Famously challenging, the conditions in Miami have had their effect on sailors competing in the Sailing World Cup Miami this week. Wednesday marks the halfway point in the regatta, and a handful of the fleets are seeing some unexpected shuffling at the top.
Tom Burton, Robert Scheidt and Charlie Buckingham—names we typically see at the top of the Laser fleet— are all sailing well, but finishing in the high single digits so far this week. Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) [ranked 14th in the world] is currently leading the charge. The 28-year-old from the Netherlands is excelling in Miami’s light air.
“I prefer the lighter air because I’m not really a physical sailor,” says van Schaardenburg. “I don’t like to hike hard, I’d rather sail in light and shifty conditions because it really can be anyone’s game.” He has already secured his Olympic team spot and continues to train with teammate Nicholas Heiner, currently fourth overall, and who van Schaardenburg names as his former rival. “We joined teams to prove ourselves against each other,” says van Schaardenburg. Both Dutch sailors are performing well downwind, despite the constantly shifting breeze. “It makes it easier for me to extend my lead over the others,” says van Shaardenburg of his downwind strength. “It’s a long regatta and the conditions will likely change this week, so I am going to focus on staying solid and consistent.”
Anne-Marie Rindom, the young Radial ringer from Denmark and current world champion, is working her way up the class but will have to face China’s Lijia Xu in the medal race. Xu, who won gold in London, announced in December that she would be making a last-minute run for China’s Olympic berth, to the delight of Rindom. “It’s exciting for me, because we now have the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from 2012 to sail against,” said Rindom in an interview earlier this year. “It would be awesome to beat all of them, and now I have the opportunity to do so.”
Rindom and Xu are sailing in different fleets and on Monday both posted bullets in the day’s sole race. In her fleet, Xu now holds a slight lead over Evi van Acker and Emma Plasschaert, both from Belgium. “The last two days have been light, which I’m good at and performed well,” says Xu. “I know clearly how much fitness I need to improve to sail well in medium and strong wind. The next few days’ forecast is for strong wind, and I am eager to have more races in to practice in those conditions in which I am yet to be in fast shape.”
Also in the Radial class, Paige Railey and Erika Reineke sit just one point apart, in 16th and 17th place, respectively. The World Cup Miami serves as the first of two events for the US Sailing Team Sperry team selection (the other being Laser Radial Europeans in Las Palmas, Spain, in February). Railey, however, has consistently out-performed Reineke this quad. Light winds have been a challenge for the intensely physical Railey in the past, though her gold medal at the Pan American games in 2015 proved she’s improved in that skill set. With the forecast ramping up this week, Railey will be in her comfort zone.
The US Sailing Teams selection in the Nacra 17 also begins in Miami, with the class Worlds in Clearwater immediately after serving as the second of two selection events. While the newly formed team of Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee, who have been sailing together for less than two weeks, is posting strong results, it’s the husband-wife duo of Mark and Carolina Mendleblatt who are the surprising dark horse in the U.S. bracket. Carolina was an Olympian in the RS:X, racing for Brazil in 2004 and was slated to compete for Portugal in 2012, pulling out just before the games. “She’s used to the speed, but I’m used to sailing slow monohulls,” says Mark. “It’s hard competition racing in this fleet. We’ve had our ups and downs already. We’ve got 10 more races to go and 15 at Worlds, and that’s it before we find out who goes to the Olympics. It all really counts.” The Mendleblatts, who currently hold the third place position in the fleet, finished 37th in their first race on Tuesday when a bad start put them too far behind to make up many boats. “Starts in this fleet are paramount, and the courses are short so you have to get it right,” he says.
The Mendleblatts aren’t the only family team in the Nacra class, where Australian cousins Lisa Darmanin and Jason Waterhouse are just holding the lead over Netherland’s Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning. “We sailed really well as a team today and Jas did a great job sending us in the right direction, while I was busy at the front,” said Darmanin in a statement released by the Australian Sailing Team. “Miami has proved as tricky as always with light breezes. It’s a really intense fleet here for the Nacra 17 being the qualification for most boats and around 50 Nacras keeping us on our toes. We’re happy to be in the lead after some consistent sailing and the plan is to keep chipping away.”
It’s also a family affair for Argentinian sailing legend Santiago Lange and his crew Cecilia Sarol, who sit in third place in the Nacra at the end of racing on Tuesday. His sons, Yago and Klaus, are sailing together in the 49er, a class which is wide-open due to the absence of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who have won the last 23 regattas they’ve entered in the 49er. While it was easy to expect that New Zealand’s Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen would stand in, especially after their impressive performance at the Worlds in Argentina against the Australians (finishing second), it’s Austria’s “Team NickoMania” (Nico Delle Karth and Niko Resch) that has stepped in to the first place spot. They hold a 10 point lead over James Peters Fynn Sterritt (GBR). The gap is big enough, but there are still four full days of racing.
To follow along, visit http://www.sailing.org/worldcup/results/index.php. Live streaming of Saturday’s medal races will be available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V2YQYar0IU&feature=youtu.be