Jorge Lima and José Costa have claimed an early lead in the 49er European Championships on home waters in Porto, the second city of Portugal. With the 79-boat fleet split into three qualifying divisions for the first three days of competition, the inshore course favoured the right-hand side strongly throughout the day, especially so in light airs that never exceeded eight knots.
While most of their competitors were battling for a start line advantage at the right-hand end near the committee boat, Lima and Costa decided to take their chances with a port-end start. It paid off handsomely, with the Cascais team taking an early lead in both of the last two races of the day, and leading both heats from start to finish. Banking scores of two, six, one, one, the Portuguese hold a one-point advantage over Poland’s Lukasz Przybytek and Pawel Kolodzinski, who also sailed a brilliant day in their qualifying fleet with scores of one, two, four, two.
Asked what was their secret today, Lima replied: “Local support, from our sponsors, our families and friends. We are from the South, these are not our local waters and we haven’t done that much training here. But it’s good to be in our home country with the support of our own people, and that makes a difference.” Lima and Costa wear the yellow Seiko rash vests for day two, but with a total of 20 scheduled races and just four completed, they know it’s far too early to be counting their chickens. “It’s a good position to be in, but we have to perform every day if we have a chance of winning these Championships.”
For the Poles, lying in second overall is particularly important as this regatta is one of the trials for Olympic selection for Rio 2016. The same is true for the Germans, and it’s been a disappointing start for the defending European Champions, Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel who lie in 35th overall. Worryingly for them is that recent winners of Kiel Week, young guns Justus Schmidt and Max Boehme, are sitting in fourth place overall with scores of six, one, one, seven.
Other good performers on day one were British team, John Pink and Stu Bithell, in third overall, and the 2012 Olympic Champions from Australia in fifth, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen.
Not such a good day for the 2012 silver medallists from New Zealand however, with Pete Burling and Blair Tuke sitting in eighth overall. A four, six, two wasn’t too bad, but a UFD disqualification in heat three was the Kiwis’ undoing. “The start hooter came up a bit later than we expected,” shrugged Burling. “We knew it was close. Speed was OK though, just a couple of decisions we made that could have been better.” Even after an average first day, the Kiwis remain the hot favourites for overall victory, now on an unbroken winning streak of 16 major regattas since London 2012.
It was day two of qualifying for the 39 girls’ teams in the 49er FX, and the Netherlands’ Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz sit at the top of the leaderboard on equal points with Germany’s Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz. For the lightweight German team, today’s light winds gave them an important jump on their fellow Germans at the start of their Olympic trials. For the Dutch, however, they are sailing for the sake of being the best they can be, knowing that their chances of qualification for Rio 2016 are all but gone having underperformed at the Dutch trials earlier this year.
“Even if we win this championships or the Worlds, the other Dutch crew have already won the selection, so it’s out of our control,” says Bekkering. “We have to watch the other crew and see how they do.” That other team is Nina Keijzer and Claire Blom, who sit in 26th overall at the moment. They need to secure one of the remaining Olympic berths for their country at the 49er Worlds in Argentina this November.
The Danes, as ever, are right up at the front of the pack with three teams in the top seven. What’s slightly surprising is that the winners of the past two European Championships, Ida-Marie Nielsen and Marie Olsen, are the lowest placed of the three. Best of the Danes in third overall are the Schütt sisters, Maiken and Anne-Julie, one point ahead of Sweden’s Lisa Ericson and Hanna Klinga.
The big Atlantic swell is making for some exceptionally challenging sailing conditions, and many of the FX crews were complaining of achy knees and burning thighs with all the in-and-out of keeping the boats upright and moving through the ever-changing seascape. Even though Italy’s Giulia Conti had a successful outing, sitting in sixth overall with crew Francesca Clapcich, she is praying for more breeze tomorrow. “Come on! I am 30 years old, too old for these boats,” she laughed. “My knees need a rest so more wind for stretching the legs would be nice.”
Wednesday sees the FX fleet complete qualifying to determine who goes into Gold and Silver fleet finals. For the 49ers, it’s day two of qualifying. With a forecast of slightly more breeze, perhaps Conti and the other skiff athletes will be able to stretch their legs after all.