Ninety-six Finn sailors from 33 countries are counting down the days to next week’s Open and U23 Finn European Championship in Cádiz, Spain. Many have been training for months at the venue for the first big test of the year as the fleet gears up for the first Olympic qualifier in Aarhus, Denmark in August.
The high-calibre fleet includes 12 Rio Olympians, three former world champions and three former European champions. The defending champion is Jonathan Lobert, from France, the London 2012 bronze medalist, who took the gold in Marseille last year, the sailing venue for the 2024 Olympics.
The Europeans is certainly a peak event for the year, with the sailors keen to lay down some early markers. While much of the fleet has been training intensively through the winter, Lobert says he has not actually done much sailing so far.
“This winter we have been mostly training in France with the young guns Fabian Pic and Antoine Devineau. I feel good and I am very happy to race again against the best guys. Miami [World Cup Series event in January] was a good warm up to get back in the boat after the winter break.
“We split our time between La Rochelle and Marseille. I have been focusing on the physical side and testing some sails. I haven’t been sailing much yet because the season will be very long and like most of the sailors the main goal is to qualify the country in Aarhus next August.”
“When I saw the fleet in Miami I could see that some guys have been really improving with some good winter training sessions, for example, Alican [Kaynar] or Ioannis [Mitakis] but also many other guys. I think this Europeans will be a good benchmark for the upcoming season.”
Some of the biggest threats for Lobert’s title defence are likely to come from current World Champion, Max Salminen, from Sweden, last year’s second and third placed, Ed Wright and Ben Cornish, from Britain, Rio bronze medalist Caleb Paine, from the USA, Australian, Jake Lilley, and Alican Kaynar from Turkey.
Kaynar won last week’s Andalusian Olympic Week and has shown steady improvement since the Rio Games, including a bronze in Miami earlier this year.
“The Europeans is one of our target regattas this season so we put in the maximum effort to be well prepared for that. Cádiz easily could deliver a week of hiking and free pumping conditions, which will require a good level of fitness. Plus the conditions in the bay of Cádiz could be pretty tricky with shifty winds and a strong current.”
“After the Miami World Cup I started my training in Cádiz which ended up with Adalusian Olympic Week. It was important four days of regatta to see the course and the conditions. I can say that I am in a very good mood heading into the Europeans.”
“The fleet will be around 100 boats which means a long starting line and a big course. Of course there will be lot of good Finn sailors and I must say that this type of racing is the one of the most challenging formats of Olympic sailing. As always there will be a fight again for the top three positions.”
Lilley, meanwhile, has recovered from last year’s sickness and showed a clean transom to the fleet down under over the southern hemisphere summer. The Australian fleet is also benefitting from the experience of Athens 2004 silver medalist Rafael Trujillo as he starts his first season as the new coach.
The Europeans will be Lilley’s first major regatta since the 2017 Finn Gold Cup on Lake Balaton.
“Training Down Under has been great. It was a big summer with a big Australian Finn squad and training with Tom Slingsby, Ed Wright and Max Salminen. I was racing pretty well all summer after a few weeks in Japan and starting to feel like normal after being sick for the majority of 2017. Now, with Rafa and a big squad all living in Sydney, it’s pretty awesome training and a challenging place to sail.”
“The Australian Finn fleet is growing stronger and we have a big influx of a lot of younger guys, and we had quite a large nationals. It bodes really well for the class as we see more super talented Aussies too big for the Laser who now have a real pathway and the Olympic dream in the Finn Class in Australia.”
“I haven't raced internationally since Japan and really the Gold Cup, in 2017. Ninety-six boats is a massive fleet and should be a great challenge. No where else in Olympic Class racing do you see 90/100+ boats all contest the same starting line. The Finn specific regattas (Finn Gold Cup and Europeans) are the most fun, all together, one line and you really have to bring your A-Game.”
Ben Cornish picked up a European bronze last year in Marseille and goes into this year's event confident and prepared.
“I am extremely excited for the first major of 2018. We have had a good winter of training, mostly in Cádiz, but also Miami in January, which was great to knock the rust off having not raced for a long period prior to this. I am in a good place currently and reflecting on Miami I was certainly pleased with how I was racing. Sure my result didn't reflect a perfect performance however I left Miami confident that I have made some significant developments from last season.”
“Cádiz has been a fantastic venue for training and having been here in 2017 we certainly feel in tune with the place. We had a nice small group before Christmas and now, as you would expect, there is plenty of people to line up against and big fleets to race with ahead of the Europeans.”
He has also put in a lot of effort in physical preparation over the winter with the help of the Sports Science team at British Sailing. “Having experienced some really physically tough days back to back out there, it has the potential to be a hard week.”
On the high numbers, “It's fantastic that the Finn class continues to attract such impressive numbers. I am excited to see what Cádiz throws at the nearly 100 Finns currently entered. I personally love the big fleet racing and I think Cádiz will lend itself to a real variety of conditions to test everyone. It will be good to see how various training groups from around the World have used the winter and who will arrive in Cádiz in the best form.”
Other Finn stars taking part include 2013 World Champion, Jorge Zarif, from Brazil; lasts years Finn Gold Cup bronze medalist Nick Heiner, from The Netherlands, who has spent the winter training in New Zealand; and America’s Cup winners Josh Junior and Andy Maloney, from New Zealand.
Junior and Maloney have been training together in New Zealand since Maloney began Finn sailing in 2017, but he has not yet raced international fleets. This will also be Junior’s first major event since the Rio Olympics.
The huge fleet also includes the ever-improving Facundo Olezza, from Argentina; Nenad Bugarin, from Croatia, who put in a great performance at last year’s Finn Gold Cup; 2012 European Champion Ioannis Mitakis, of Greece; and the 2017 U23 World Champion Oskari Muhonen, from Finland.
One person who will unfortunately not be sailing is Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz. He broke his hand last week in Cádiz after an accident on his bike. He should be back in the boat in six weeks, but is forced to miss the Europeans.
Cádiz served up some good wind for training earlier in the year, but the Andalusian Olympic Week lost days from first not enough wind, and then too much, before last week, a 70 knot tornado hit the sailing base at Puerto Sherry in El Puerto de Santa María, Spain, destroying infrastructure and damaging many yachts – as well as an FFV van.
The championship opens on Friday 9 March, with a series of 10 races from Monday 12 to Friday 16 March, followed by the medal race for the top ten on Saturday 17 March.
– Robert Deaves