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Postcards from Portugal - ISAF Sailing World Championship

Over 1,300 sailors from 76 nations competed at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships, from 28 June-13 July in Cascais, Portugal. The Championships were the principal qualification regatta for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition, with 75% of all national places being decided. Conditions during the event were far from ideal, with both wind strength and direction varying wildly. When the winds were strong, which were reported at times in the upper 30ís, large waves joined in to make for some extreme sailing. Perhaps the only similarity between the event and the Olympics, for which it is supposed to emulate, was the strong currents.

Andy Horton - Morgan Larson - Brad Funk

Star Report - Andy Horton/Brad Nichol (USA)

Andy Horton/Brad Nichol
(July 17, 2007) For Brad and I, the ISAF Sailing World Championship was my opportunity to get back into the Star. Following our win at the 2006 Olympic test event in Qingdao, China, I had a back injury (herniated disk) in January while training with the Luna Rossa Americaís Cup team. I was unable to walk for a while and lost 23 pounds during a lengthy rehab. I finally got back on the ACC boat in April, but with my achy back, I would spend my afternoons chest deep in a bucket of ice to get out the inflammation. Itís slowly getting better, but the real test was going to be Star sailing. If I re-injured my back in Cascais, our Olympic dreams would be out the window. For this regatta, our major goals were to get me back in the boat without hurting myself, and to help qualify the USA for the Olympics.

It was only through Luna Rossaís loss in the Americaís Cup challenger finals that I was even able to even get to the Worlds (I was the wind-spotter guy up Luna Rossaís mast). It was a real shame that these events were scheduled so tightly, not only for those who missed the Worlds because of their AC commitments, but also for those trying to follow the sport of sailing. For those of us training in Cascais, we struggled each day between our desire to watch the AC matches and our need to practice for the biggest Olympic regatta of the year. For the broader spectating audience, along with the media, overlapping these events strained both interest and resources. Was it really necessary to have the whole world of televised sailing happen in 1 month?

Cascais proved to be a wonderful place for me to rejoin Brad and our Olympic campaign, and is easily now on my top 10 list of places I would like to travel. The weather is warm during the day, cool at night, and it rarely rains. It's not that expensive, the locals are very nice and super helpful, and the food is also pretty good. However, the best thing about Portugal is the coastline, the water, and the beaches. Unfortunately, the combined world championship model is quite inferior to the world championship normally run by the Star class, which rivals the organization and professionalism of the best-run regattas in the world. A few of the sacrifices were:

  • Teams had to qualify from within their country to compete, wherein the class event is open.
  • Much shorter races - averaging 70 minutes instead of the more normal 140 minutes.
  • Much shorter courses - 3 laps with 1 mile beats instead of 2 laps with 2+ mile beats.
  • Split fleets - our class is known for 100 boats on a big starting line. This is one of the best features of Star sailing.
  • Course location.... - we were put under the shoreline instead of out in the best location for great breeze because we needed to share that location with other disciplines.
  • Much fewer social functions - not really my thing, but there was a lot of chat about missing that "class" feeling.

  • Despite the adjustments needed for this Worlds, our goals were met. Mark Reynolds/ Hal Haenel came through to qualify the USA in the Star class and I didn't hurt myself. Now, our focus will be on remembering how to fleet race and the nuances of Star sailing. For the first time, we are going to be able to train full time in the Star and be able to really focus on winning the Star Olympic trials in October. Next week we will be in Vancouver for a week of training before the Star North American Championship begins July 30th. After that regatta, we will move all of our equipment to Los Angeles (site of the trials), come back east to a fundraiser at Brad's home club in Lake Sunapee NH, and then head back to LA for 7 weeks of training before our trials.

    Our schedule is pretty full, but we are very excited to finally be able to train as much as we want and concentrate 100% on racing Star boats and follow our Olympic dream. -- Andy Horton (website)

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    49er Report - Morgan Larson/Pete Spaulding (USA)

    Morgan Larson/Pete Spaulding
    (July 16, 2007) Just got back home to Santa Cruz, CA after 24 days in beautiful Cascais, Portugal. Pretty similar here as I look out the window onto Monterey Bay (20-25 knot NW wind, blue sky and fog off-shore), as these were the conditions that Cascais dealt us for 3 weeks straight at the ISAF Sailing World Championships. Pete Spaulding and I, along with our coach Stevie Erickson and my wife Christa, just wrapped up the 49er Worlds, where we trained for 12 days straight before competing in an 8 race qualifying series, than the 4 race Gold series (top 27 boats) before heading to the final Medal race (top 10 boats with double point scoring).

    It was a physical week of racing with many ups and downs as the 15-25 knot wind raced across the point and through downtown Cascais before reaching our course that was protected under the bluffs. As you could imagine, it was really gusty and shifty. A fleet of 49ers race upwind at 90-100 degree tacking angles and 8-12 knots of boat-speed, so you can separate from the competition quite quickly. Basically it was a wet and physical gamblers game that kept the sailors on edge throughout the event. Early in the series we kept all of our races in the top 5, but stumbled late in the week with more inconsistent results. A late rally and a win in the Medal Race brought our event to an end in 5th place.

    Aside from one of the most competitive events Iíve participated in, the venue that hosted the 1,300 sailors from 76 nations was truly amazing. Local Cascais boaters basically shut down their harbor for 3 weeks to make room for the mass of race boats, official vessels, and coach boats. A combined Olympic class World championship event like this happens every 4 years and there is a short list of venues that can handle it.

    It was a bittersweet end for many sailors as this was the culmination of a lifetime of training and dedication (many countries used this event as their Olympic qualifier and only one team per country goes onto Beijing). Cascais is also a favorite to Russell Coutts, whose division from Alinghi started by his belief that Lisbon and Cascais would be the best place to host the Cup. After spending 24 days in Cascais, I'd compare it to San Francisco, Perth, and Santa Cruz when it comes to wind. There's no doubt that the sailing world will be back there again.

    For Pete and I, we are looking forward to more training in San Diego, CA (site of the US Olympic Trials) before heading to Qingdao, China for the Olympic Test Event in August, followed by more Trials preparation in San Diego before the qualifiers commence in early October. -- Morgan Larson (website)

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    Laser Report - Brad Funk (USA)

    Brad Funk
    (July 16, 2007) My two weeks here in Cascais were really memorable. I look forward to returning here soon and hopefully many more times for other international regattas. The weather is perfect and the town and Portuguese people are very welcoming. Hosting the ISAF Combined World Championships was a major undertaking, which the organizers executed flawlessly. It was obvious the sailors were their first priority but they also made the public feel welcomed which from a sailorsí perspective was awesome. It is easy to go over the top with pomp and ceremony at events like this but it didnít happen here.

    My only critical comment was that the sheer size of the event and the number of classes dictated numerous race courses. There was a strain on the race committees to get races completed as they rotated through multiple starts and courses to complete racing and stay on schedule. There would be up to four scheduled start times during the day starting at 1p.m. and going as late as 6 p.m. This meant some of the courses were placed in less than ideal locations in order to accommodate races. As an example, on courses two and three it was common to see the weather mark placed just off the rocky coast. This in turn meant massive shifts and fluctuation in the wind pressure that would turn races into lotteries. Absent this pressure to accommodate such a large fleet, I believe Cascais is an ideal place for major championships. Without crowding it is always possible to choose the best place to set the course for a given day.

    Having said that, I believe the feeling amongst most sailors is the regatta produced deserving champions in all classes. It was certainly the case in the Laser class. Australian Tom Slingsby, one of my training partners, was a wire-to-wire leader and looked to be poised to run away with the event going into the last two days. However course three left him deep in the fleet with a big score. Despite this, he held a comfortable 12-point lead going into the 10-boat medal race. After a conservative start he was behind on points at the first weather mark to Denis Karpak from Estonia who was leading with Tom rounding near last. Tom pulled up some places and Denis lost the lead, giving Tom the world title.

    Lessons Learned
    It was a surprise to me that no North American sailors were able to crack the top ten in the Lasers. At every European Grade One event this year with NA sailors in attendance, I made it into every medal race. At the Laser Europeans, the last major regatta before Cascais, two Canadians finished in the top ten, as did I. My fellow US sailor Andrew Campbell finished just outside the top ten. This time Andrew finished 29th, Michael Leigh from Canada was 32nd and I was 40th.

    I think two things are at work here. Sailing in Europe is different than North America and it takes time getting use to the different wind and shift patterns and to become familiar with the venues. This is especially true, given the varied conditions from one year to the next. In NA we tend to only sail in "ideal" locations with predictable weather. We tend to be more conservative and more risk adverse so we like sailing in the middle of the course. Hitting the corners implies risk. Finally, the overall depth of competition is much higher in Europe.

    Cascais was a new venue for everybody and was very tricky to figure out. Sailing in the middle of the course would guarantee a poor result. I found it difficult not to tack on every favorable wind shift, so I found myself heading towards the middle a lot of the time while others would take an early loss to hit the corner. The right-hand side was the dominant side to play upwind but the left would come in just enough to create doubt. Starting in the middle and waiting to see what side was favored didn't work. Winning your side was a better tactic. In hindsight, to make it into the top ten I should have hit the right corner every race!

    What's Next?
    I have a few weeks until I go to China for the Pre-Olympic Regatta in Qingdao, followed by a couple of weeks off before moving to Newport, RI, to get prepared for the all-important US Olympic Selection Trials where the winner will become the sole representative in the Laser class on the US Olympic team. -- Brad Funk (website)

    Click here for another Laser report from Andrew Campbell (USA).

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