New style of racing and reporting at the quick-fire medal race finals provided an insight as to where Olympic sailing is heading. Matthew Sheahan reports
Sunshine was the only ingredient missing on the final day of the Sail for Gold regatta held at the Portland Sailing Academy last week, yet there were few complaints from the sailors and spectators. Despite an early forecast for biblical weather on the all important final day, the conditions that prevailed provided some spectacular racing without entering the survival zone.
Earlier in the week wind speeds had been up in the 30 knot range, sometimes higher, causing the 49ers and Tornado’s to lose all but the last day of their preliminary racing. Fortunately, Saturday’s conditions provided a breather for most with no more than 8 knots all day and allowed sufficient races to take place in all fleets to allow the top 10 in each to be selected for the quick fire medal races on Sunday.
With one race per class counting for double points, this new quickfire format is proving popular with sailors and spectators. With races lasting around 30 minutes with just two laps of a windward leeward course there was plenty of action in all the racing.
Held inside Portland Harbour on two courses, fleets were kept ashore until just before their race, adding to the lively feel around the purpose built venue that will play host to the Olympics in 2012, as the competitors came and went in a series of relays.
Yet, perhaps the biggest step forward was that of the RYA’s attempt to bring the action ashore for the public. With live radio, television and tracking broadcast across screens, the airwaves and the internet, this Olympic dinghy event (open to all and with no entry fee), took on the feel of the recent America’s Cup. While there were teething problems at times with some of the technology, there’s little doubt that if the RYA continues to strive to bring the racing ashore, Sail for Gold will represent more than simply an annual rehearsal for the big gig in 2012.
As for the racing itself, this has to rate as some of the most exciting sailing on offer, stretching across a broad range of disciplines from boards, to that of sailing’s version of juggling on a unicycle, the 49ers. Each race was breathtakingly close with frequent lead changes, but perhaps among those that stand out in particular, the Finn race redefined what ‘nip-and-tuck’ really means, as well as providing a jaw dropping demonstration of what pumping a Finn downwind entails. (To see this make sure you watch the video footage of this race due to go online later.)
Sailing a Laser fast downwind now would appear to involve rolling your boat onto its weather rail whilst it’s surfing and bearing off 30 degrees until the top of the mainsail is just curling back on the point of a gybe, holding it there on the verge of catastrophe, and then heading up to get back on the plane once your speed has dropped off. Then, repeat every 30 seconds or so until you’ve reached the bottom gate and sailed deeper and faster than anyone else – at least that’s what Olympian Paul Goodison did.
Watching the Tornado’s scream down the off-wind leg at 23 knots plus was like standing in the finishing straight at Brands Hatch, while chasing 49ers in a RIB saw the log reach similar speeds. The 470’s were equally impressive with kite sets, gybes and drops that took no longer than switching a light on and off, while the Laser Radials proved that the old fashioned notion of men and women’s fleets in this class at least, was completely irrelevant. When it came to the top 10, eight were women, three of them hogging the medals in the final reckoning.
With so much action afloat and ashore, it was little surprise that the drizzle didn’t feature in most people’s day.
Gold (Pink & Wheeler)
Silver (Morrison and Rhodes)
Bronze (Martin & McGrane)
Gold (Rogers & Glanfield)
Silver (Asher & Willis)
Bronze (Lucas & Seelig)??
Gold (Bassadone & Clark)
Silver (Torgersson & Zachrisson)
Bronze (Koch & Sommer)
Gold (McMillan & Howden)
Silver (Wilson & Bulkeley)
Bronze (Walsh & Barney)