Big breeze in Hyeres
Strong southwesterly winds led to a disrupted opening day at the Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères, but in the events where racing was possible, Britain’s top sailors made their first day count. The day’s racing started in steady 15-18 knot conditions, but built severely with gusts touching 38 knots. This meant that some classes with scheduled afternoon starts never managed to leave the shore.
In the Laser Radial class, Alison Young notched up the perfect scoreline with two race wins in the blue fleet, while Dobson earned a win and a third from her two yellow fleet races to see the Skandia Team GBR sailors in first and third places respectively.
“The racing got pretty full on today with the breeze kicking up,” said the 24-year-old Young. “It made the downwinds good fun and made for a good old hike off upwind, but the last three days of training we’ve had out here have given us a good bit of breeze to get for this week so the preparation has gone well. I’m happy with whatever we get, as long as we get to go racing. It’s a good start to the regatta and something to build from over the next few races.”
The 25-year-old Dobson was also pleased with her start to the six-day regatta amid the testing and physical conditions. “It’s been a really, really, really windy day and there was plenty of scope for capsizing and all sorts of things so I was pretty happy to get away with it unscathed!” Australia's Krystal Weir also won a race to claim second position overall.
Sailors from down under enjoyed the conditions in the Lasers. World no1 and World Champion Tom Slingsby made the most of the day taking the bullets in his group's two races while New Zealand's Andy Maloney dominated his group with two wins. Fellow Kiwi Andrew Murdoch holds third.
“Today was a good start to the event,” said Slingsby. “It was very windy and very wild out there and I managed to get two wins so I’m pretty happy with that but there’s plenty of racing to go. I started race one well and led coming into the bottom mark but actually capsized, I came up in about fourth position and had really good speed up the next upwind and was able to pull back the lead. In race two I lead from start to finish, I played it a bit more conservatively this time as I didn’t want to capsize again and went on to win.”
In the Finn, young Estonian Deniss Karpak showed his form in the breeze winning both races to take the lead over Athens Silver medallist Rafa Trujillo (ESP) and Laser Olympic medallist Vasilij Zbogar (SLO).
Croatian Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic won both races today and lead in the 470 Men. Other races went to the Coster brothers (NED) and Charbonnier/Mion (FRA).
“It was all about the speed and we had great speed today," said Fantela. "Obviously we made good use of the four days spent here before the event, we practised in the strong winds here and it paid off.”
After finishing second on race one, World champs Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS) broke their rig while leading the second race by 200 meters. The Australians still managed to finish in 25th place.
In the women's division, Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout (NED) and Japanese Ai Kondo with Wakako Tabata (JAP) are sharing the lead both with a win and a second place.
Relishing the big conditions were the RS:Xes. Julien Bontemps (FRA) excelled in the breeze winning the day's two races after claiming the World title last December in similarly windy conditions.
“It was good to win these races, especially when I was against Miarczynski in my group, who is very fast in the breeze," said Bontemps. "The conditions were similar as the Worlds with strong winds but the sea was very choppy and it made it hard!”
Toni Wilhelm (GER) also collected two bullets in his group, however the Polish windsurfers are not far behind, with Piotr Myska and Przemek Miarczynski both second in their respective groups.
In the RS:X Women, both Li Ling (CHN) claimed the day with two victories. Hyeres is first ISAF Sailing World Cup event this year for the Chinese. Moana Delle (GER) and Chaline Picon (FRA) are second and third overall.
Only three flights were completed in the Women's Match Racing with the Americans Tunnicliffe and Barkow winning all their matches. The matches not sailed today will be added to tomorrow's programme starting at 09.30.
It was a good day for Britain in the 2.4mR with Megan Pascoe and Helena Lucas claiming the top two places in the only race completed today. Favourite Damien Seguin (FRA) placed third while Thierry Schmitter (NED) lost an early lead when his boat filled with water on the last downwind leg. His was among eight boats not to finish the race.
“It was a really solid start and it’s nice to have a windy Hyeres again as it’s been a while!" said Pascoe. "Both me and Helena were going really, really well today – I had the pace upwind, she had the pace downwind but we both had the pace over the whole fleet, so something is going right in training! It does show that the trials are working and I think we’ll get the best boat to the Games at the end of it.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever surfed the whole way down a run before,” said Lucas explained. “But the faster you went, you knew you were safe as the boat started bouncing on top of the wave. It was when you slowed down and then the next gust and wave would come and the bow would just disappear. At one point I was up to my waist in water, with all the pumps going! It was right down to the line, but good race and good to have finished it.”
In the Skud, Australians Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch won today's only race, ahead of four-time World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell.
Only one race was sailed for the Yellow group in the 49er. Starting the race in 18 knots, the wind increased to 28 knots, the water transforming to a steep chop, causing only 11 boats to finish the race. The young French duo of Julien D'Ortoli and Noel Delpech (FRA) took the win. D'Ortoli explained: “We had a good start and despite capsizing before the top mark we passed second, we took the lead on the downwind, we were fast with the spinnaker. We tried to control as much as we could and when we passed the line realised that behind us nearly everybody was swimming.”
The British 49er teams are all racing in the 49er blue fleet and never got in a race. This was also the case for the Stars and the Sonars,
With more moderate conditions anticipated for Monday, event organisers will look to catch up on missed races, with racing in the 2.4mR, SKUD and Women’s Match Racing – where Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor will begin their title defence – brought forward to 0930 starts.
More photos from Jean-Marie Liot: