The 2015 Finn Gold Cup starts in Takapuna, New Zealand in just over a week. There are nearly 90 pre-entries from 29 nations. It is the biggest event of the year for the senior fleet and for many a crucial event in the run up to the Rio Olympics next year. At least four places on the starting line in Rio will be decided over the next two weeks.
Over the coming five days we will talk with various sailors looking forward to this momentous event and highlight some of the battles ahead.
For the New Zealand Finn fleet, the return of the Finn Gold Cup has been a long time coming, far too long. Thirty-five years ago the 1980 Finn Gold Cup was also held at Takapuna Boating Club, just north of Auckland. It happened during a period of political turmoil that would eventually see many of those sailors who qualified for the 1980 Olympics, fail to attend in Moscow. Some of those are back this year as coaches. It has been a generation since the world’s best sailors fought for one of the sport's toughest trophies in Kiwi waters and a lot has changed.
Ray Hall (NZL) secretary of the New Zealand Finn class is very excited at the prospect of the Finn Gold Cup in his home country.
“New Zealand has a rich history in Finn sailing and some of the legends of New Zealand sailing competed in the 1980 Finn Gold Cup at Takapuna, including the Dodson brothers (Rick and Tom) and Leith Armit. Sailing in New Zealand has matured greatly since then and it is now a high profile sport in this country. The New Zealand Finn Association has dreamed of the Cup returning to Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) for many years and to make it happen means an awful lot. At the 2015 National Championships, held in Christchurch, many sailors who campaigned Finns in the days of wooden masts and real men attended a legends get together and spoke of their love of the class and their desire to travel to Auckland to see the Cup action.”
“The class has received significant enquires about the Cup from sailors and clubs alike. Many Auckland sailing clubs have offered unsolicited support to the organising committee and you can feel the vibe of the Cup being welcomed in a sports mad country.”
“The last time the class was so strong in this country was the glory days of the early 1980s. The last five years have seen more and more sailors flying the kiwi flag in major regattas around the globe. The class remains as strong as ever with Masters, as in all countries, but the level of younger talent has been evident for some years and is encouraging to see the growth of the class, plus we almost claim Rafa [Trujillo] as a kiwi now. We are fortunate that Josh [Junior] and Doc [Andrew Murdoch] always compete whenever they can in our championship regattas and this has helped to lift the level of the class, so much so that at a recent Sail Auckland regatta Josh quipped to the media that they kept getting beaten by masters to the top mark and that they “needed to sort that”. Most New Zealand sailors now compete with top gear and many campaign hard in both in the gym and at regattas. This has been driven by the success not only of Josh and Doc overseas but also that of Masters in recent years.”
One of those masters Junior referred to is Karl Purdie (NZL), twice OK Dinghy world champion, who switched to the Finn four years ago and is enjoying his sailing more than ever. Like many kiwis, he will be lining up alongside the best in the world next week and is exhilarated at the challenge this will bring.
“It's huge. It's a once in a generation regatta, so every Finn sailor here has made a big effort to prepare themselves as much as possible. This is their chance to rub shoulders with, and compete against, the superstars of our world. There aren't many sports where your average club competitor gets to race against a world champion in an Olympic sport. Of course there is also the publicity it brings the class so young sailors here can come down, watch the action and hopefully get inspired to sail a Finn.”
He reiterated Hall’s sentiment about the state of the class, “Having Josh and Doc in the fleet is great from the point of view of them highlighting the Finn as an Olympic class to younger up and coming New Zealand sailors. They do a lot of coaching of youth sailors around the country. Having been exposed to their sailing experience, these sailors may then consider the Finn as a class to enter in the future.”
“Josh and Doc make big efforts to do our local regattas so everybody knows them and becomes invested in following them and backing them. They are very personable and go out of their way to mix with everyone. We are proud of their achievements in the international arena and are keen for New Zealand’s past medal winning exploits in the Finn class to be emulated in Rio. I reckon we're in with a pretty good shot at it.”
“Around the various sailing clubs it has generated immense interest with a lot of people travelling from out of Auckland to come up for a day or two to watch the action. Everyone knows anyone who is anyone in the Finn world is competing at this event. To have a fleet of this calibre in New Zealand is outstanding and provides a rare opportunity for the public to see how some of the world’s top Olympians do their stuff.”
Hall described the potential conditions the sailors could expect, “Spring in Auckland is often wet and windy, but with El Nino it is dry and windy. The wind is predominately from the south-west in November between 12-20 knots on a regular basis, however the unpredictable nature of the spring season could offer a light day or two during the contest. What can be said with confidence is the likelihood of at least one brutal day from the south-west of more than 25 knots in a short sharp chop.”
Tomorrow we will talk to some of the more experienced sailing competing in Takapuna, including the silver medalists from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Zach Railey (USA) and Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN).
The Pre-worlds regatta runs from this Tuesday 17 to Thursday 19 November. The Finn Gold Cup runs from Saturday 21 to Sunday 29 November. Ten races are scheduled from Tuesday 24 to Saturday 28 November, with the medal race and final race on Sunday 29 November.
– Robert Deaves