James Fawcett and Dave Dobrijevic prevailed in a mix of conditions at the International 14 European Championships, organised by the Yacht Club Fraglia Della Riva at Lake Garda. The four-day regatta was an important step towards Fawcett and Dobrijevic’s campaign to win the 14 World Championships in Los Angeles later this summer. Solid boathandling in the strong winds of the first two days, followed by some good speed in the lighter winds later in the regatta, provided the Hampshire-based duo with a consistent scoreline. Of the 39 entrants they were the only team to finish inside the top 10 every time.
For a team that haven’t sailed together for over a year, Andy Partington and Ben Vernieres pushed the winners hard – particularly in the strong force five breezes of the first two days - and second place was an excellent result for such an underpractised team. “We sailed more than anyone else 18 months ago,” explained a surprised and delighted Partington, “and so I suppose we’ve just picked up where we left off. Ben is an excellent crew and so it’s easy sailing with him.”
Third-placed Olly Voss and Felix Weidling also exceeded personal expectations. It is the first time a German team has done so well in the 14 fleet for quite some time. Voss and Weidling have showed flashes of promise in the past, but a new German-built Bieker 5 hull with an Australian mast and sail combination has launched them into a new league. In pure speed terms, Voss and Weidling should have won this regatta but the occasional capsize in the 20-25 knots breezes of the first two days prevented them from achieving the sort of consistency required for winning championships. Still, their success - along with the sixth place of compatriots Axel Reinsch and Joern Schulze – looks set to herald a new dawn in German 14 sailing.
Others to enjoy their moment in the sun included Douglas Pattison and Damian Ash, who led the series early on with very steady boathandling and good pace, and while they slipped down the rankings as the series wore on, fifth place was a good result for an improving team. Archie Massey and George Nurton have struggled with equipment problems on their brand new Bieker 5 but when they did eventually manage to race the boat on the penultimate day of racing they scored two firsts and a second in the eight to ten knot breezes. After a long wait for their boat to be completed, such an impressive scoreline has at least made Massey and Nurton believe they are on the right track.
While this is the first major regatta that Fawcett and Dobrijevic have won as a team, they are both past winners of the Europeans with other sailing partners. This success gives them hope that they can now go all the way and win the regatta that has yet eluded them, the World Championships. The Americans are reputedly putting a strong squad together and have the benefit of training on the competition waters at Long Beach, while the Aussies are the reigning champions and have fearsome pace in a breeze. But Fawcett is optimistic for a British victory in California. “I think the British fleet is going well, and one of us could well win this year.”
While technical developments continue in the 14 fleet, they are mainly tweaks of proven equipment. One of the new ‘must have’ gadgets is a twist-grip control of the T-foil rudder via the tiller extensions. This allows the helm to tweak the pitch of the boat without leaning in to cleat or uncleat control lines, but fundamentally the boats are going through a period of relative stability. Basic sailing skills rather than raw speed remain the most vital ingredients for success.
The top six hulls at the Europeans were split between three Bieker 5s and three RMW M12 designs. The Australian CST mast was the most popular rig among the leading pack, although Mike Lennon and Jon Blackburn continue to show bursts of good speed with the M12 hull/ Selden mast/ Hyde Sails combination. A number of sailmakers feature in the top boats, notably the winners using their own sails from Dave Dobrijevic’s newly launched Dynamic Sails loft. Partington was looking fast with a very old and used set of RMW sails, as was Massey with a brand new set of Batts. The fast German teams were using Alexander sails from Australia.
The next big regattas take place in Pornic, northern France, in two weeks’ time followed by the British Nationals, the Prince of Wales Week in Poole just over a month from now. That will be the last opportunity for the Europeans to test equipment before they ship their boats to California.
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