A massive 49er fleet is assembled in Gdynia, Poland for the 2018 European Championship. Over 90 boats are racing for the 2nd regatta in a row, and there is an expected fleet of 100 in Aarhus next month. The 49er fleet is super-competitive today.
The fleet is not just competitive in depth, but for the first time in a long time, 49er titles are being won by a different team each month it would seem. Since Miami 2017 there have been five major championships; Miami, Palma, Hyeres, Medemblik, and Kiel, and they have been won by five different teams from five different nations.
If we extend our look to those teams who have stood on the podium this season, of the 15 possible berths, 11 teams from 8 nations have been winning medals. To say the 49er fleet is open and competitive right now would be an understatement.
Returning to defend their European Championship from 2017 are Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell from the British Sailing Team. The duo are defending World Champions and also World Ranked number 1 so are surely the favorites. They lost their main training partners, James Peters and Fynn Sterritt (GBR) since Fynn was injured and has not yet returned to competition. However, the GBR training group remains strong, and Dylan and Stu won one of the two coaches regattas in Aarhus early this month. Their season to date has been good, but not dominant like they might have hoped. Ever self-confident, they’ll be looking for another win, and to maintain their pole position heading into the upcoming worlds.
As already mentioned, the chasing pack are hungry, and ready for their chance at a major championship.
No sailors will be hungrier than the local Polish team are due for a win and have already shown winning form this year. There are two teams who could each hope to be the first Polish winners of a 49er major. Relative youngsters Dominik Buksak with Szymon Wiersbicki won Sailing World Cup Hyeres in April while veterans Lukasz Przybytek and Pawel Kolodzynski claimed 3rd in Kiel last week. Each would surely be a popular champion among the fleet after a long and strong march through the 49er fleet for Polish squads over the past 14 years.
The previously labelled ‘young guns’ are now season vets. Diego Botin with Iago Marra (ESP) and the Lange Brothers (ARG) have each podiumed multiple times this season and could be ready for the next step. While neither team seemed to take much advantage of the post-Olympic break, each are up to speed this season. Particularly the Argentinian Lange Brothers, with a win and a 3rd at big regattas this season, and winning the most recent coaches regatta in Aarhus.
French sailors return to the front of the fleet with two teams in the hunt. Veterans Mathieu Frei with Noe Delpech have been on the podium this year, while relative youngsters Lucas Rual and Emile Amoros won the Medemblik regatta. The whole French squad is strong, and they are a force within the fleet.
A strong contingent of Oceania sailor are in Europe for the summer season, and ready to claim some hardware. David Gilmour and Joel Turner (AUS), who were runners up in last years European Championship, and have been on the podium this season, are likely contenders. A stealth challenge may come from some true veterans, with Will Phillips teaming up with 2012 Gold Medalist and 2016 Silver Medalist Iain Jensen (AUS). While these two haven’t trained much together yet, only teaming up since brother Sam Phillips hurt his ankle in the superfoiler, they will relying on pedigree and know how if they hope to get into contention.
From the other nation down-under, Josh Porebski with Trent Rippey (NZL) have had a fantastic season, with all top 10 finishes including a couple of podiums. Josh has make the rare successful switch from elite crew to elite skipper, first bursting on the scene for a Bronze medal as a crew at the 2013 worlds, and now moving up the rankings as a skipper since 2016. They are joined by countrymen Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn, who have also had an outstanding season, and are looking to put together a great championship.
Speaking of transitions, we’ll be keeping an eye on what could be the most talented and driven team in the fleet, the Fantela Brothers. Sime as helm, is the 2016 470 Gold Medalist, and joined by his brother Mihovil. With their Belgium training partners they’ve been practicing hard, and both teams are ever improving.
Last but not least to mention are the two most veteran teams the fleet. The Alonso brothers (ESP), first competing at the 2004 worlds, remain dangerous. They took the Bronze at the 2015 worlds, but were narrowly beat out for the Olympic berth in 2016. It was a similar fate for them in 2012, but they remain motivated and are looking for 2020 qualification. With a Bronze medal finish in Kiel last week, they remain in contention for every regatta they enter. Returning to the fleet are also 2008 Olympians Jorge Lima and Jose Costa. They haven’t raced since hosting the worlds last year, but have the top end speed and experience to pull into the front group.
While this years Europeans are still a warm up for the World next month, with so much talent the racing will be thick and fast. Which ever team prevails will be set up nicely for Olympic qualification.