For the seasoned campaigners who made it to Rio, and for those who didn’t, being back in their boat, fully engaged in the white heat of competition, racing on the renowned Bay of Palma is the perfect reminder of the enduring appeal of Olympic class racing. Indeed, for the majority, it could be considered a lifetime addiction.
Laser Radial World Champion Alison Young did not have the regatta she dreamed of in Rio. But she is back in the boat she loves, doing what she loves. After a fifth at the 2012 Olympics, then eighth in Rio there was, she says, no hesitation about whether to roll directly into the new cycle.
“There was no decision to be taken. I am really excited to be back. I really enjoy my Radial sailing. It is great to be back racing. I love Radial racing and I have such a great opportunity to keep getting better.” Young highlighted after opening with a second in the breezier first race and a fourth as the offshore drainage breeze faltered, became shiftier and finally expired in the very early afternoon.
She starts off in third overall behind the Netherlands Maxime Yonker who began with a 1,2 and Belgium’s 2012 bronze medallist Evi van Acker, another sailor whose passion for the Radial remains undimmed, who sailed a third and a first.
“I am a bit irritated to have made some silly mistakes and left some points out there. It was good racing in the NE’ly, good conditions for the first day of the regatta. It was pretty shifty and got more shifty through the day with bigger lulls and gusts. This week really is a bit of a learning opportunity. It is the first regatta back after a while. So here I am just getting back into the swing of things. It was a good solid day but I am irritated by these mistakes. They cost points.”
The contrast in conditions across the two races on the Laser race track was notable, the first contests for Women and Men enjoying a brisk 12-15kt breeze, the second saw lighter conditions.
Yonker is ready to press hard here after two months hard training on the Bay of Palma, driven by her slight disappointment at not coming away from the Sailing World Cup Miami event with a better result.
” I am really focused at this event. I want to keep it fun and enjoy it. I did an 11th in Miami and that was a bit disappointing after I had trained so hard. So here I was looking forwards to getting back out and racing again. So it is good to have a strong opening day after two months away from racing.”
The Dutch early leader stated, “The first race was stable and strong I started well and just hiked really hard. I managed to stay in front for the whole fleet. The second race was more puffy and tricky.”
Spain’s Joel Rodriguez, past Ladial Radial Youth World Champion, made the best start of the 134 strong Laser Standard fleet with a first and second ahead of Norway’s Mathias Mollat. The USA’s
Charlie Buckingham started his European campaign with a solid pair of scores, fifth and tenth: ” It was a good way to start the event. I could have started a bit better and a couple of decision did not go my way but it was solid. I love Palma. It is one of my favourite events and here I am just looking forwards to getting more racing in Europe this season. Here I am focusing on particular things, starts and upwinds. I want to do a lot of events this season, just trying to maximise my racing practice.” Buckingham was 11th in the Laser class in Rio and reflects:
“From Rio I learned a lot of things. Mostly there are smaller things I need to improve on but I think I am just looking to get more and more experience. There I think I finished probably where I should have, last quadrennial between seventh and 15th and now I just want to keep getting better and build my experience.”
For Sailing World Cup Miami 49er class winners Dylan Fletcher and 2012 Olympic 470 silver medallist Stuart Bithell, there is the excitement of putting the building blocks together as a new partnership which clearly had huge potential. Smart starting and hooking into the crucial first windshift was key to their pair of solid second places which put them at the top of the fleet after the first two races. A seventh in the third leaves them third, behind their compatriots James Peters and Fynn Sterrit who count a 1,3. All three top boats have the same four points tally.
Bithell is a big fan of Palma, happy to be back at the regatta after a two year absence:
” We are happy as a new team in the 49er. For us both it is different and really exciting. It is going really well at the minute after a really good winter of training. This week is a good week to see what we have learned and to learn more which we will hopefully take on to Hyeres.
Our objective this week? To win. We are looking to win but in fact we are not looking too much at the outcome. I know it’s boring to be saying that. But it is. There is a good fleet here with plenty of good guys, plenty of numbers.”
Assessing their first two races, achieved from the three which were raced, he finishes:
“It was really good. It was windier than we expected but really shifty coming off the land. We had a couple of good starts on the lifted tack and it was all good. It is lovely for me to be back here in Palma having had a couple of years away, perfect sailing conditions to start the European season.”
For the US 470 pair, too, Stuart McNay and Dave Hughes the choice to carry on was no big choice. According to helm McNay:
“I love sailing. It is not hard to go on. As long as my family say it is OK to keep going then I will be sailing. I love the sport. I love 470 sailing. I love Olympic sailing. It is the pinnacle of our small boat sailing.”
The Miami class winners McNay and Hughes lie third after the first two races: “It was good for an opener. We started towards the leeward end of the line both times and it turned out that the right hand end was a bit better. But we were able to keep fighting, we had good upwind speed there was plenty to play on the shifts and we had good downwind speed. And to end up with two solid scores is a good way to start. We are here to win, that is why we race. But it is the beginning of the season in Europe and we love racing in Palma. The class here is good. We have a number of guys from the Olympics and as well a whole crop of good younger guys coming up.”