It was another frustrating day at the ISAF World Championships in Santander. Laser, RS:X and 470 fleets were due to go out on the water at 1pm, but instead there were a lot of bored-looking sailors lounging around the various boat parks waiting for the wind to fill in and the AP flag to come down.
Shortly after 2pm, the Laser and Radial Gold fleets were sent out, closely followed by the 470s who were ready for their first day of racing. Reports from the start boats indicated a breeze of 5-6 knots, generally from the north-east but varying by about 20 degrees depending on which course was being monitored.
Why the sailors were sent out when conditions were unsailable was not explained.
As 3pm struck, only the 470 women were in sequence – and they had a general recall. When the Laser Gold Fleet finally got underway a few minutes later, so did they. Then they had a second general recall, under black flag. Sometimes sailors are responsible for their own misery!
One of the major casualties was Robert Scheidt, who had started the day with a two point lead. Already carrying a drop of 13, this did his chances no good at all. Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) was another big-name who had to sit this one out.
When the race did finally start at the third time of trying, the wind was far from steady, allowing major lead changes to occur. First Nicholas Heiner of the Netherlands was in total control, then Andy Maloney (NZL) took a flier out to the left and turned a 150 metre deficit into a 200 metre lead. He flew away from the field and won by over a minute from American Charlie Buckingham and an unlucky Heiner.
Tom Burton was the best-placed Australian in 9th. He hovered around that position all race, making minor gains and losses and generally sailing the centre of the course. It was a classic case of not taking risks.
Speaking with Burton and other Laser sailors in the rigging area, I learned that the tide was as big a culprit as the wind. British champion, Nick Thompson, said the tide lines were “all over the place” and impossible to read.
Nicholas Heiner agreed: “I had a comfortable lead in the first beat and good downwind then somehow on the second beat, I just got outside the current line like about 5 metres outside and the guys below me just drove through my dirty wind. It is a different kind of sailing but I will sleep well tonight as always.”
Burton also found the conditions interesting. “It was pretty much snakes and ladders,” he said. “With the tide there was a lot of stuff going on, that and the wind shifts. You couldn't change sides. If you tried too hard (to get to the favourable wind) you could be in even worse trouble. You had to play what you got.”
While Burton was happy to have come away without major damage to his scoreline, his compatriots didn't fare so well. Ashley Brunning followed up yesterday's bullet with a 14th and Mitchell Kennedy managed 18th, but Luke Elliott was 26th, Ryan Palk was 27th and Matt Wearn was 35th.
In the overall results, Heiner now holds a respectable seven point lead over Buckingham and Burton. After dropping his BFD, Scheidt is in fourth, a point behind but carrying a 13 that he can't drop.
Ryan Palk stayed in the top 10 but the rest of the Australian contingent will need consistent low scores to make the medal race. Matt Wearn is 27th, Ash Brunning is 35th and Luke Elliott is 42nd.
Although the second race was originally scheduled for 2pm, it didn't get underway until a few minutes past five. The wind had all but died and on the first beat the leaders were struggling to reach 3 knots. Tom Burton was again in the top 10 and sticking to the race plan of staying in the middle of the course. Heiner was out to the left, Frenchman Anthony Munos was on the right and a good race looked in prospect – until the wind swung 60 degrees to the north-west (as predicted) and the whole thing came to a grinding halt.
A thunderstorm was passing to the west of the city at 5.45pm but the race committee wouldn't take pity on its charges. The sea was glassy and the sailors bobbed around waiting for a decision. Finally, at 6.16pm it was announced that the Laser and Radial fleets were coming home for the day.
If it was difficult for the Laser sailors on their third day in these conditions, it was an even tougher start to the regatta for the 470 class. After waiting even longer than the Lasers for a start, there was a general recall in blue fleet, which held the Australian contingent, and then, with the race well into its second leg they discovered there was no bottom gate.
Olympic champion Mat Belcher was diplomatic about the incident which led to the race being abandoned. “It must have been tough conditions for the race committee too,” he said. But if the on-water organisation is as shambolic as what is happening off the water, and I suspect it is, then it was probably just a case of the person responsible for the mark going for a siesta.
Eventually the 470s got one race in but shifting winds made it a farce. A big left shift shortly after the start put most of the top contenders deep in the pack and the beat became a tight reach. Once round the mark it was a straight run to the gate.
“The only time we gybed all race was when we gybed at the gate,” Belcher said.
He and crew Will Ryan recorded a sixth place, which left them relatively happy considering the conditions.
With two fleets in operation, there are ties in every position after just one race. Winners today were Bouvet/Mion (FRA) and McNay/Hughes (USA). Second placegetters were Fantela/Marenic (CRO) and Charbonnier/Neboutjeval (FRA), while the Outenrieth brothers from Germany are tied with Kampouridis and Papadopoulos of Greece on three points.
Of the Australians, Alex and Patrick Conway have four points, Belcher and Ryan have six, Angus Galloway and Tim Hannah have 30 while Matthew and Robert Crawford have 34.
The women's course either had more favourable winds or a better race management team, as they were able to complete two races. The whole French squad are having an inspired regatta and Maelenn Lemaitre/Aloise Retornaz recorded a bullet and a second place to hold a one point lead over Brazilians Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbacha with China's Huimin and Lizhu in third.
Sasha Ryan and Amelia Catt are the best-placed Australians in 23rd. Carrie Smith and Jaime Ryan are 29th and Lucy Shephard and Emma Barton are 51st.
The 2008 Olympic gold medallist Elise Rechichi is still on medical leave and is not competing at this regatta.
It is an equally grim tale for the Australian women in the Laser Radial class. Krystal Weir, the only one of the three to make the Gold Fleet, lies 53rd. As silver and bronze fleets didn't get a race in today, there is no change in the placings of Anna Philip and Ashley Stoddart.
At the top of the table, China's new star Dongshuang Zhang won the only race today to hold a six point lead over Josefin Olsson of Sweden, who is a point ahead of Dutch Olympian Marit Bouwmeester.
The appallingly light conditions may have made sailing dinghies tricky, but they made sailing boards just plain hard work. The two Frenchmen who held the lead overnight have fallen from the podium positions, which are now held by Piotr Myska of Poland (8), with Nick Dempsey (GBR), Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) and Toni Wilhelm (GER) all on 10 points. This could be a very tight contest.
Charlene Picon of France remains in the lead in the women's class, seven points clear of British Olympian Bryony Shaw. Patricia Freitis of Brazil is third.
The Laser classes were supposed to have a rest day on Monday, and they are waiting to be told whether the lost race will be added to Tuesday's busy program or will be raced tomorrow.
All other classes will be on the water, with the first appearance of the 49er, 49er FX, Nacra 17 and Finn.
Unless the weather gods co-operate, it will be well after midnight by the time results are available and race reports can be written. Fortunately, that will be 8am in the eastern states and 6am in Western Australia, so you shouldn't have too long to wait.
– Roger McMillan in Santander