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Olympic class news and an Ultim class showdown

by David Schmidt 3 Dec 2019 08:00 PST December 3, 2019
Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (USA) - Hyundai 49er, 49erFX & Nacra 17 Oceania Championship - Day 1 © Matias Capizzano

As the Midwest and East Coast shovel out from their first big storm of the year, and as Pacific Northwest skiers cry that all the snow is being wasted on flat surfaces (read: our mountains are still borderline green... trust me, I'm in this latter group), and as the rest of the country grapples with the sheer volume of last week's consumed holiday cheer, big things are happening in Olympic sailing circles. The 2019 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships, which are being hosted by the Royal Akarana Yacht Club, are unfurling this week (December 3-8) on the waters off of Auckland, New Zealand.

For U.S.-flagged sailors racing in these classes, this regatta represents the first of two regattas (the other being the 2020 Worlds for these same classes) that will decide the U.S. Olympic team berths. The teams that emerges from these two World Championship-level regattas with the lowest combined score will earn the right to represent the USA at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (July 24-August 9).

(For a deeper dive into the athlete selection process for U.S. sailors, please visit

The USA has sent five 49er teams (Andrew Mollerus & Ian MacDiarmid; Ian Barrows & Mitchell Kiss; Judge Ryan & Hans Henken; Harry Melges IV & Finn Rowe, and Nevin Snow & Dane Wilson), three 49er FX teams (Steph Roble & Maggie Shea; Paris Henken & Anna Tobias, and Kate Shaner & Kathleen Love), and three Nacra 17 teams (Riley Gibbs & Anna Weis; Sarah Newberry & David Liebenberg, and Ravi Parent & Caroline Atwood) to New Zealand.

As of this writing, the USA has already qualified to race at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the 49er FX and the Nacra 17, however one of the U.S.-flagged 49er teams will need to place amongst the top four countries that have not already earned their country berth for this high-performance skiff in order to secure a spot for an American team at next summer's Games.

While the stakes are high, both for country and individual sailor berths, the USA is entering this regatta with some positive momentum from the recent 2019 Oceania Championships (November 25-27), which were contested on the waters off Waitemata Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand. Impressively, two American-flagged teams finished in the top ten, with Steph Roble & Maggie Shea taking a proud second place in the 49er FX class, while Riley Gibbs & Anna Weis took home an eighth-place finish in the Nacra 17.

Less positive for fans of U.S. Olympic sailing is that the top-ranked 49er team with the letters USA on their mainsail (Andrew Mollerus & Ian MacDiarmid) finished in 15th place.

However, it's important to recognize that the 2019 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 World Championships represent a clean slate for U.S. sailors after the Oceania Championships, and we at Sail-World wish these sailors — and all competing athletes — good luck at this week's big regatta.

Meanwhile, switching gears from small, high-performance boats to huge and even higher-performance vessels, the Brest Atlantiques, which is a 14,000 nautical mile showdown involving double-handed Ultim trimarans racing in a massive figure-eight course on the North and South Atlantic Oceans, is drawing to a close, with some 920 nautical miles (at the time of this writing) separating Maxi Edmond de Rothschild's bows from the finishing line. Maxi Edmond de Rothschild is being crewed by co-skippers Franck Cammas and Charles Caudrelier, along with media pro Yann Riou.

Provided that no mishaps unfurl aboard Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, this leaves co-skippers Yves Le Blevec and Alex Pella, along with media pro Ronan Gladu, sailing aboard Actual Leader, and co-skippers Francois Gabart and Gwenole Gahinet, plus media pro Jeremie Eloy, sailing aboard Trimaran Macif, to battle for second and third places, respectively.

As of this writing, Trimaran Macif, which took a far more westerly routing, was some 2,200 nautical miles from the finishing line, while Actual Leader still has some 2,050 nautical miles to go before her crew can relax.

And if history is any guide, nothing about these remaining 2,000 nautical miles will be relaxing for these world-class skippers.

While this is a recipe for onboard stress and sleep deprivation, it's also a recipe that should yield some great armchair sailing for us landlubbers who are either nursing sore backs from shoveling snow, crying over their lack of good snow in the mountains (my hand is in the air), or trying to shake off that second (or fourth) slice of pumpkin pie.

May the four winds blow you safely home,

David Schmidt North American Editor

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