|Gdynia, Poland (12 July 2018) – Between the dark skies, sheets of fog and mist, and the charcoal-colored Baltic, the Bay of Gdansk this morning was indeed 50 shades of grey as the penultimate day of the 2018 49er & Nacra European Championship began in the ancient fishing village and seaport of Gdynia.
The grey got even greyer during the start of the first Olympic Men’s 49er gold fleet race of the week when a massive squall slid across the course from the South. With visibility rapidly evaporating and most of the fleet setting up for a quick tack out to starboard towards the dark water under the storm cloud, reigning 49er World Champs Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell were set up for a pin end start and a beat up the left side. That’s when they began to doubt their strategy. “When you see pretty much everyone going the other way, it’s hard to stick with the plan,” said Bithell immediately after the race.
The champs, along with top French performers Lucas Rual and Amoros Emile, stuck to their guns, with both teams starting at the pin and sailing nearly to layline before their first tack. Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet faced driving rain and a right shift out on the right side. With the two pin-enders all alone at the front of the fleet, Rual/Amoros sailed a covering race to keep Fletcher/Bithell behind them and take their third bullet of the event: That’s tied for the most of any team here.
After a slow start, the defending champs continued their relentless march up the points, Fletcher/Scott’s 45 points moving them into 3rd overall and closing the gap significantly to Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Marra (39 points) and leading local heros Lucas Przybytek and Pawel Kolodzinski (38 points). The leading Poles say their ‘local advantage’ is way smaller than it might be in different conditions, and the key to their performance is sailing smart and starting well. “This weather has been very difficult, and if you can figure out the clouds right, you can sometimes do really well,” said Przybytek.
Argentina’s Lange brothers lost the biggest on the day, dropping to 7th from 2nd with a 22nd in the sole race, making a podium finish a greater challenge. 4th place Germans Schmidt/Boehne and 5th place Poles Buksak/Wierzbicki will try to break into the top spots during tomorrow’s finale.
In gold fleet racing for the foiling Olympic Nacra 17 catamaran, the two Spanish catamaran teams had wildly different days. Rio competitors Fernando Echavarri/Tara Pacheco easily won the day with a 1,2 while their nearest competition sailed throwouts. “We put ourselves in good places and we are quite quick in these conditions,” said Echavarri, who missed out on last year’s European Championship win by just 1 point to Ruggi Tita/Catarina Banti, and they’re anxious to take care of this unfinished business. “It may be the final day but there is much more racing left, and if we can get 3 good races tomorrow we are close enough to the leaders to make some moves,” he added.
While Echavarri and Pacheco were all smiles, countryman and 49er gold medalist Iker Martinez and crew Olga Maslivets had a nightmare day, retiring from both Nacra 17 races. In the first, the Olympic and Volvo Ocean Race vet caught an anchor line, while in the second start, Martinez/Maslivets misjudged a cross with leaders Tita/Banti. “We were all going very slow so we didn’t know if there was much damage at the time when our bowsprit caught what we think was Ruggi’s shroud,” said Martinez. They set the spinnaker to try to reach the harbour, but it failed quickly. “It’s painful to lose the entire day, but it was our fault, and now is the time to keep learning and building our skills up for better performance next time.”
For Rio gold medalists Jason Waterhouse/Lisa Darmanin and reigning Nacra 17 World Champ Ben Saxton with new crew Nikki Boniface, the overall championship victory is likely out of reach. With Tita/Banti, Jones/Saunders, and Echavarri/Pacheco separated by just 4 points, it’s anybody’s title tomorrow.
Thanks to the unstable weather, the 49er FX fleet never left the beach. They will sail their finale for the European Championship tomorrow with the other classes.
Racing continues from 10:00 am local time for the last day of the regatta. The race team has a full schedule, with 3 races for each fleet except 4 for 49er booked, plus medal races if time allows.
With so much racing remaining on the program there will be many that can turn a great final day into a dream finish!