The Gold Fleet Goal

Tuesday, April 21, 2014

Battle to Qualify

There are teams for which qualifying is a period to ‘sail safe’ through and then aim to peak during the gold fleet racing.  For the vast majority of the 49er fleet, however, qualifying is the main event.  The intensity of qualifying has been even more drastic this year than in past years for a few reasons.  The new ISAF world cup format has 2 days of qualifying, 3 days of gold fleet, and then a 1 day final, where as in the past it was 3 days qualifying and 2 days of Gold fleet.  The other aspect is that due to ISAF course area resource restrictions, the fleet sizes for the 49er have been increased from the typical 25 to 40 boats.  The qualifying is always close in 49er, with 80 teams, boats that are strict one design, and so many body sizes that work in skiff sailing the racing mid pack is incredibly close.

As always, there were a number of teams on the bubble of making gold.  Just making the cut this week are three teams who were on the flip side in Palma.  Australia’s David Gilmour and Rhys Mara are sitting on 24th place overnight.  They were in the top 25 after day 1 and then sailed 2 average races to start the day.  Knowing it was likely close, they had to pull off a great race to make gold and managed a 5th in the final race of qualifying to slip into Gold by only 2 points.  Dave has been away from home for what must seem like an eternity at this point, having raced with Team Australia in the Extreme 40 followed by the Palma World Cup 2 weeks ago.  All that will be forgotten now that a trip to gold fleet has been booked!

Making their first ever trip to Gold fleet in a big European 49er event are Brazilians Dante Bianchi and Thomas “the dictator of South America” Low-Beer.  These two sailors showed their ambitions through the winter months by organizing the 49er Intergalactics on their home and Olympic waters.  A number of the top sailors came down to participate, and Thomas and Dante showed amazing Brazilian hospitality ensuring there were social events every night.  The fleet sailed hard all day and then had varied activities each night from fleet pizza making on a wood burning stove to a hike into a waterfall within the city to a Samba rehearsal come after-party in the heart of Rio.  Having so many top teams come down to train and race with them seems to be paying dividends.

Jan Ericsson and Max Lutz, Silver medallists from the 2012 Youth Worlds from Sailing Team Germany were also happy to have qualified for gold fleet.  Like most sailors in this situation, the path to gold was not a clear one.  They had a collision on day 1 where a port tack boat hit their spinnaker, blowing it up in two during the second race and were given redress.  Then in the first two races today they were not able to execute quite like they thought they could, and were sitting just on the outside from their goal.  “We knew from how we’d been sailing that if we had a good start and didn’t make any poor strategic choices we could be in the top 10 by the windward mark, and that’s what we did,” said Max Lutz.  Their 5th place finish in the final race was enough to squeak into gold.

On the flip side of the equation are the teams that narrowly miss gold fleet.  For the 2nd time in a row, Russians Pavel Kalynchev and Pavel Karachov.  They find themselves in 26th position after qualifying for the 2nd world cup in a row.  No doubt by Euros or Worlds these two will be chomping at the bit to break through.  Also just missing are Nic Asher and Nic Asher and Flinn Sterritt.  These two are right on the cusp of becoming contenders in the 49er, but with only 18 months in the fleet after a transition from the 470, they will have to remain patient as they continue developing.

Out in Front

At the front end of the fleet, it’s the Brits on top of things so far.  49er veterans Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign have had a fantastic qualification with no races outside the top 4.  They lead by three points over New Zealands Burling and Tuke and along with many others in the fleet are ambitious to prove it’s not all about the Aussies and Kiwi’s.  British Sailing Teamates Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth have had no races outside the top 7, and also take a slim lead into finals.  No doubt these two teams will enjoy seeing the union jack atop the Hyeres leaderboard in both skiff fleets.

One of the best scores today in the 49erFX was put up by Netherlands Anemiek Bekkering and new crew Annette Duetz.  They sailed ‘skiffy’ today, meaning fast, finding lanes they could keep an open mode in and staying to the edge of fleet.  They took two pin starts out to the left corner, and with good speed took that positioning all the way for wins.  In the third race, they outsmarted themselves by adjusting their strategy in the dying sea breeze, but admitted they would have been better off sticking to what was working.  An eight place finish still left them with smiles after a great day.

The main stage of the regatta starts tomorrow, with forecast offshore breezes and the top 25 boats in each fleet.