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.