Tricky, northerly, shifty winds provided a real test for competitors on the opening day of the pre-Olympics in Athens

With the strong Meltemi wind still blowing from the north this morning, the scene was set for exciting sailng for the first day’s racing at the pre-Olympic regatta in Athens. With just one year to go before the big event, this regatta is being used as a dress rehearsal for not only the organisers and shore teams but for the competitors who are keen to familiarize themselves with the venue, climate and unpredictable wind patterns.

However, despite being dubbed as a less important event than the forthcoming world championships in Cadiz where Olympic selection of some classes will take place, today’s performance on the racecourse proved racing at this event is going to be tough.

The Meltemi which lasts for four or five days peaked a couple of days ago, and although the wind is still reaching 18-20kts at times, because it’s from the north, over the land, it has become shifty and difficult to predict.

Team GBR Yngling sailor Shirley Robertson had one of those days where, despite taking a couple of cracking starts in clear air, nothing from then on seemed to go to plan, finishing the day with a 10th and 4th respectively. According to Robertson the wind here in Athens is even more difficult to predict than in Sydney, commenting: “A lot of people said that Sydney was the hardest venue with the land influence on the breeze but I think Athens is more difficult. In Sydney we had rules and guidelines for each course, which is one of the reasons we did so well. We pulled all that information together and at least made some sense out of it.

“In the first race today we saw breeze on the left and started to leeward of the group. When the breeze arrived it was from the right. We kind of struggled after that. The breeze then took a shift to the right and we were still on the left of the pack and got shafted and couldn’t get back.

“We sailed a really good first beat in the second race and rounded the top mark in second but got forced out to the right on the first run and really struggled downwind.”

Depite his reservations about taking nearly five weeks off from his Olympic sailing to conentrate on the Admiral’s Cup, Ben Ainslie has lost none of his skills at the front of the Finn fleet. After a mediocre start in the first race today when he rounded the windward mark in 15th, Ainslie skilfully worked his boat upwind, taking every favourable shift and crossed the finish line in second behind Emilios Papathanasiou from Greece. Chatting after the racing Ainslie commented: “It was a very hard day. The difference of getting it right and wrong was huge. Today I played the catch up game. It was very frustrating and was made a lot harder by being 15th round the first mark. I kind of messed up a bit with my settings and my leech tension was too tight. It wasn’t a bad start, but I automatically got spat out the back of the pack.”

A sixth in the second race today puts Ainslie in equal second overall with the Spanish sailor Rafael Trujillo. The leader after two races is Enver Adakan from Turkey.

Meanwhile on the Star course, Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell started the regatta how they mean to continue by notching up a first race win.

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