Mistral makes for fast, fun (and sometimes furious) Semaine Olympique Française opener
Hyères has hosted over half a century of elite racing but rarely has the pressure been so high for some, on and off the water, with less than 500 days to go until the start of the Paris 2024 Olympics. For many nations this event will finally decide who will represent them at the Olympic Test Event in Marseille in July and for some even for the Olympics next year.
After training in the 10-15 knot northerlies over the past few days, a Mistral arrived overnight; it was not quite as vigorous as forecast – but tell that to Tonči Stipanović. The 36-year-old Croatian, who has taken silver in the Ilca 7 at the last two Olympic Games in Rio and Tokyo, was still caught off balance by a huge gust on the finish line of his second race that cost him four places. For Croatia this is their final Olympic Test Event qualifier.
“It was really tough and tricky, a few strong gusts, but it was nice to sail,” Stipanović said. “I don’t like this Mistral so much, the choppy waves are really hard for all the sailors, but I’m a bit shorter than the other guys, so it may be a bit harder for me. We’ll have the first two days like this and then it will be lighter.
“I’ve had many days like this in Hyères, with the two Europeans I’ve sailed here maybe 20 times, and this was some of the harder conditions in Hyères, somehow you survive and think about the rest of the week.”
Hyères hosepipe ban
Shoreside, the sailors needed some more elbow grease to clean the salt off their boats with a regional hosepipe ban in place. Water is an increasingly precious commodity in the Var region of France, which has had a serious drought and has been restricting water use of the several weeks. Hyères is also transitioning to cleaner energy to with electric cars and three electric race organisation boats.
Nacra 17 (mixed double-handed hydrofoil catamaran)
The first out in the morning, both fleets only managed one race before conditions – particularly on the course further offshore – forced them in.
After unusually slipping off the podium in lighter conditions in Palma at the beginning of April, Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti, Italy’s Olympic champions and the winners here last year, enjoyed racing in bigger conditions. They passed their rival Italian crew on the second upwind. “Our race area was easily raceable, the strongest gust we had was around 22-23 knots; unfortunately we stayed for only one race, probably on the other one (race area) further out it was harder,” Tita said. “We had light conditions in Palma and struggled a bit so we did some specific work here. But we love these conditions.
In the other fleet, Jason Waterhouse & Lisa Darmanin (5th at the Tokyo Olympics) won with a lot of clearwater leaving many a capsize in their wake. “It was a typical first day in Hyères – 25+ knots, 30-knot gusts, and waves, standard, kind of what we were expecting,” Waterhouse said. “And the sun’s out. Very Australian (conditions), sunny, windy, reminds us a bit of home but we get sweet pastries at the same time, so it’s a double win.
“We could see the carnage – we won by half a leg – for us it is disappointing because probably two more good races would set us up well for the regatta but at the same time the safety of others is important and we respect the decision. Hopefully we’ll get out tomorrow.”
If things were not going your way, it was question of hanging on, including for Britain’s John Gimson & Anna Burnett, Olympic silver medalists in Tokyo and second here last year, who managed third, just “We survived!” Gimson said. “I think our course was the choppier of the two (further out), it was one of the most extreme Nacra races we’ve had for sure, in terms of sea state, short and sharp waves.
“We had a capsize towards the bottom of the last run, there were steep waves, very hairy and lots of capsizes around us. It was one of those days you’re just happy if you can get a counter out of it.”
ILCA 6 and 7 – (women’s & men’s solo dinghy)
Canada’s Sarah Douglas showed her class with a first and second place finish. Douglas, sixth in Tokyo, held off Belgium’s Emma Plasschaert, fourth in Tokyo, in first race and then was just pipped by Switzerland Maud Jayet in the second race. “I had a good battle with Maud and she got me on the last downwind,” Douglas said. “We were neck-and-neck, then I got a right shift on the second beat, got ahead, but she’s fast downwind. Definitely a good day for me, very long and tiring, I had to give myself some motivational words on those upwinds, but overall a good start to the regatta. It’s not my first time in these conditions in Hyères, we had it last year as well.”
Sweden’s Olympic silver medalist in Tokyo, Josefin Olsson, had one of the toughest days, finishing 28th and then 34th.
And in the other fleet, Denmark’s Olympic Champion, Anne-Marie Rindom was 13th in the second race after a 3rd in the first.
The men’s fleets played more to ranking. Britain’s Elliot Hanson, second here last year and Germany’s Philipp Buhl, fifth at the Tokyo Olympics, got 2-1 and 1-2 finishes respectively to top the leaderboard, but Australia’s Olympic champion, Matt Wearn bagged to fourth places.
470 (mixed double-handed dinghy)
More fickle conditions and the odd wind hole on some courses in the afternoon possibly explain the chopping and changing in the blue fleet compared to the almost metronomic yellow fleet, who unusually provide all top five boats on the overall leaderboard. Jordi Xammar- Hernandez, Spain’s Tokyo bronze medallist in the last all-male 470 event, now partnered with Nora Brugman, won both their races, both times ahead of France’s Hippolyte Machetti and Aloïse Retornaz, (a bronze medallist in Tokyo in the women’s 470), who were second here last year.
Formula Kite (men’s and women’s foiling kitesurfing)
Fresh from winning the top award in Palma, the apparently unstoppable and still only 16-year-old Singaporean, Maximilian Maeder, who won here last year, won all four of his races. France’s Maxime Nocher, third here last year, dominated the other fleet, winning three of the four races and finishing seance in the other. Slovenia’s Toni Vodisek, the world champion, who beat Maeder into second, beat Nocher in the second race but was distant overall, finishing 17, 1, 20, 5 in the four races.
After astoundingly falling off the podium in Palma, six time and reigning world champion, USA’s Daniela Moroz was back on top with 1, 2, 1, 1 finishes in her four races. Moroz, who beat Hyères and France’s local hero and rising star, Lauriane Nolot into second here last year, did same again on day 1 but Nolot finished very consistently with 3, 1, 4, 2.
iQFOiL (men’s & women’s)
Denmark’s Laerke Buhl-Hansen is the early leader after a strong finish to the five-race day, finishing 3, 5, 1, 2, 1 overtaking Kristina Pinosova, one of four Czech Republic riders in the top eight, who had won the first two races.
Thailand’s Will McMillan laid down a stronger marker with four wins out of five to finish 1, 3, 1, 1, 1 beating Brazil’s Mateus Isaac (4, 2, 2, 2, 2) into second in the final three races.
49er (men’s and women’s high-performance double-handed dinghy)
Women’s 49er FX
Did not race.