At the 2012 470 European Championships, the Team of the Day Award unquestionably goes to Great Britain’s Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth, who notched up three race wins in the 470 Women fleet in challenging conditions to shift up the leader board and claim pole position.
Racing took place on the northerly race course area c, in another day of mixed weather conditions; opening with blue sky and 20 knots and ending in rain and light wind, with almost everything in between.
It was useful that a wind shift to the right in the starting sequence for the second race of the day arrived at the same time as a submarine worked its way past the course. With the new wind direction, the Race Committee had to wait for the sub to pass, before racing could resume.
At this halfway stage, there are three 470 Women teams who have established an edge in leader board points, and will be the targets for the rest of the fleet to aim for.
But today the race track was owned by the 'two Sophies' - Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth - as they served up a hat trick of race wins. One win is impressive; three is something special, particularly in the unpredictable and changing conditions that swept across the race course. Races 4 and 5 were not easy victories, with the team having to grind their way back through the fleet and pick off the other boats, but race 6 was an annihilation. The Sophies led from start to finish and roared through the finish line, before the next boat had even rounded the gybe mark, giving a clear message to the rest of the fleet.
Ainsworth said, 'We weren’t always looking so snazzy in the racing, but we kept fighting and our downwind speed was sort of a ‘get out of jail free card’. For the first two races the fleet was really close, and we had to keep our cool and take every opportunity we could.'
Commenting on facing off and beating teams who will be heading to the Olympics next month, Ainsworth modestly commented, 'We are training with Hannah and Sas and they are World Champions and going to the Olympics. That has brought our sailing along well. It just so happens that Great Britain is pretty good at sailing.'
The girls, who have not strayed outside the top three since the Championship started on Thursday, exchanged their third place overall going into the day with Annika Bochmann/Elisabeth Panuschka (GER); and give themselves a four point advantage over the second placed Slovenian Olympic team of Tina Mrak/Teja Cerne.
Behind these top three boats, there is then an eight point margin to next group on the leader board with Joanna Freeman/Katie Tomsett (GBR) and Enia Nincevic/Romana Zupan (CRO) just one point apart in fourth and fifth.
Race openings for each of today’s three races were looking better than they turned out to be for the Swiss pairing of Fiona Testuz/Anne-Sophie Thilo, who were in the top three at the first windward mark in every race. Pleased with their demonstration of potential, but disappointed not to sustain their form, Thilo said, 'Yes, I guess that if the race had stopped at the top mark, we would have had a very good day. Unfortunately we were not able to keep our place. We need much more experience, because our team is pretty new. It is a bit of everything, tuning, tactics, manoeuvers, and every time we lose some distance and then by the end of the race it makes a big difference. We are very happy, especially racing against the girls who are here training for the Olympics and it is a very positive point. But now we have to keep our mind clear and keep our place.'
Thilo, who competed at the 2008 Olympics with a different crew, teamed up with Testuz a year ago, whilst Testuz has jumped to the 470 from the Laser. Testuz herself is no stranger to elite competition, with past experience including racing in the one-person dinghy at the 2010 ISAF Youth Worlds. The team end day three of the Championship in sixth overall.
In the 470 Men fleet, points are shaping up to be close. Experience continues to pay and Croatia’s Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic took a race win and fourth place to consolidate their position and move to the front of the leaderboard.
Fantela said, 'The first race today was a long course, and it was only three boats fighting – us, Germany and Greece. It was close with the Greeks, they passed us and we then passed, but we eventually gained the lead. The second race was a really hard race. We had quite a good start under a black flag, the wind was shifting to the right, and many of the good guys stayed on the left expecting the wind to go right, but it didn’t. We were in the middle of the fleet and rounded mid-fleet and just worked hard to catch up. We again went to the left side of the upwind track and made up the places.'
Croatia up, and Ben Saxton/Richard Mason (GBR) lose the leader’s yellow jersey as they drop to second overall.
Of the four-boat British team here in Largs, Philip Sparks/David Kohler were the top performers and hauled themselves back into third overall on the leader board. In the first race of the day’s two races, with a steady 17 knot south easterly winds and a good swell providing the best conditions of the week so far, the British pair finished tenth out of the 32 boat fleet. Then, whilst the boats waited for course alterations caused by a sudden a shift in the wind, a submarine from the nearby naval base appeared with precision timing to add interest.
'It was certainly different and I’ve never see anything like that before and I’ve certainly never been that close to a submarine,' said Kohler.
'The second race there was a lot of cloud driven pressure and shifts, we came off the right hand side of the start line, went up the right hand side of the race track and popped out of the windward mark first just in front of the Turkish boat. The top reach was pretty fast with a proper breeze on and for the second beat it was hard work because it was patchy and shifty trying to position ourselves to cover the rest of the fleet without taking too many risks. It was difficult when it was changing so fast. But we managed to extend in that situation and have a safe downwind run, and rounded the bottom mark first,' explained Kohler who sailed at Largs during his formative years.
Kohler is proud to have taken a race win at this level of Championship, saying, 'This is our third first in a European Championship. We got a first in the last race of the European Championships last year, so we are pretty happy. The main thing is getting the consistency, that’s what is going to make more difference.'
Assessing the competition, Kohler continued, 'Sime and Igor are putting together a good score line as are Ben and Richard. For us I think it’s more about minimising the worst results rather than getting all the bullets.'
A day of two extremes for Greece’s Olympic representatives Panagiotis Kampouridis/Efstathios Papadopoulos (GRE) with their second place in race 5 ricocheting to a 22nd place performance in race 6, to knock them down to seventh overall by the end of the day. Kampouridis said, 'We had a nice battle with Sime in the upwind and managed to pass them in the second downwind, but on the last gybe to the mark we left a gap and they passed us again. The second race was not so good. The rain came and it is very difficult, we are not used to so much rain. But it is a good practice and after Largs we will think it is summer in Weymouth!'
Half-way stage in the Championship before the cut to Wednesday’s top ten Medal Race and the 470 Men fleet is still wide open.
Racing will again get underway at 1200 on Sunday’s race programme, with the 470 Women underway first with race 7 then the 470 Men. Two races are scheduled for each fleet.