The Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mapfre - ISAF Sailing World Cup Palma, for one week, at least, is the centre of the Olympic sailing world with the best sailors competing to reach the next level.
For Asenathi Jim and Roger Hudson (RSA), Palma de Mallorca is the obvious place to be after training for the last six months in South Africa. Like them, another 70 teams from other continents have made the trip to Europe to follow the Sailing World Cup circuit. Jim and Hudson along with 470 team partners Ricky and Brennan Robinson are the only two teams from Africa. However over 50 sailors have come from South America and mostly from Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. North America and the Asia Pacific region are also well represented with a strong contingent from Australia and New Zealand.
Running an Olympic campaign for a non-European team is not easy and requires good funding and logistic, with much of the time spent away from home.
Jim and Hudson started their London 2012 Olympic Games campaign two years before the first starting gun at Weymouth and Portland, Great Britain and qualified for their first Olympic Games at the 470 Worlds in Barcelona, Spain just months before it all began.
'The first two years are the hardest in a campaign, you have to brake the ground, get funding and learn,' said the South Africans. 'For us it was a steep learning curve, we got lots of help from other teams, especially the Australians Mat and Malcolm. We are young to the boat so didn't stop much after the Olympic Games and have been training full on.' The pair finished second at ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne to boost their ranking points at the 200-point event.
The pair added, 'We have the chance to have now the support of our three sponsors: Synerg, Openbox and Southern charter as well as the South African federation who has purchased five new boats. The plan is to leave them in South Africa and develop a fleet so we don't have to travel to train or be on our own.'
A second team has already joined rank with the Robinson brothers who are also competing in Palma. For Ricky and Brennan, sailing runs in the family blood. Their mother Gill competed in the 470 in the first 'IYRU' Worlds in La Rochelle, France in 1992.
'We have started sailing together when we were 13 years old,' explained Ricky. 'Our little brother Ryan is also sailing in the 420 and will race in Cyprus for the ISAF Youth World. It is good to be here racing and learning from Roger and Jim and all the guys here are very helpful!'.
For the South African teams, developing a local fleet is one of the key to travel less, another solution for them is to invite their 470 friends to come and train in Cape Town over winter. 'We will not travel so much for this campaign and want to train in South Africa as much as possible' added Hudson.
So far the Trofeo Princesa Sofía Mapfre is going according to plan for Asenathi and Roger who have for objective to finish in the top quarter of the fleet. After four races they stand in 16th position with only top ten results. 'I love racing in Palma,' said Jim, 'I like the variations in the weather, the wind was very tactical today, if you make a bad call it can cost a lot.'
A world number one and number two battle is in waiting at the top of the fleet as Matias Schmid and Florian Reichstaedter (AUT) lead the world’s top team, Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) by three points after four races.
In the Women’s 470 fleet Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) proved their opening day perfect score was no fluke with further consistent race results that include two seconds. They lead Enia Nincevic and Romana Zupan (CRO) by eight points at the top of the leader board. Women’s world number one crew Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Barbachan (BRA) are third.
Alison Young (GBR) continued to take the Radial fleet by storm after another emphatic day that resulted in two race wins making it four in a row. Just five points behind is Danish London 2012 Olympian Anne-Marie Rindom who is looking forward to what is to come over the next few days when she meets Young, 'I’m doing what I can; I’m just trying to take every race as it comes,' said Rindom. 'It’s going to be very exciting because it’s a new format and I have never sailed it before and it goes down to the last race. It’s a new challenge for everybody.'
As sailors begin preparing for Rio 2016, two Laser sailors that could feature heavily at the front of the fleet may be world number one Tom Burton (AUS) and world number two Philipp Buhl (GER). Just 13 ranking points separate the talented pair and with three races win apiece they are proving to be the ones to beat. Sixteen points is the difference from first to 12th so if slip ups happen either changes will happen over the next couple of days.
Just three points separate Jonathan Lobert (FRA), Giles Scott (GBR), Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) and Andrew Mills (GBR) at the peak of the Finn fleet. Scott has stepped back into the Finn after missing out on London 2012 selection and continues to show he’s one the most dangerous Finn sailors about. After four races the competition will only improve as the competition approaches the midway point.
The Nacra 17 and 49erFX sailors took to the water after a breezy opening day that forced their races to be postponed.
Mandy Mulder and Thijs Visser (NED) are the early pacesetters on three points that includes a race win and a third, but a discarded DNC in Race 3 will mean they’ll have to be at their best to avoid finishes further down the fleet. Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank (AUT) and Renee Groeneveld and Karel Begemann (NED) complete the top three at this early stage.
Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen (DEN) used their five years of skiff sailing experience to full effect as the 49erFX fleet were kept busy throughout the day with four races. The Danish girls revelled in the wind and took three race wins to lead world number two crew Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) by nine points. The Danish team’s skiff sailing strength is prevalent in the fleet and Jena Mai Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen are third overall.
In the 49er fleet, Julien D’Ortoli and Noe Delpech (FRA) and Carlos and Anton PazBlanco (ESP) have the early lead after four races.
Toni Wilhelm (GER) and Maayan Davidovich (ISR) continue to set the pace in the Men’s and Women’s RS:X. The German added a third bullet to the openings day double race wins and the Israeli knocked up a pair of wins.