By James Boyd
RACING at this sixth edition of the Star Sailors League Finals got off to a dramatic first day of competition in Nassau, with four races held, four different winners and a last race in which a squall brought driving rain and 25 knot gusts that claimed one rig and caused one man overboard.
In a 10-12 knot northerly, Brazil started strongly with Olympic legends Robert Scheidt and Henry Boening claiming the first race and Lars Grael and Samuel Gonçalves the second.
“We made a good choice starting at the race committee and tacking to the right - we had a very good puff on the right to cross the fleet,” explained double Olympic medallist Grael, whose performance here is all the more remarkable as he has just one leg.
“Once you are ahead you have a margin to protect and the sailing gets much easier, whereas if you get stuck in the crowd it is very tough.”
Mark Mendelblatt, historically the Star Sailors League Finals’ most successful helm, sailing with his regular crew Brian Fatih, relieved Poland’s Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Dominik Zycki of the lead in race three. The American recounted his race: “We took the line bias, which was pin-favoured, and managed to get across the fleet pretty early. We got a little rightie at the end and rounded third and at the bottom we chose the right gate, which was the correct one. Then we were able to get to the right of Mateusz at the top of the second beat when the big rightie came in and that got us around him and we were able to hold on down the run. In this fleet when you get ahead, it makes the race a lot easier…”
A front had been forecast to arrive in the afternoon and this finally stuck half way through the final race, when the skies darkened, rain began plummeting and breeze kicking up a sharp chop. Despite this, Miami’s Augie Diaz - this year’s Star European Champion - made it look easy.
“We kept thinking the right would come in like that,” Diaz explained. “We had a great start at the committee boat and were first boat off the line. We held for a little bit and then as soon as we felt we had a little phase to go right on, we went hard right and then it was a case of the rich getting richer. But Cayard went all the way left and he came in second at the top mark!”
As the squall hit, Diaz said they had had such a lead that played it safe by reaching downwind, a technique making it easier to gybe.
Meanwhile Grael admitted he was slightly surprised to have finished this race fifth. “We were in the worst position. We broached when we gybed, but then made a good run. It was very puffy and some moments we got a little bit scared about sinking the boat – but it was under control!”
Others were not so fortunate. On the last run the rig broke on Hamish Pepper and Steve Mitchell’s boat, meanwhile one of the race favourites fell out of his boat at the top mark: Diego Negri, sailing here with defending champion Frithjof Kleen as crew, received a penalty at the top mark and while carrying out their turn coincided a gust hit, causing Negri to be ejected from the cockpit. Fortunately the Italian Olympic veteran managed to hang to first the rudder and then the main, but by the time he had been hauled back on board, they had dropped to last place. Despite this they ended the day third overall.
After four races and with one discard applied, Robert Scheidt and Henry Boening lead the Star Sailors League Finals by two points, the Brazilians having won the first race.
“We started at the pin and chose the left side of the course and the shift went our way,” explained Scheidt of that race. “If you can go around the top mark in the top three, life gets a lot easier. It was a tough day. It was quite shifty with flat water and towards the end of the day we had the big right shift with the wind increasing.
“We managed to climb back from some bad situations, which was good, but we still need more boat speed upwind and we had bad starts in two races. The level is very high and it is difficult to do everything well. We are happy - we’ll keep chipping away, but with four races a day a lot of things can happen. You see guys breaking masts and it is very easy to start over early and risk too much at the start.”
The forecast for tomorrow is for the northeasterly wind to resume.
“Hopefully we’ll get more waves which will make things more interesting, especially downwind,” Scheidt said.