The physical limits of the 496 sailors from 46 nations racing at the Hempel World Cup Series regatta in Enoshima, Japan were pushed on Thursday as big waves rolled through Sagami Bay.
In the 49erFX, a number of the pre-event favourites were all black flagged in the first race of the day. Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED), Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA), Helene Naess and Marie Rønningen (NOR) and Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen (DEN) were the most high profile casualties of the black flag.
In total, 10 teams were black flagged, another contender was DSQ’d, and a third couldn’t finish the race. Almost half the fleet scored letter scores on the first race of the day, essentially giving the other half of the fleet automatic good scores and eliminating the drop race.
In the final race of the day, 31 of the 36 boats capsized or couldn’t finish for other reason, so only five boats were able to complete the race in the time limit. Baad Nielsen and Thusgaard Olsen took the race win, their second of the day, following their BFD, but the real story of the day was that the majority of teams scored two letter scores from three races, likely a decisive day for the regatta.
Bekkering and Duetz hit back after the BFD with two third places which pushes them into the lead. They took over from Grael and Kunze (BRA) who on the first two races on day 1, but fell back to sixth overall after also being unable to finish the final race of the day.
The 49er fleet were the last ones off the water having sailed their races after the 49erFX fleet. After three additional races, Tim Fischer and Fabian Graf (GER) lead on 24 points. Poland’s Dominik Buksak and Szymon Wierzbicki are second on 33 and Federico and Arturo Alonso (ESP) sit third on 35 points.
None of the top five currently was in the top five at Ready Steady Tokyo last week, which shows the depth of the 49er fleet these days.
Racing resumes on Friday 30 August at 12:00 local time. The forecast is for further strong winds and two metre waves.
With thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean to the East and South of Enoshima, coupled with deep waters around Sagami Bay, the waves have plenty of time to build to a rolling swell. The sailors contested 2.5m high waves with regularity and ensured that each and every one had a stern test on the water.
The powerful rolling waves, combined with a stiff south westerly 20-25 knot breeze, meant that capsizes were plentiful with many sailors unable to finish some of their races due to breakages.
Despite this, every fleet sailed a good number of races to get the competition back on track after light breeze on day one and too much on the second.
One mistake cost Italy’s Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti the perfect day in the Nacra 17. The Ready Steady Tokyo, Olympic test event, gold medallists clinched the first and last race win of the day but their scoreline was slightly tainted with an eighth in the middle. Tita explained, “We made a big mistake on the laylines in the second race. We ended up in a hard situation. We were fast in the downwind so we were able to gain some positions.”
The steep and regular waves made racing in the Nacra 17 an intense and sometimes daunting experience. Capsizes and near misses were a regular occurrence but Tita and Banti had the measure of the race track.
“It looks pretty intense when you’re out there,” commented Tita. “The waves are short and quite big for the wind. It’s hard to sail the Nacra with the foils. For sure we like the conditions with wind and waves in Enoshima. We suffer a bit in the light wind. At the moment we’ve always had good winds here so we’re happy with that.”
The Nacra 17 became fully foiling after Rio 2016 and quite often those who have a high percentage of time on the foils get round the race track quicker. But that all changed on Thursday in the waves as Tita continued, “I would 5-10% of our time was on the foils. It was really hard to foil today. You’d maybe foil 100 metres and then crash. It was really hard.
“What we try to do is keep it in the water. When we are too fast we brake, which is strange for a sailboat. We put a hull in the water to brake and looked to maintain an average speed.
“The boat always wants to accelerate a lot and when you’re too fast, you crash in the waves. It’s better to slow down a bit, keep an average speed and keep safe.”
The Italians two wins and an eighth puts them fourth overall. They are nine points off Ben Saxton and Nicola Boniface (GBR), winners of the second race, with Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) and Nathan and Haylee Outteridge (AUS) in second and third spot.
The 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17 fleets will conclude racing on Saturday 31 August with their Medal Races which will be available to watch here https://youtu.be/XOPsr6uWWto from 12:00 local time.
See full results and photos at the class event page.