Commentary on the Long Distance Race to Start the 2012 Europeans

Yesterdays first ever ‘Long Distance’ race to kick off the Europeans was meant to be a bit of an adventure and a bit of fun to break up the hard core racing focus that normally dominates Olympic sailing.  In a lot of ways that concept was a achieved, yet the challenges and difficulties that the fleet were wary of in accepting the concept came through as well.

It was interesting to hear the different perspectives from the top guys about strategy heading into a race where the destination was more a point on a map than a known and seen quantity like normal.

(Interview here)

Many accurately predicted trouble at the start line and even more accurately, the decision of left versus right.  In the rights favor was it’s Garda… so the right cliffs are the place to be.  The left though had a few things going for it as well.  The start line was closer to the left, which meant getting cliff effects would come in quickly.  Also, the wind has been filling in on the left sooner than the right each day, so with the breeze coming in and out at the start line that may help.

Another factor was that the windward mark was on the left… in all fairness we’re talking about 2 windward marks.  The far ‘mark’ is an Island just South of Malcesine 13km from the bottom of the lake.   This was the planned destination during the first general recall.  Between starts, the RC was on the radio upwind and got the news that the wind hadn’t filled in all the way down to this Island, so they made the decision to switch to the shorter course, a march set off the beach at Navine 9 km up wind.  Most of the coaches and myself had seen the wind come up nicely and thought it rash to shorten so quickly, but as is the case so often in life, it pays to listen to the professionals as the wind would show us later.


So back to the left vs. right decision (Note, wind in this race came from the South (bottom) of the map)… it was interesting to hear from the Alonsos, who 2 hours before the race correctly predicted their ultimate race winning passing move when to cross back over from right to left…

I was following the battle up the right very closely and it was not obvious or clear that coming back across the lake early would be the correct move.  Tacking up the shoreline was producing consistent gains all the way up.

By the time teams were crossing back across the lake, it was becoming more obvious by how much the right had paid.  Teams out left were really slowing down and those that committed really hard and stayed left ended up parking up later in the race completely.  I’d also like to point out that the Croatians initially went to the left, but quickly changed their minds when the saw the right paying and trucked all the way right later than anyone… because the left had been OK early and due to their generally high skill level they were able to salvage a very good race getting all the way back to 3rd.  I really admire their ability to overcome their initial decision and receive the bad news that their 1st choice was the wrong one and just be pragmatic and get back the way that was paying… it served them well here.  This fight over confirmation bias is a really hard one to get over.

Back to the point of this blog, which was to look deeper into the details of the long distance race.  We have a clear winner of the race who no one can argue didn’t deserve it.  The teams that chose the right got it right and the race was a fair one throughout.  Those that went left really had a hard time though.  They all parked up for about 20 minutes at least and had to struggle round a long course that took them over 2 hours (leaders 1:20).  So now we have a number of top teams ‘in the hole’ to start the event… it’s only 1 race out of 7 schedules qualifying races and it can be dropped, but there is little room for error now for many teams.

Further, the start line of 65 boats provided a bit of carnage with the Irish taking a huge gash in their boat during a ducking collision they were squeezed into… carnage may be fun on TV but at these speeds is dangerous and expensive, which is nothing to be taken lightly.

The next few days will tell us how decisive this race was for teams looking to secure the championship.  For now, I think most teams had a good time and I hope we produced some nice coverage of a type of racing most 49er fans aren’t used to seeing.

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