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Star Class World Championship returns to Kiel

by Hermann Hell 14 Jul 04:08 PDT 31 August - 12 September 2021
Exciting star boat scenes. Here the former European Champions Hubert Merkelbach/Kilian Weise (Überlingen) are ahead of the freshly crowned reigning European Champions Enrico Chieffi/Ferdinando Colaninno (Italy). © regate.com.hr

The Star Class World Championship returns to Kiel. After 1939, 1966, 1977 and 1993, the world's best keelboat sailors will compete in the state capital of Schleswig-Holstein to crown their world champions.

Due to the postponement of Kiel Week to September 4-12, the World Championships (September 4-11) have been integrated into it and the Junior World Championships (August 31-September 3) have been docked in the run-up to it.

"We are very pleased to host the Star Class World Championship with us," said Head of Organization of the Kiel Week regattas and the Kiel Yacht-Club, Dirk Ramhorst. Most recently, former Star World President, DSV President and KYC Commodore Dierk Thomsen, who passed away in 2020, had brought a Star European Championship to Kiel. "It was his boat, his class, we will remember him at the event," Ramhorst said.

And Thomsen, who has repeatedly advocated the star boat as an Olympic class, would have been delighted with this world championship, because the participating sailors demonstrate the unique importance of the almost seven-meter-long two-handed keelboat: A touch of the America's Cup, Ocean Race and Olympics will blow through Schilksee when the currently registered 50 crews from 13 nations compete in Kiel.

The longest distance recorded the Argentinian crew Juan Kouyoumdijan/Fernando Rivero, who, however, live in Italy. Kouyoumdjian (born 1971) is a successful sailor and designer of racing and cruising yachts worldwide. The Argentine gained his first America's Cup experience with the French team Le Défi in 1995, and was a member of the design team for BMW ORACLE Racing in the 32nd edition of the America's Cup. In 2020, he moved to the Italian team Prada.

However, Kouyoumdjian's greatest successes to date have come with his designs for the Volvo Ocean Race. He designed the winning yacht for three editions of this regatta: "ABN AMRO 1", winning yacht in the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006, "Ericsson 4", winning yacht in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-2009, and "Groupama 4", winning yacht in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.

Personally, he always remained faithful to the star boat. At the European Championship in Croatia, Kouyoumdijan/Rivero finished fourth.

The European Championship title was awarded to Enrico Chieffi/Ferdinando Colaninno (Italy). Chieffi took part as navigator in the Louis Vuitton Cup, the qualifying round for the America's Cup (1992 and 2000), and has thus already had a taste of America's Cup atmosphere. The Italian has also gained Olympic experience (1984 and 1996). Therefore, Chieffi is automatically one of the favorites ahead of Kiel.

In Croatia, Chieffi relegated Hubert Merkelbach/Kilian Weise from Überlingen to second place. In Kiel, the European Champion and the Vice-European Champion will meet again. The newly crowned German champions Merkelbach/Weise were four points behind the European champions. No wonder Hubert Merkelbach, Star Class President and dethroned European Champion, is looking forward to the revenge - even if it will be a tough task.

"Top ten is realistic, everything else depends on the performance on the day," says Merklebach cautiously. The 58-year-old has only been sailing together with Kilian Weise (27) since last year. "The communication on board is right. Kilian brings the young, dynamic element on board, I can bring in the routine," says Merkelbach, who hopes that the field of participants will still grow. The pandemic has especially stymied overseas entries. "We're still recruiting in the U.S. and South America. I expect some last-minute entries," says the class president. 60 to 70 crews are still expected to enter by the entry deadline on August 7.

In May, the bronze medal was awarded to Cuban-born Augie Diaz, now a U.S. citizen, who competed in the Barcadi Cup in Miami, USA, as well as in the European Championships with "reserve crew" and finished third on both occasions. Whereas at the European Championships it was the Austrian Hans Christian Nehammer, in the USA Marcus Koy stepped into Diaz's star.

Koy, a sailing professional born in Wedel, will now have to do without his side job as a co-presenter and expert on Kieler WocheTV, but with his Danish helmsman Jörgen Schönherr, the two-metre man is one of the favorites on the fjord. In March, at the traditional Barcadi Cup, he demonstrated that the Star boat crew is familiar for him. The local hero Augie Diaz faced a situation without his Brazilian crewmember, and Koy's regular helmsman Schönherr was not allowed to enter the country due to the pandemic. So the multiple Snipe and Star World Champion (2016) and the multiple German Champion came together and won bronze right away.

At the European Championship in Croatia, Marcus Koy climbed back on board with Schönherr, but had to settle for rank ten. On his home waters, Koy is now setting his ambitions higher again. He has already had a taste of the America's Cup and was a crew member of the United Internet Team Germany in the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007. After that, the North Sails consultant concentrated on the Star and has already won three European Championship titles with three different helmsmen - with Robert Stanjek (2008), Johannes Polgar in 2010 and Hubert Merkelbach (2014).

But the list of favorites at the Star World Championship is even longer. Chieffi's compatriot Mario Borroi - with whom Frithjof Kleen (2008 Olympic sixth) once achieved victories - with Edward Wight on the board, the Swiss crew Piet Eckert/Frederico Melo as European Championship eleventh-placed, last year's European Championship third-placed, Johann Spitzauer/Hans-Christian Nehammer from Austria, and the seven-boat-strong Danish fleet around Jörgen Schönherr are also expected to play a role in the awarding of medals.

The entrance of strong men

After the Finn's Olympic elimination, big, weightier men lack an Olympic boat class. Germany's best Finn sailors Phillip Kasüske (VSaW) and Max Kohlhoff (NRV) therefore ended their Olympic ambitions and are now trying the former Olympic two-man keelboat.

Max Kohlhoff has entered with Ole Burzinski for the Junior World championship. Kasüske, who just won the Ocean Race Europe from Lorient/France via Cascais/Portugal and Alicante/Spain to Genoa/Italy with skipper Robert Stanjek (Star boat Olympic sixth in 2012 in London) as grinder on board the "Einstein" (IMOCA of Offshore Team Germany/owner Jens Kupahl), will compete with the experienced crew Michael Schulz at the Junior Worlds as well as at the World Championships. Kasüske/Schulz have already shown at the International German Star Championship (IDM) in June as sixth that they can compete and sail in the class.

Jan Borbet/Jesper Spehr (third in the IDM) are also in action in Kiel. The former successful 420 sailor from Remscheid Borbet was joined by Jesper Spehr (Malente-Gremsmühlen) as crew.

"Our goal must be to attract new blood to the class," says Helge Spehr, head of the Kiel Star fleet, who sees youth development as the biggest challenge. With his son Jesper, the efforts to attract young talent have already fallen on fertile ground. At the IDM in June, the son placed nine places ahead of his father. "A total of five junior crews have placed in the top ten," says international class boss Hubert Merkelbach, who is also pleased with Germany's young talent.

In the Junior World Championship, the helmsman must be under 30 years old. The program only works through sponsorship. "This includes boat, support and coaching opportunities," says Merkelbach, who emphasizes the North German commitment based in Flensburg around Robert Stanjek, but he also looks to Austria. There, ten junior crews have already been found through the non-profit campaign "Future-Stars". Star owners provide their keelboats and support the juniors with knowledge and manpower. The former Olympic boat class (since 1932 with interruptions until 2016) shows possible ways in the development of young sailors, which also includes Junior Championships such as the World Championships in Kiel.

The Star Class World Championships and the Junior World Championships are supported by the state capital Kiel, the state of Schleswig-Holstein and the partners Heinz Nixdorf-Verein, Helly Hansen, Heineken and Voigt-Logistik.

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