Spanish clean sweep
As one of the world's leading one-design keelboat classes, this year's J/80 World Championships did not disappoint. With 68 competitors participating in a world-class regatta sailed by some of the top sailors in the world, most sailors expected the top Europeans to factor in amongst the leaders. With multiple Olympic and World Champions participating as skippers or tacticians and the best sailors from Spain sailing as a team, too, it was also expected the Spanish teams would be amongst the leaders at the end of the regatta. In fact, the script for this "movie" played out nearly the same as it has in past worlds.
The last day racing dawned with grey skies, easterly winds of 10 knots and rain pouring down in Dragør, but that was not going to stop the Royal Danish YC's PRO from pressing forward to complete yet another challenging World Championship. One where the actors were nearly the same as in the past four championships, but with roles swapping as to the new 'cinderella story' and who would be the 'new sheriff in town' for 2011.
After four days and nine races of excellent sailing in conditions that saw light to moderate winds for the entire event, it was clear the Spanish sailors are not only fast in a big breeze and big waves, they're also quite fast and smart in shifty, wind streak, drag race-type sailing conditions on the Baltic Sea where the winds never exceeded 12 knots!
Showing their extraordinary versatility was the new sheriff, World Champion for 2011, Ignacio Camino's team, including Barcelona World Race competitor Antonio Piris, sailed their renown Nextel Engineering to a very well deserved win over some extremely tough competition. Camino and crew only had to get to good top 10 finishes on the last day to win, finishing with a 4-6 to win his second J/80 World Championship, the second Spanish sailor in a row to do so (countryman Pichu Torcida won the 2010 J/80 Worlds in Newport, RI in epic conditions). They finished with a total score of 34 points to win by 10 points over the second place boat.
The Cinderella story of this year's Worlds has to be the remarkable comeback of Jose Maria van der Ploeg sailing his boat Great Sailing. Van der Ploeg, the Finn Olympic Gold medallist in 1992, started off the series on the first day barely in the top 20 with a 27-17-11, disappointing to say the least. Thereafter, from day two to day four, his team (including his young son) simply smoked the fleet! Perhaps, near total domination and a "schooling" of the fleet may be a better perspective regards how well Jose's team sailed the last six races. How about a scoreline against Olympic medallists and World Champs in multiple classes that would be the envy of any team sailing in Dragor -- a 5-1-5-2-2-1 to finish with 44 points and win a tie-breaker with another Spanish team-mate Carlos Martinez (himself a former World Champion). Proof that 'family teams' can be competitive at a world-class level in one of the world's premiere one-design keelboats!
Third in the Spanish sweep of the podium was Carlos Martinez racing Mapfre with his very strong, well-practiced team. Martinez' team was yet another Spanish team that raced up the ladder after a disastrous first day, starting with a 3-26-4, to then finish off the series with an average of 6th place to finish with 44 points and lose the tie-breaker to van der Ploeg.
Fourth yet another Spanish J/80 World Champion, Rayco Tabares and crew on Hotel Princess Yaiza Grand Canarias, the same boat he's raced for years. Among the top five, it was apparent that Tabares was the most despondent after the first day's racing - starting off with a disastrous 4-9-52. Nevertheless, he has proven to be a strong, indomitable competitor, and his 'never say die' attitude serves him well. His team confidently bounced back to be the only team to score back-to-back first places in races 7 & 8 to jump higher than most kangaroos and finish with 53 points. In fact, had Tabares pulled off a miracle and finished in the top three in the last race, he would've finished second overall!
Perhaps the 'hard luck' award has to go to American Glenn Darden, yet another J/80 World Champion, sailing with his veteran team aboard Le Tigre. After starting off strongly to lead the regatta for the first two days, a lapse in race 7 on the third day was too much for them to absorb to stay in contention for the top three. Now having to count both an 18th and 15th, Darden's team nevertheless showed the rest of the world the Le Tigre team is never to be counted out in the final results. After getting the second best record of the final day behind van der Ploeg's 2-1, Le Tigre's 5-2 bounced them back up the ladder to fifth place overall with 56 points.
If Darden's Le Tigre team fell on some hard luck in some races, so too the same can be said for Sweden's Ingemar Sundstedt SWE 243. Sundstedt was lying second going into the last day with a very good chance of being the first Swedish team to win the J/80 Worlds, especially since their worst race up to the last day was a 14th and their average finish was about 6th place, the most consistent team on the race course for the first three days! However, the first race of the last day erased all chances of that happening, finishing with a 27th, then followed by a 7th in the last race to end the regatta with 58 points.
Finally, mention should be made of the very strong showing by the top French teams, Eric Brezellec on Interface Concept 2, the current French J/80 National Champion, finishing 7th and Jean Charles Moriceau finishing 8th.
It was also the first time the German teams showed both good boat-speed and good tactics, getting the next four places in the standings. German teams finished 9th - Sven Vagt's GER 1027, 10th - Martin Menzner's GER 614 (a regatta leader on Day One), 11th - Bjorn Beilken's GER 1107 and 12th - Malte Christoperhson's GER 745.
Top Danish team from the host country was Jesper Kragh Jespersen's DEN 850 in 13th, the top Italian team was Massimo Rama's Extreme Sailing Team beating fellow Italian Aldo Samele's Canarino Feroce 2 by just half a point! The top Russian team was Vitaliy Tarakanov RUS 999 in 29th, top British team was Tom Phipps' Hamble Yacht Services in 32nd, top Polish team was Pawel Boksa's POL 1187 in 39th, top Netherlands team was Laura Vroon's NED 831 in 36th, top Estonian team was Peeter Meressaar's EST 603 in 56th and top Finnish team was Otto Reittila FIN 1144 in 64th.
In the final analysis, the racing was extraordinarily close going into the last day, as has been the case for at least the past four J/80 World Championships - excellent world-class sailing by the top 15 at least.
What was interesting was to see the depth of the teams that could pull off a top three finish during the course of the regatta. The top three podium finishes only accounted for eight top three finishes (of a potential 27 possible!) and only four first places (just 44% of the 9 races!). That's stunning fleet depth.
Moreover, the only teams that could get two first places in the series were the winner, Ignacio Camino's Nextel Engineering and Rayco Tabares' Hotel Princess Yaiza Grand Canarias. The lowest placing race winner (race #4) was Frenchman Luc Nadal who finished 24th; lowest place 2nd (race #5) was the Danish/American team of Guldfaxe (Tom Klok, Will/Marie Crump and Will Welles) in 17th overall. Lowest place 3rd (race #2) was Italian Naval Academy Sailing Team's Giorgio Guzzi who finished 37th. There are few, if any, international one-design keelboat/ sportboat classes of any kind that can demonstrate that kind of fleet depth and ability to sail a boat fast enough, easily enough to fire one into the top three in any given race!
The two women's teams faired well considering the depth of the competition - the best was Team Maltesers ('The Sweeter Side of Sailing'), Gritt Bjornshave's five women team on DEN 1176 getting three finishes in the 20s and finishing 43rd overall.
Full results here