New faces on the TP 52s

Andi Robertson previews the Breitling MedCup's Athens Regatta starting tomorrow

Sunday August 20th 2006, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: Mediterranean
Two years after the waters of the Saronic Gulf played host to the Olympic sailing regatta, so Athens welcomes a 16 boat Breitling MedCup TP52 fleet laden with Olympic talent. It is the first time the fleet has visited Greece, the furthest East that the flourishing TP52 class has raced yet.

For many top protagonists in the fleet it will be a return to a race area they learned religiously prior to the 2004 Olympiad, as sailors, coaches and backroom support staff. Among those who won medals here are Greece’s Sofia Bekatorou, the Olympic Women’s 470 gold medalist, who sails as strategist on Eamon Conneely’s Siemens, and Natalia Via Dufresne, who won silver in the same class for Spain, who sails on Stuart Robinson’s Santa Ana.

But there are many others who did not make the podium. On Steve and Fred Howe’s Warpath Emirates Team New Zealand sailors Dean Barker and Kevin Hall were rivals on the Finn course, the race area closest to where the TP52s will race starting Monday. Greece’s Leonidas Pelekanikis and the USA’s Phil Trinter sailed as rivals in the Star class, but team up this week on George Andreadis’ and Jaime Yllera’s Lexus. Italy’s Francesco Bruni ( Orlanda) and Spain’s Roberto Bermudez ( Caixa Galicia) raced in the two person keelboat class here.

Among those who coached, Britain’s double Olympic medalist Ian Walker was one of the key catalysts for the British Yngling women’s gold medal. Mutua Madrilena’s navigator Wouter Verbraak supported the Danish Olympic team as weather guru.

After the consistency of the breezes in the Bay of Palma, Athens’ Saronic Gulf offers a whole new set of challenges, welcomed by the fleet. The winds are notoriously changeable in direction, whether the offshore Meltemi blows carrying the imprint of the city and the hills behind which lie upwind of the race tracks, or the unsettled, usually gentle sea breezes.

Racing starts tomorrow (Monday) with two windward-leeward races. Tuesday sees the two part offshore race of about 80 miles, Thursday two windward leeward races, Friday a coastal race and Saturday concludes the regatta with a pair of windward-leeward races.

Making their racing debut in Athens will be the Russian boat Rusal Synergy, a Botin Carkeek-designed sistership to Warpath and Lexus. Run by the successful Nicolaev sailing team of Alexei Nikolaev, the boat was built by Latini Marine in Italy and was due to race in Mallorca. It was launched only ten days ago and sailed only two days in Ancona, Italy and three days here in Athens. “At the moment we can only hope to sail all the races and not expect too much,” confirmed Marko Marinovic of North Sails Croatia who looks after their sail programme.

Only one point separates the top two boats on the overall standings of the Breitling MedCup. Peter de Ridder’s Mutua Madrilena holds the slender lead over Warpath. Siemens have established themselves as serious contenders, winning half of the regattas raced this season, but they need to claw back 50 points between now and the end of Ibiza if they are to close down Mutua Madrilena and win the series title.

Interesting crew changes and additions include the USA’s double Olympic medallist Charlie McKee who sails as tactician with Andrew Cape navigating at the back of John Cook’s Cristabella. Steve Hayles returns to the fleet, navigating for Siemens where ex-GBR Challenge sailor Chris Main is tactician. American Olympic medallist Morgan Reeser, who helped coach Sofia Bekatorou, sails on John Coumantoros’ Bambakou where ex-Illbruck and present Emirates Team New Zealand navigator Ian Moore is in the hot seat. Dee Smith joins the Portuguese on Bigamist here for the Athens Trophy and in Ibiza for the final event of the season.

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