Of the Australian Nacra 17 campaigners Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis were last to launch their Rio campaign in 2014, but with three Olympic silver medals between them, with Bundy, 14 times World Champion in a range of multihull classes were considered favourites.
They started well with a World Cup win and a string of podium places but the wheels have been wobbling a little in recent times, while Jason Waterhouse and cousin Lisa Darmanin have been steadily improving with a third placing at the ISAF Worlds in Santander an excellent result.
Euan McNicol, a former coach and Lucinda Whitty, an Olympic silver medallist finished top of the group with an eight placing in Palma a few weeks ago, having been tail-gunners for much of the last year.
So this first World Cup regatta of the European season is critical for the three Australian teams in their bids for Rio selection.
Waterhouse is happy with the progress he and Daminan are making ‘We set a goal at the beginning of last year to podium at the World Championships and we did that with our third in Santander.
‘We placed sixth the year before and Lisa and I we set pretty high our benchmarks for ourselves and the goal wasn’t to be the top Aussie. The goal was to improve ourselves as sailors and we did that pretty well. We battled pretty hard at the beginning of the year putting expectations on ourselves but Lisa did great. We pulled it together on the game day and to be not only the top Aussie but a medal was great.
‘We are one of the youngest teams here let alone the top ten in the world so to compete with someone like Darren Bundock, two times silver medallist. We have got Fernando Echavarri, the Spanish gold medallist from Beijing, Santiago Lange two bronze medals and also Billy Besson obviously. It’s really difficult to keep up with those guys tactically and Lisa is doing a great job keeping the boat going forward and I am doing my best to keep up and improve our strategic racing.
‘At the end of the day we are not working towards going to Rio as the Australian selection.
‘We want to be going there to win a gold medal and I think that is it really important to understand that we can’t be looking over our shoulders at the other Aussies when we have got a bigger job to do, which is to win this gold medal.
‘Billy Besson is an amazing sailor and he has proved that not just this campaign but in the F18 he has been winning world championships and in the C class campaign. Billy is incredible. But the fleet is catching him. Not only Billy we got to watch out but these other sailors, the Dutch, the Kiwis, the Spanish. Everyone is in it and the one design racing is really intense so we just need to improve ourselves as both athletes and sailors and I think at the end of the day we just take it from there. That’s all we can do.’
Bundock was up front – ‘we had a good start to our campaign but have had some mixed results recently. In Palma we obviously had a devastating start on the first day breaking our mast but then after that we bounced back really well despite being delegated back to silver fleet because of that.
‘It was our good mast that we broke so we are just getting another mast up to speed and we have found we had a little bit of a weakness in a few little areas and we have just been trying to tune our rig to get that fixed. ‘
This would see just a minor setback for these seasoned campaigners but Sail-World has been told by a number of Nacra 17 campaigners that variation in the stiffness of the one design masts means that the speed differences between good masts versus backups can be significant.
Nina Curtis puts a positive spin on their bad luck ‘The class is always moving forwards and people are always trying different things and things that you had written off a year ago are starting to pop up and proving to be quite fast again with the new set up and all the rest of it so you just can’t for one second think that you have got speed under control.
‘I guess it could be a good thing breaking our mast. We have had fully tune up a new mast, reassess everything and kind of start from scratch again in a really short period of time but I feel like we have been working really hard to make sure that we are trying to plug all of our weaknesses.’
But looking ahead no matter who grabs the Australia Nacra 17 slot, as Waterhouse is very much aware the French team of Billy Besson and Marie Riou is definitely consolidating their position at the top of the fleet.
But all is not lost in the battle for Rio Gold, as Bundy explains ‘Billy has set the benchmark for the last two years really. I have seen that before in other classes and it will be interesting to see whether he can hold that right through to the Olympics.
‘We saw in the 49er class leading up to the Sydney Games that that wasn’t the case and I was in the position myself eight years ago (in Qingdao) and we actually got beaten for the gold medal. We walked away with a silver. It is not always great to be the one dominating all the time.
‘I think Billy has still got a bit of an edge but then from the rest of the fleet the next 12 boats, there is nothing between them. It is interesting that Billy still just has that little step ahead of everyone but it is definitely getting smaller for sure. So time will tell.’
And it will indeed, time starts here in Hyeres.
by Rob Kothe and Jedda Murphy