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Wild rides in Vilamoura kick starts European season

by Ben Remocker 19 Feb 21:56 PST 16-17 February 2019
2019 Portugal Grand Prix Vilamoura © Vilamoura Sailing

Vilamoura, Portugal, has been growing as a winter destination for the past few seasons. Regattas in December and now February attracted 109 and then 116 boats respectively across 49er, 49erFX, and Nacra 17.

The regatta this past weekend was a doozy, with big breeze and waves each of the days. Check out this video of 2018 European Champions Helene Naess and Marie Ronningen (NOR) in absolute survival mode heading downwind as they navigate a growing graveyard. That's skiff sailing at it's best!

The 49er fleet was the largest and deepest. Diego Botin and Iago Marra (ESP) hardly made any mistakes in the tough conditions, and had only one race outside of the top 10 to compliment three race wins to take the overall victory. They were pressed hard by James Peters and Fynn Sterritt (GBR) who was the only team to stay in the hunt with the Spaniards. Both teams had disappointing conclusions to the Miami World Cup only 10 days ago, being over early in the medal race, but rebounded in the much fresher conditions.

Five teams were in the hunt for the last spot on the podium, including both Polish teams and the 2018 World Champion Fantela Brothers, but it was Justus Schmidt and Max Boeme (GER) who won a tie break from the strength of their qualifying record.

The 49er fleet was somewhat depleted by the number of teams participating in Sail GP, which overlapped, and a very healthy down under circuit in both Auckland and Australia.

The 49erFX racing was a three way battle royale for the win. Going into the final race it was the 2018 World Champions, Bekkering and Duetz (NED), on 13 points, Dobson and Tidey (GBR) on 14 points, and Nielsen and Olsen (DEN) on 20 points.

The Danish multiple European Champions, took the final race, their second in a row to keep the pressure on, but it was the 2018 World Champions from the Netherlands who managed a second in the race to claim the title. Dobson and Tidey finished in 8th, and subsequently had to be satisfied with third overall after leading for much of the regatta.

In fourth place was Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz (GER), who had one of the best seasons of any in 2017, but sailed below their standards in 2018. The duo has always been strong in the lighter and medium winds, so perhaps a great finish in the breeze to start 2019 will be in indicator of a better season for them.

The Nacra 17 regatta the toughest to read into of the bunch. The Nacra 17 fleet is scattered all over the place, with some teams involved in Sail GP, others in Punte Del Este, Uruguay, plenty more training in Auckland, and then the further group who were in Portugal. There were still 28 teams participating, but many are new to their campaigns, including 2016 Gold medalist, Igor Marenic (CRO) who crewed the 470 to gold in Rio with Sime Fantela, and has now recently begun a Nacra 17 campaign.

At the front was Ben Saxton with Nicola Boniface (GBR) who were clearly on form, with 4 race wins from 8 races. It's been a revolving door of crews for Ben since Rio 2016, with five forward hands sailing with him at various times.

In second was Paul Kohloff and Alica Stuhlemmer (GER), who have finally completed their studies and are getting geared up for a full effort to Tokyo. The duo would have been the 2017 Junior World Champions, but due to the timing of boat distributions the title was not awarded that year. They have shown flashes of brilliance, and a determination to foil upwind, and now that they're full time sailing they could be a team to look out for.

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