Thursday, 9 July 2009

Rolex Baltic Week - Star Europeans: The Cream Keeps Rising to the Top

The Star fleet enjoys the breeze at Rolex Baltic Week. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

by Andreas Kling

After five races at the 2009 Star Class European Championships for Rolex Baltic Week the cream of the Star fleet are showing their class, with all three 2008 Olympic medalists separated by just two points at the head of the leaderboard - and back in the familiar finish order that they stood on the podium in Qingdao last August. Mistakes in this ultra-competitive 89-boat fleet are proving costly, but at the front of the fleet Brits Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson, Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada of Brazil and Swedish Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander have scored consistent results in the top 10 to extend their lead on the pack.

Day 3 of the Rolex Baltic Week on the Kiel Fjord, northern Germany, brought cloudy skies and showers on Wednesday (8 July). The gusty, shifty conditions which have characterized the event so far continued, with south-westerly breezes shifting up to 20 degrees. Today's average wind strength was around 12-15 knots, but the rain clouds also brought squalls which pushed the pressure up to 18-20 knots.

2008 Olympic Gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew (Bart) Simpson are in the lead at the 2009 Star European Championships. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

A large shift just after the gun saw the first start recalled, but the fleet restarted under the Black Flag just after midday. Xavier Rohart (FRA), with new crew Pierre Alexis Ponsot, sailed a near-faultless race to lead around every mark and take the gun. Behind him there was plenty of scrapping for positions, with Percy/Simpson pushing hard to climb through the fleet from ninth at the first top mark, to sixth at the gate, then finally surging past Hamish Pepper (NZL) on a wave to take second. The Kiwi duo of Hamish Pepper and Craig Monk held on for third, with world number one Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (BRA) fourth.

Fifth across the line was the home team of Alexander Schlonski/Frithjof Kleen (GER), but were found to have been black-flagged at the start. Fifth place points went to Flavio Marazzi/Erico De Maria (SUI), who couldn't quite get to Robert Scheidt, while Loof climbed from 14th to sixth. Throughout the entire fleet there were plenty of place changes, with a single high scoring race or black flag putting paid to many teams' chances.

The second race of the day saw an exciting match-racing style finale, with Fredrik Loof and Robert Scheidt pushing hard to get their nose in front. Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (GBR) took the early lead, and showed the fleet the way round until the final beat, when they tacked back in from the favored right-hand side to the middle of the fleet a bit too late to lose a handful of places. This put Loof out in front, and set up a tacking duel for the race win with Scheidt. The Brazilian tacked out to the right just as Loof headed for the left-hand side. The Swede was held out to the left of the pack, whilst Scheidt got a little shift to overtake into first place.

Third place went to Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA), winner of the 2006 Rolex Baltic Week, whilst Percy/Simpson finished in fourth. A fifth rounded off an improved Day 3 for the French pairing of Rohart, a former World Champion, and Ponsot. Hamish Pepper was among those to fall foul of the black flag.

This second win for Robert Scheidt leaves him in second place overall on 10 points, just one point behind the Olympic gold medalists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson, who can now discard Tuesday's sixth, and one point ahead of Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander in third. While just two points separate the leaders, it's a further 15 points back to fourth-placed Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER). As fellow German helm Johannes Babendererde, lying in 7th overall, put it: "After fourth place the silver fleet begins!"

Polish, Russian, German and Ukrainian crews at the 2009 Star Europeans. Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

With two more days of racing for the Rolex Baltic Week, there's no doubt that Scheidt and Loof will be looking to upset the Olympic order. However, Scheidt warned that the British leaders would be a hard act to beat, saying: "If you want to beat Percy you really need to sail very well. He is pretty quick and without his fault you hardly can beat him at all."

Percy repaid the compliment, adding: "It is the same the other way around. These guys at the top all sail very well. We are a bit untrained since we haven't raced since the Olympics [only Kieler Woche], that doesn't help. We were a bit unlucky in the second race or made a small mistake, however you see it, and we got punished right away. But it's a great regatta, fantastic competition."

The Rolex Baltic Week teams now have a chance to regroup and repair any damage with a reserve day scheduled before the final three races. Crew Markus Koy (4th place overall) commented: "We are satisfied with our ranking, although we had a little problem with our boat speed. When it got lighter upwind we were too slow. We'll pull the mast out on Thursday and want to change the rig trim."

Close racing between Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (GBR) and Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER). Image copyright Rolex / Tom Körber.

Racing resumes on Friday, 10 July, with two more races scheduled. The Star Class European Championship will end on Saturday with one final race to come. The sailors and organizers celebrated the classes' traditional mid-week prize-giving with an extra-ordinary Rolex Baltic Week dinner on Wednesday night.

Results after five out of eight races on day three of the 2009 Rolex Baltic Week / Star Class European Championship
1 Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (Great Britain) 9 points
2 Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (Brasil) 10
3 Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander (Sweden) 11
4 Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (Germany) 26
5 Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA) 28
6 Flavio Marazzi/Enrico de Maria (Schwitzerland) 32
7 Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (Germany) 33
8 Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot (France) 45

Rolex Baltic Week

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