Monday, 10 August 2009

EUROSAF European Match Racing Championships: Light winds force a late start in Middlefart

Racing in the EUROSAF European Match Racing Championships, Denmark. Image copyright Mick Anderson.

by Jess Anderson

Patience is a virtue, as any sailor knows, and as the 160 competitors were reminded as they tried to start the EUROSAF European Match Racing Championship 2009 in Denmark today.

It was hot and sunny in Middelfart, but wind was in very short supply and the race officers for the two courses had to postpone racing for nearly six hours before a Force 1-2 arrived. Fortunately the DS37 Match Racers, being used by the 16 men’s teams, and the “match 28” keelboats being used by the 16 women’s teams don’t require much wind to get them moving.

If you were going to sail aggressively in the pre-start, you had to do so without losing too much of your own momentum, as accelerating these boats from a standing start takes time, particularly when there is barely enough wind to race.

Slow going in Denmark. Image copyright Mick Anderson.

When the teams weren’t racing, they could relax by the shore, just a few metres from the start line of the men’s course. So there was plenty to see and to learn from even when the sailors weren’t racing. Having only recently returned to match racing after a two-year break, Maxim Toranov and his Russian team were watching the other races with interest. As part-time sailors doing it for fun, they were taking notes, trying to soak up as much knowledge and experience from the other teams, not least Philippe Presti’s French crew, the World No.8th ranked team who beat them in their match.

“We are learning as quickly as possible,” said Toranov. “This is only our third regatta this year, but we have been preparing for this regatta for two months.” While the Russians were using this as a learning exercise, both when racing and spectating, the French were to be found playing a tournament of table football right next to the water’s edge. It didn’t seem to do Presti’s team any harm, playing football rather than watching sailing. However there were some bruised egos from the football, with Presti’s young pitman Clement Salzes admitting : “The older guys are better at table football than the younger ones.”

Karlo Hmeljek sails on Jure Orel’s Slovenian team, who won both of their races today. Like the French, Hmeljek prefers to tune out between heats. “It’s not easy to have a late race when you’ve not been racing for a few hours. For me it’s best to try not to think too much about other matches, until it’s time to go and you switch into race mode. It’s a shame about the wind today, but that’s not the organisation’s fault. That’s sailing. Everything else is working perfectly, the boats are in good condition, the race committee is doing a good job, and the hospitality from the Danish is excellent.” Yesterday evening Hmeljek went for a run in the woods that surround the castle, Hindsgavl Slot, where most of the competitors and organisers are staying. “I got lost in the woods, but it was a nice way to get lost, and in the end I found the way back, so no problem.”

The beautiful, woodland surroundings are slightly more familiar to Susanne Ward, one of the Danish skippers competing here. “I’m not from around here, but it’s still nice to be this close to home,” said the four-time Olympian. “We’ve been here before, we know the boats, it’s good fun.” Whether she is thinking of going to the Olympic Games a fifth time she would not say though. “We’re just focusing on this regatta, not the Games. A gold here in Middelfart would be great. I think anyone can win it in these conditions. We had two good races, and won both of them. Our chances are as good as anyone else’s.”

Rita Goncalves and her Portuguese crew have never been to the Olympics. They all have full-time jobs in Lisbon, but they still take their racing seriously. Today they won both of their heats, but the full-time civil engineer is beginning to notice the rise in standard in women’s match racing since the announcement last November that it was to be the new Olympic sailing discipline. “It is getting more difficult, and we changed crew this year, so this is our first year sailing together as a team. But we are getting better and we had a good day today.”

EUROSAF European Match Racing Championships

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