Clearwater Worlds: Survival Conditions Challenge Competitors & U.S. Olympic Hopefuls

Big breeze and waves were on during the first day of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 Worlds.
Brad Funk Trevor Burd 49er
US Sailing Team Sperry 49er sailors Brad Funk and Trevor Burd. Jen Edney/US Sailing Team Sperry

High winds and unforgiving waves challenged competitors on Day One of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida. One race was completed for the Men’s 49er and Mixed Nacra 17, while the Women’s 49erFX fleets were held onshore. For the US Sailing Team Sperry, the highlight performance of the day was a 7th place finish by 49er athletes and Olympic hopefuls Brad Funk and Trevor Burd, with finished 7th in the 49er Yellow division.

The Clearwater Worlds is the first Olympic-classes World Championship event to be held in the United States in over five years, and many of the best sailors competing today are on Florida’s Gulf Coast this week. The event also serves as the final U.S. Olympic Team selection event for American athletes in these three classes.

49er (Men’s Two-Person High Performance Skiff)


Funk and Burd have been the top U.S. performers in the 49er since 2014, and delivered another strong showing today despite the near-survival conditions off Clearwater Beach. While the high-performance two-person skiff can be capably raced in high winds, large waves present a tough change to all those who sail these notably unstable and athletic boats.
“We got through it, and had a good race,” said Funk, who is a Clearwater native. “We were talking a lot on the boat throughout the race today, feeding each other information and trying to minimize mistakes. We kept risky tacks and gybes to a minimum, and finished strong.”

Funk also noted that a critical moment in the race came during the second upwind leg, when they noticed that some seaweed had snared their rudder, slowing them significantly. “We were in the middle of the pack halfway through the race, and had to clear our foil, which is tough to do without totally stopping,” explained Funk. “I had to hand the tiller off to Trevor, and clear the weeds with my hand as quickly as possible.” Burd noted that it was moments like these that can show the strength of a team. “It’s not a move we get to practice too much, but it worked out well today.”

US Sailing Team Sperry sailors Thomas Barrows and Joe Morris ) entered the event with confidence after finishing as the top American team at January’s Sailing World Cup Miami (a U.S. Olympic Team selection event), but today faced significant adversity. “We had some bad luck, as we started well but tacked early, which put us in a bad spot on the course,” said Morris, who also said they felt that their speed was strong. “A lot of people flipped, but we were able to stay up. This was probably not a keeper score for us, but we’ll move on. Not breaking a rig or getting injured today was key.”

Sarah Newberry Matthew Whitehead Nacra 17
Sarah Newberry and Matthew Whitehead, US Sailing Team Sperry Jen Edney/US Sailing Team Sperry

Nacra 17 (Mixed Two-Person Multihull)

After one race, the top American Nacra 17 team is the US Sailing Team Sperry’s Sarah Newberry and Matthew Whitehead, who took 18th in the day’s only race, followed closely by Mark Mendelblatt and Carolina Mendelblatt, and Michael Easton and Katie Pettibone.

Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee , the top American team at Sailing World Cup Miami, took 30th in a tough opening race. “We felt we were sailing strong, but towards the end of the race we were pretty sure we hit a weed patch,” said Chafee. “Regardless, we are feeling confident for the rest of the regatta. Tomorrow’s forecast looks good, so we get should some quality racing in.”

USSTS Nacra 17 Sailors
US Sailing Team Sperry Nacra 17 sailors Bora Gulari (left) and Team Newberry/Whitehead recap the race onshore. Will Ricketson/US Sailing Team Sperry

Coaching Gulari and Chafee at the Worlds is two-time U.S. Olympic Team silver medalist Randy Smyth, who said it was good to be back on the Olympic scene. “Coaching is certainly a different challenge than competing yourself, and offers a much different perspective,” said Smyth. “I’m trying to be the coach I never had. The goal is to get the sailors what they need, and be ahead of the eight ball as often as possible.” Smyth medaled at the Los Angeles 1984 and Barcelona 1992 Games in the Tornado multihull, and said he thought the new Nacra 17 presented interesting challenges for sailors. “The cool thing about the Nacra 17 is that it has so many gears. You have to totally change your setup even between tacks on the same leg. You’re forever trying to find the right control configuration to achieve maximum speed.”

Racing will continue on Day Two of the 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida, with medal races being held on Sunday, February 14, 2016.