingly trying her hand as an equestrian jockey. Let’s see how she rates the 49erFX in huge seas to a thoroughbred!
Finally, not in Palma, but possibly most interesting, is reports of Nathan Outteridge with sister Haylee Outteridge spending plenty of time in the Nacra 17 down under. Reports are that he’s already faster than the 2016 Australian Olympians downwind, who’d bet against him! Let’s see what happens through the year, but surely if he’s ready to reload, the Nacra 17 fleet should take notice!
Racing will take place from Friday 30th to Sunday 1st April for ORC and one design classes, and from Monday 2nd to Saturday 7th April for Olympic classes
Website Quick Links
Find the entry list here.
The results will be published here.
Read the sailing instructions and other official documents at the ONB.
Follow the live race here.
You can also follow the regatta on social media. Share it and like it, please, and use the hashtag #SofiaIberostar to join the conversation!