The 49er & 49erFX events went down to the wire, literally, in the first big(ger) regatta for this Japanese focussed quadrennial. The week was a tough one for all, since there was tons of rain and very little wind. The committees did get a series in and therefore the theatre style final, with the top 10 boats overall would settle the regatta.
It was covered live by World Sailing, and here’s a step by step review of how the day unfolded. If you use the series of links below you can skip all the waiting in between races as the wind faded in and out. Up first was the 49er, so jump right in with race 1 of the day:
At days start there were three teams vying for the win. Recent world champions, Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithlell (GBR) held a narrow lead over their team mates, and recent silver medalists at the 2017 world James Peters and Fynn Sterritt (GBR), and the third team in the mix is Lukasz Pryzybytek and Pawel Kolodzinsky (POL). A bit of a mixed up start, with the current pushing the fleet upwind a little bit means those who started fairly had to scramble a bit to get clear of those returned after the start and others who continued despite being over early. By races end, the top three remain clearly ahead, and sets up the final two races.
Here is 49er race 2 (of 3)
At race start there are only 2 points between the two top brits. We also get a chance to see just how dangerous the Fantela brothers are becoming less than a year into the boat. Sime Fantela won the gold in Rio in the 470, and has teamed up with his brother to move into the 49er. The duo have already had some great races in light winds and were 8th at Worlds after the third day, before slipping back to 27th by regattas end, with the obvious challenges of big breeze taking more time to develop. By Tokyo 2020 though, the fleet should be on notice for a talented team on the charge.
The Fantela brothers were in great shape 80% of the way up the beat until they were hammered by race and series leaders Fletcher/Bithell. This was a second order error by Fletcher Bithell to inflict maximum pain on a team back in the standings that was between them and their immediate competition, Peters/Sterritt and Lukasz/Pawel. They probably should have put on a looser cover so that the Fantela brothers would have had a better chance of staying in between them by the finish.
Unfortunately, the coverage focused in on the race leaders, and didn’t let us see how Peters and Sterritt ground back some critical points. Peters and Sterritt did manage to have a good final run, passing a boat to decrease their loss.
Here is the final 49er race, with Fletcher and Bithell now 4 points apart.
… oh, the agony for Peters and Sterritt. Color commentator Jonas Hogh correctly predicts the match race that ensues between Fletcher/Bithell and Peters/Sterritt. The boat handline control at the windward mark by Fletcher/Bithell is particularly impressive as they were able to speed up, slow down, and keep gap control for extended periods of time, slowing their rivals to trail massively behind the fleet. With the second penalty of the beat applied, the title seemed all but assured…
Then, like we’d seen so many times during the day, the extremely variable wind placed Peters/Sterritt back in the game. Unfortunately, we miss how the manage to pass Fletcher Bithell at the leeward mark, but with pressure and especially shift moving the wind farther and farther left, they manage to jump right back into the game. Some deft feel and boatspeed in the extreme light wind sees them force their way through the pack into a regatta winning position, only to get fouled at least once, if not twice in the final 30 meters, get rafted up on the finish boat, see Fletcher and Bithell glide through the line in front of them and then have to do yet another 360 for hitting the finish boat.
Now, in retrospect it seems that Fletcher and Bithell had managed to pass a boat anyways, reducign the points gap and covering the passes Peters and Sterritt were making, but it must have been hearts in the throat for those two for the last run as it all payed out ahead of them… For those counting at home, the silver medalists did 3 penalty turns and 2 collisions – that’s some busy sailing for a 10 minute race! For a light wind series, it sure did get tense at the end, and congrats to the race team for getting in the races despite the ever shifting winds.
By the time the 49er races were completed, it appeared racing would be done for the day, with the wind switched off again, and skies darkening as the day grew later. However, the breeze came back in before too long and racing began.
The race began with a heavily favored pin end, one of the most challenging starting situations for a skiff, or any boats really. Japan’s 728, Yamazaki/Takano will be kicking themselves when they watch this replay, as they were over the line from 15 seconds to go and were never close to dipping below. They are a newer team to 49erFX, and will certainly learn from the experience, but it was a critical moment to have make a bit error.
Taking maximum advantage of the situation were Austria’s Frank and Abricht who took the Port Tack Option at the start, to round the windward mark in second place, and then passed Yamazaki/Takano for the win. After a tough week for them, the race win combined with a poor race from Sebesi/Dubois (FRA) and Travascio/Branz (ARG) launched them up the leaderboard to sit in third after the race. The French and Argentinian teams were actually lucky with the results they did put up (sixth and fouth) as they would have been two further points behind had the third Japanese team, Hatai/Itakura and Lim/Low (SNG) not both been OCS. A four point lead to second and nine point lead to third that the French started with was quickly reduced to tense levels for them!
With the overnight leaders faultering in race 1, the fleet was condensed on points making the compeititon quite a bit closer than it appeared it would be at the start of the day. Coming off an OCS, Yamazaki and Takano (JPN 728) bounced back to have a great beat and sailed solidly through the race, holding off the competition but not extending. Hatae/Itakura (JPN 611) also climbed up the standings with a clean first lap.
Repeating the situation from the first race was that the French leaders, Sebesi/Dubois, had another poor race, and couldn’t find lanes to sail cleanly. The most experienced team in the fleet, Argentina’s Travascio/Branz, also struggled with another substandard race meaning that the situation heading into the final race for extreme pressure and six teams able to claim the victory.
If there was ever a need for a predictive leaderboard, this race was it. Six team could win gold heading into the final race, and there were contentding teams up and down the race results that were factoring into the medal table. Unfortunately, the broadcast team didn’t bring up any preliminary leaderboards nor put predictive points on screen for the race, so fans had to contend with medal symbols jumping beside some teams names as the places changed through the race.
Argentina’s Travascio/Branze finally had a good race. They are the most experienced team in this limited field who attending the regatta, and light airs have traditionally been a strong suit for them. They’ll be happy with to have won the final race, but must be aware they could have sailed much better in the first two races.
Like in the 49er racing, the regatta came down to the final moments on the final run. Without the predictive scoring, we really didn’t know how tight it was until the final results were posted, but 4 teams were vying for the win right into the final moments. We won’t spoil how it turned out here, so be sure to watch!
For results and links, check it out here