by Fiona Brown
From 5-13 September 2013, 77 Dragon crews from 26 nations and three continents came together in Weymouth Bay to race for the hotly contested Gazprom International Dragon World Championship. The fleet included no less than six Olympic medalists, multiple World and Continental Champions and several America's Cup Veterans. With only the top teams from each nation represented there were at least 20 contenders in with a good chance of victory and the scene was set for a truly exceptional week of sporting competition.
Gazprom International Dragon Worlds
As if taking on the best the Dragon fleet has to offer was not enough of a challenge, the weather gods decided to throw the competitors and race committee a curve ball by delivering atypical north westerly winds that were extremely shifty in direction and variable in strength.
On the opening day double Gold Olympic medalist Poul Richard Hoj-Jensen gave clear notice that he would like to become the first three time Dragon World Champion by winning race won in impressive style. Silver and Bronze Olympic Medalist Ulli Libor took second and three time Russian Olympian Andrey Kirilyuk, who only found out he was helming in the event when owner Dmitry Samokhin was forced to pull out at the 11th hour, took third. A number of the top teams had a very difficult opening day with defending world champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist Lawrie Smith 23rd, reigning Gold Cup champion Markus Wieser sailing for the Ukrain 18th and double Gold Cup and 2007 world champion Tommy Mueller 23rd.
Smith's less than great opening day was made a whole lot worse when middleman Tim Tavinor severely injured his hand in a minor collision back at the dock which meant he could not sail for the rest of the regatta. Fortunately Bill Masterman was able to step in at the last minute, but with no practice time they struggled to regain their pace.
Gazprom International Dragon Worlds
Day two saw the fleet spend six hours on the water as race officer Tim Hancock and his team did everything they could to get a race in. They had sufficient wind strength, but it lacked directional stability and eventually they were forced to send everyone home.
Hoj-Jensen consolidated his lead on day three with a fifth followed by a particularly hard fought and well deserved win to give him a five point lead over Kirilyuk who won race two and then finished seventh in race three. Hendrick Witzmann of the United Arab Emirates pulled up into third overall, whilst Ulli Libor had a difficult day and tumbled down the rankings.
Although the plan was for two races on day four, once again the weather refused to cooperate and only one was possible. Hoj-Jensen found himself on the wrong side of a starboard end line pile up and could only manage 34th. Up ahead battle royal was raging as Kirilyuk, Mueller, Mark Dicker from the UK, Wieser, Portugal's Diogo Barros, Denmark's Lar's Hendriksen, the UK's Klaus Diederichs and Germany's Michael Schmidt all vying for the lead. On the line it was Hendriksen, Kirilyuk, Wieser, Diederichs, Schmidt and Mueller. Kirilyuk was now the overall leader with a 14 point advantage over Diederichs with Witzmann third and Hoj-Jensen fourth.
Despite an initial three hour wait for wind two more races were run on day five. In race five the lead changed on every leg with Hungary's Ferenc Kis-Szolgyemi eventually winning from Holland's Peter Heerema with Sweden's Martin Palsson third. Diederichs was initially buried down in the 20s but sailed an impressive race to finish fourth while Kirilyuk took ninth. Race six went to Switzerland's Hugo Steinbeck with Diederichs second and Dicker third.
Going into the final day Kirilyuk had a narrow two point lead on Diederichs who was already assured of second place. Wieser was 17 points adrift in third with Kis-Szolgyemi just one point behind him. Hendriksen and Witzmann were fifth and six, both seven points behind Wieser. The stage was set for a spectacular show down.
From the off Kirilyuk, crewed by Aleksey Bushuev and top match racer Alina Dotsenko, and Diederichs, crewed by British Olympian and America's Cup veteran Andy Beadsworth and Jamie Lea, went into match race mode. To win Diederichs had to get two boats between them or sail Kirilyuk down below 18th place so the game was on and it was clear that neither party was frightened to engage. Andy Beadsworth takes up the story:
Gazprom International Dragon Worlds
'We picked him up with about seven minutes to go to the start just to see what would happen, see if we could rattle his cage. Nothing too serious or aggressive. He just parked up and we sat there on port with us behind him at a stand still and then we decided to get to the right of him and he didn't do anything so we sat there with our sails flapping. Then there was 30 seconds to go and we're behind the fleet with our sails flapping. So we started to sheet in and go and he sheeted in and went and we started on port behind the fleet. We must have been maybe two or three lengths behind on port tack thinking that the job was pretty much done by then. Then he tacked off after the start and we tacked off on his hip and thought - wow were in about fifth here - which was a bit of a surprise.'
At the first mark Diederichs rounded in fifth and Kirilyuk in the high teens. At the first gate Diederichs had dropped into sixth while Kirilyuk had moved up to 11th. On the second lap Kirilyuk made huge gains and approached the final gate only three boats back. He executed an excellent rounding gaining two boats in the process so whilst Diederichs still had good distance on him he no longer had those crucial places.
Up the final beat Diederichs drove Kirilyuk off to the supposedly unfavoured left in a desperate bid to work him down the fleet and put boats from the favoured right between them. It was all looking pretty good until about half way up when another big shift suddenly put them both back at the front of the fleet. A frustrated Diederichs did everything he could including slowing right down and wedging his main up the track to give Kiriyuk bad air in the hope that when they came back to the main fleet there would be sufficient boats between them, but no matter what they did they just kept gaining on the boats to the right.
On the line Dicker won the race in impressive style, with Mueller second and Hoj-Jensen third, but all the attention was turned back down the track as Diederichs finished in ninth followed by Mark Wade and Julia Bailey, Kirilyuk, Valeriy Ushkov and Markus Wieser in close succession.
Initially Diederichs and his team thought that Kirilyuk had done enough to win it and returned home despondent. But on attempting to congratulate Kirilyuk back ashore they discovered that their mental arithmetic was faulty and that they had in fact claimed the Royal Hellenic Trophy and the right to call themselves Dragon World Champions by a single point margin. Wieser meanwhile had done an impressive job of controlling his nearest rivals crossing in 14th place and securing the third step on the podium. At the prize giving an emotional Diederich's acknowledged the incredible quality of his competitors, giving particular praise to Kirilyuk and his team for their extraordinary performance. 'They were worthy competitors. It was a very emotional moment and we are all very proud and honoured to win this trophy.' (click for round up video report and post racing winners interview).
Whist Poul Richard Hoj-Jensen, crewed by Andrew Norden and Hamish Mackay, didn't quite manage to claim a record third overall Dragon World Championship he did win the Corinthian title for all amateur crews making him the only man to have ever claimed both divisions of the championship. Philip Dohse took second Corinthian with Philipp Ocker third. At the prize giving Hoj-Jensen paid tribute to the great strength of the Corinthian Dragon fleet and to the quality of the Corinthian competition.
Speaking after the prize presentation British Dragon Association Chairman Martin Makey noted, 'We've been extremely proud to welcome competitors from as far afield as Australia and Japan. Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy has proven to be an excellent venue and Race Officer Tim Hancock and his team truly came through for the class. Of course events like this aren't possible without sponsor support and I'd like to thank our publicity partner Gazprom International, associate sponsors Aberdeen Asset Management and BMW, and the host of prize and social sponsors who have helped make the event such a success. And finally a huge thank you to our team of BDA committee members and volunteers who have worked to hard to achieve this event.'
Looking back on the championship it is interesting to note that not only was the fleet of exceptionally high quality but it encompassed a wonderful cross section of sailors. The youngest competitor was 12 year old Will Heritage, crewing for Julia Bailey, and the oldest 86 years young Gordon Ingate, who skippered Gretel II in the 1977 America's Cup. The youngest helm prize went to 21 year old Charlotte Ten Wolde, who finish a very credible 44th with a best result of 12th in race four. It is also notable how many family teams were racing in the regatta; brothers Quentin and Simon Strauss crewed by Nigel Young finished tenth and brother and sister Mark and Selina Dicker crewed by their cousin James Campbell and Katie Barr finished 16th, to name but two.
Overall Top 10
1. Klaus Diederichs - GBR758 - (16),13,2,4,4,2,9 - 34
2. Andrey Kirilyuk - RUS76 - 4,1,7,2,9,(21),12 - 35
3. Markus Wieser - UKR7 - 17,2,(43),3,13,7,14 - 56
4. Ferenc Kis-Szolgyemi - HUN57 - 11,3,(34),8,1,20,16 - 59
5. Hendrik Witzmann - UAE20 - 9,7,3,18,17,15,(20) - 69
6. Valeriy Ushkov - RUS77 - 6,8,13,15,14,(24),13 - 69
7. Lars Hendriksen - DEN138 - 13,15,(DSQ),1,11,11,22 - 73
8. Poul Richard Hoj-Jensen - GBR775 - 1,5,1,34,30,(45)3 - 74
9. Lawrie Smith - GBR785 - 22,6,18,9,(49),17,8 - 80
10. Quentin Strauss - GBR708 - 10,12,16,25,16,(32),6 - 85
Corinthian Top Five
1. Poul Richard Hoj-Jensen - GBR775 - 1,1,1,10,8,(15),1 - 22
2. Philip Dohse - GER1042 - (BFD),2,2,7,5,4,8 - 28
3. Philipp Ocker - GER1135 - 3,18,(19),2,9,2,7 - 41
4. Willy Packer - AUD225 - (BFD),12,6,13,2,6,3 - 42
5. Remy Arnaud - FRA396 - 2,3,(25),17,4,3,15 - 44
The next Dragon World Championship will take place in La Rochelle in 2015. The 2014 Dragon European Championship will be held in San Remo from 25-29 March and the 2014 Gold Cup will take place from 5-12 September in Medemblik.
Int Dragon website