McKiwis take early 49er lead

49ers: McHardie and McKenzie, the McKiwis ‘luck’ their way into the lead

With three qualifying races completed for the 91-strong 49er Men’s fleet across three groups, two Austrian teams find themselves in second and third overall. Just a point off the lead are Keanu Prettner and Jakob Flachberger and two points them are fellow Austrians Ben Bildstein and David Hussl enjoying a resurgence of form after a lacklustre 2023 season. The AUT crews are currently bettered only by the young New Zealanders, Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie, who won two of their four races in the red group.

“Maybe we were a bit lucky,” grinned McHardie after surviving a light wind battle where 7 knots was the windiest part of their day. “You’ve just got to keep racing to the very end of the race. There was a lot of passing lines out there so you had to make the most of every single passing lane there was.”

It has been a very useful start to the regatta which serves as part of the trials to decide who will represent New Zealand at next year’s Olympic Games. “The aim is to win the event or do the best we can,” said McKenzie. “We’ve got to keep on doing the simple things well and see how we go.”

Thai Fighters

Doing the simple things well was also what the brothers from Thailand, Don and Dylan Whitcraft, felt that they had executed well. “It was reminding ourselves to stick to the basics like sail on the lifted tack as often as possible,” said Don, who steers the boat. They currently sit in 8th overall, which bodes well for their goal of qualifying to compete at next year’s Olympics. Their next opportunity to book an Olympic berth comes up next month at the Asian Championships which also happens to be taking place in Thailand.

This week is a vital week for the European nations who have yet to book an Olympic spot. There is one place up for grabs in each of the three classes contesting their championship in Vilamoura. Yannick Lefèbvre and Jan Heuninck are doing great work for Belgium and in sixth overall are currently the highest placed team in the battle for 49er qualification.

“Don’t tell me the score!”

However just a point behind them in seventh overall are a Portuguese team, Pedro Costa and João Bolina, also in the hunt for an Olympic berth. “Actually I don’t want to know the results,” said Costa. “It’s not in our philosophy of racing. We want to take the regatta race by race and we just want to do our best on the water.

“Knowing the results can take our focus away from what matters, so it’s better that we don’t know. But it’s good to be here in Vilamoura. This is the place where I qualified with my 470 crew to go to the Tokyo Games, and this is also the place where I have done the best in the 49er when I was sailing with my brother. It’s a cool place and I have a good feeling about racing here again.”

Captain Sensible

Already qualified for the Games as reigning World Champions are Bart Lambriex and Floris van der Werken from The Netherlands. They won the last race of the afternoon in yellow group to rise to 5th overall in conditions where they feel they need the most practice according to van der Werken. “It was 2 to 6 knots and so it’s perfect for what we’re trying to improve, which is our skills and speed in light winds. The last race for us was pretty straightforward, leading from early on, taking a left-hand shift and tacking and crossing the fleet. But the other races were more complicated and it was about keeping composed, keeping your head calm and doing your best to make sensible decisions.”

Have-a-go Heroes

At the other end of the fleet, in second from last, are two have-a-go heroes from Great Britain, two middle-aged weekend warriors called Colin Rawlinson and Garry Dobson. “We just wanted to come here and have fun,” said Rawlinson who turned 50 this year, “and we can definitely say it’s mission accomplished already. We had a top 15 at one of the top mark roundings but we’re not so quick downwind.” Understandable, considering they’re one of the few non-professional teams here, competing in a boat that is well over 20 years old. “Coming and competing against the Olympic sailors, it’s been a great experience and probably the most welcoming boat park we’ve ever been to,” said Dobson.


49erFX: Spanish on the charge but Italians hold firm in first

Former World Champions Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barceló charged up into second place in the 49erFX competition as the Spanish recorded two wins from four races in the stronger breezes of the late afternoon. However the Italians who led after day one remained strong throughout today’s session. Jana Germani and Georgia Bertuzzi recorded 6,4,3,3 to stretch to a 5-point advantage over the Spanish, with Helene Næss and Marie Ronningen of Norway in third place overall.

Pasta or Curry?

The 2022 World Champions Odile van Aanholt and Annette Duetz opened the day with a race win but had a wobble in the middle before rebounding with a 5th place just before sunset. “We had a few come-back races,” smiled Duetz. “It was a tense day at times, and it was good when Odile reminded me to breathe!” Keeping the boat going through such changeable conditions was partly what made the racing stressful,” said van Aanholt. “So much of it is about mindset, getting your head in the right place and setting yourself again for the next race. It’s late now though. I just hope the boys [Bart Lambriex and Floris van der Werken] have got the dinner on. Floris is the pasta expert and Bart likes making a curry, so we’ll find out what’s on the menu soon.”

Straight-leggin’ Swedes

After a shaky start to their regatta, the reigning World Champions from Sweden bounced back with some very solid scores for Vilma Bobeck and Rebecca Netzler on day two. “We felt we were more in the racing today,” said Netzler. “Yesterday we were a bit surprised how we were so much in the traffic, but today it was a bit easier getting around the course with a bit more wind to stretch our legs again.”

Qualifying concludes on Friday before the fleets are divided into Gold and Silver for Saturday.

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