Strong Winds, Strong Nerves make for Lively FX Start

Strong Winds and Strong Nerves – Dobson and Tidey Rise to the Occasion

Dobson and Tidey (GBR) out in front, 2021 © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

After a slow start in the first race, Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey (GBR) put the hammer down, moved through the fleet and proved unstoppable. It was a sign of things to come.

Behind them all kinds of unforced errors were striking other teams. The Kiwis capsized while leading, the Brazilians were lying in second down the final run to the finish but their gennaker sheet got jammed and they couldn’t clear the problem, watching almost the whole fleet sail past as they finished in 15th.

Maloney and Meech (NZL) capsize

Early on it was the gold and silver medallist teams from Rio 2016 who took the lead. Rio silver medallists Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) led around the first mark. The reigning Olympic Champions from Brazil, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze also had a go in the lead, but they couldn’t keep the British behind them.

That whacky race set the tone for an afternoon of highly entertaining FX competition. After three weeks of training in light winds, the strong, gusty breeze blowing off the shore created chaos and unpredictability for pretty much everyone. The British have taken the lead with scores of 1,1,6 ahead of Steph Roble & Maggie Shea (USA) who scored 3,2,14. After the disaster of the first race, the Brazilians recovered their composure to win the last race of the session, scoring 15,5,1 for third overall.

Dobson was thankful to have come through the day unscathed, downplaying any excitement about winning her two opening races. “I think if someone had told us a week ago that we’d get these results on day one, we’d have bitten their arm off.” She said it was about keeping things simple, or “boring” as she described it..

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (USA) putting their best foot forward on day 1. 2021 © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

The first two 49erFX races were a real challenge physically and mentally. Of the entire fleet only Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea sailed virtually flawlessly. Remember, the Brits had to come back from two poor starts to win the first two races.

Race one mishap for Grael and Kunze

After the first race, the camera’s focused in on Grael and Kunze as they fixed their spinnaker sheet issue and visibly expressed their disappointment at how the first race had gone. 

The strange thing is, they were the team that had sailed the best until the moment their spin sheet joint pulled through their ratchet block. Good start, good lane holding, good shift catching and good boat handline, it was clear they had a handle on the conditions when so many other teams seemed caught up in the moment. Everything was on the right track until the final leg. Being unable to quickly fix the stuck sheet, and losing 13 points in a single downwind took them completely off the rails.

The passion and aggression that Grael is known to sail with came through visibly via the onboard cameras as they fixed their boat and in their expressions on the coach boat. Modern sports psychology tries to get athletes into a Zen like state at all times. The commentary team suggested they need not have tried the gybeset where the trouble occurred, and should instead have settled for second place in the first race. That is not how Grael and Kunze sail.

The Rio 2016 gold medalists have always sailed with passion, and if the rest of the day is a judge of how that works for them, it works. They went on to sail to fifth and then to win the final race. They actually sailed the best of any team in the fleet, if it wasn’t for the rigging issue. While much might be made of their less conventional process on full display, the gold medalists seem poised to have a great week. 

Grael, Kunze and their coaches digesting the first race mishap © Sailing Energy / World Sailing
Irish hold off medal contenders for dream Olympic debut
The breeze had dropped a lot since the 49erFX fireworks earlier on the Enoshima course. The first race eventually got away after 16:00 JST in a 10-12 knot breeze which kept the teams on their toes throughout. Eventually a pattern emerged and it was Ireland’s Rob Dickson and Sean Waddilove that came to the fore, hounded by Dylan Fletcher& Stu Bithell (GBR). 

The young Irish crew misjudged the finish line opening the door for Great Britain to steal the win, but in a photo finish it was the Irish who took the gun. “We came here with not too many expectations,” said Dickson. “This is our first Olympics. So we didn’t have any real results or goals coming into this – just to go and deal with what we have on the water, the conditions and do our best. We have 11 races to go, anything can change. You’ve just got to be ready for everything.
“Fletcher is engaged to British teammate Charlotte Dobson in the 49erFX and was mock-irritated to have had his second place trumped by his fiancée’s stellar start to her competition in the 49erFX.  

Rio 2016 bronze medallists Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel took third, while Spaniards Diego Botin and Iago Marra finished fourth. Reigning Olympic Champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) started poorly and recovered slightly to 12th place.
They all started on Port?
Sailors love talking about starting. How important it is, the best tricks, theories and tactics, and how the RC got it wrong and they weren’t over the line.
Race 1 of the 49er fleet was a wonderful display of the extreme starting skill these Olympians poses. With under three minutes until the start, the breeze shifted 20 degrees left, making the pin end favored and the first shift to a Port advantage. After an hour of the wind shifting mightily, the RC let it run, and the sailors adjusted.

This is the screenshot with thirty seconds to go. Hardly a boat prepared to race, or so it would seem. The fleet were sitting off the line on starboard, ready to flip over and wouldn’t you know it, just as the start came most of the boats flipped over and got good starts, without any fouls, and with most boats in a good lane to start the race.

The shifts kept coming before the RC ultimately abandoned the race before setting up again for a remarkably stable restarted race.
Nacra 17 Ready to go

The foilers are ready to get started, with racing scheduled to begin in the afternoon timeslot. Check out the cool image from Ruggero Tita (ITA)

For photos, result, starts times and social, visit the 49er and Nacra 17 Olympic pages.

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