by Andy Rice
Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos leapt to the top of the leaderboard after another dominant performance off Clearwater Beach on the penultimate day of competition at the 49er and 49erFX World Championships.
The Spanish team looked totally at home in the moderate to strong breezes and the rough shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, scoring 2,1,3 in the first three races of the Gold Fleet finals. The drone footage from the live TV coverage showed the Spanish had a clear straight-line speed edge on the downwind legs.
Later in the day on the same course, it was the Swedish team of Carl Sylvan and Marcus Anjemark who showed mastery of the rough conditions, their 2,4,3 scores making them the fastest team of the day in 49er Men’s division. While a scoreline of 4,20,2 is not what we’ve come to expect of the usually invincible duo of Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, the reigning World Champions from New Zealand have still extended their lead to 28 points over the rest of the fleet.
At the beginning of the day, New Zealand’s 2013 World Champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech were topping the leaderboard, but the Kiwis couldn’t hit their stride today, slipping to 5th overall. Instead it was the Spaniards who dominated the day, building on their perfect run of three qualifying-heat victories the previous day to put Echegoyen and Betanzos into a 9 point lead over the Brazilians, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze also had a very good day with 12,3,2. The defending World Champions, Italy’s Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich lacked the raw speed of the Spanish and Brazilians, but still did enough to hold 3rd overall going into the final day.
Echegoyen, the London 2012 Olympic Champion in keelboat match racing, and former 470 World Champion Betanzos are really getting their act together in the demanding skiff. They couldn’t quite believe how well things had gone over the past two days of competition. “It was hard conditions on the downwind legs in the big waves,” said Betanzos, “but we’re really pleased with the speed.” The Spanish were taking no chances through the high-risk manoeuvre of gybing, holding on to the gennaker hard as they went through the gybe and only releasing the sail once they were safely on their new course. But they were so fast in a straight line, the safety gybes didn’t matter; they still pulled distance on their rivals most of the time.
Ida Marie Nielsen and Marie Olsen have been one of the most consistent performers in the past three years of the 49erFX class, winning the Europeans in 2013 and finishing on the podium of the past two World Championships. However, two OCS disqualifications for starting too soon put the Danes on the back foot, relegating them to 31st overall just two days ago. A better final day’s qualifying scraped them through to the 25-boat Gold Fleet finals, but they would still have to sail out of their skins to be able to get back in contention with their rival Danish team mates also vying for Olympic selection. Nielsen and Olsen soaked up the pressure and converted it into high-wind boatspeed, taking home scores of 3,5,1 which lifts them to 9th overall and within striking distance of the other Danes.
Today’s first day of Gold Fleet racing was billed as the big showdown between the reigning World Champions, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, and the reigning Olympic Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. Unfortunately Outteridge was carrying an injury to his ribs and the Aussies never hit their stride, dropping from 2nd overall to 6th after three mid-fleet finishes. The Kiwis didn’t have it all their own way either, dropping from 2nd to 4th on the final run to the finish of the first race. It looked like they had overstood the layline and gybed too late, but it wasn’t quite that simple. “The outer jacket on the kite halyard stripped itself,” he said. The gennaker dropped to the water, and Tuke had to run in, rehoist and secure the gennaker with a temporary knot. Under the circumstances, 4th place was a remarkable recovery.
However, the shredded halyard still need replacing and with the help of their coach Hamish Willcox, the World Champions set about running a replacement halyard up the mast and re-rigging the gennaker whilst out on a puke-inducing, lumpy seaway. “We had a bit on just getting that done between races, no time to change our rig sittings and that put us on the back foot for the next race,” said Burling, who said they lacked a bit of speed on compromised rig settings. The result was an uncharacteristic 20th in the next race, although they made amends with a 2nd place in the final race of the day.
Even after all those mishaps, the New Zealanders look well set to take their 4th consecutive world title and to raise their unbroken run of victories in international competition to 23 regattas, an incredible run stretching back more than three years. Behind Burling there was a game of musical chairs going on, with Nico Delle Karth and Niko Resch of Austria moving up into 2nd overall, and the 2008 Olympic Champion from Denmark Jonas Warrer with crew Anders Thomsen sitting in 3rd overall.
No two days appear to be the same in Clearwater and after today’s cold northerly breeze, it drops lighter and potentially shiftier as the wind will be blowing from the east, straight offshore and over and around the tall hotels and tower blocks that line Clearwater Beach. It could be a very different challenge, and another test of all-round ability.
Live coverage of the Medal Races
To find out if the Spanish can win their first 49erFX World Championship, and if anyone can stop Burling & Tuke winning their fourth 49er World title, tune into tomorrow’s live TV coverage starting at 10am local time (Eastern Standard Time).
10:00am Three 49er Gold Fleet races
2:30pm Nacra 17 Medal Race
3:00pm 49erFX Medal Race
3:30pm 49er Medal Race