Mark Mendelblatt: Winning when it counts
Published on December 7th, 2014
Bring together 20 elite teams to compete for a prize purse of $200,000 US, provide a fleet of Star boats for them to sail, and host the racing on Montagu Bay in Nassau, Bahamas. That was the formula for the Star Sailors League Finals on December 3-6. Surviving the qualifying and knockout rounds to triumph was Americans Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih to take home $40,000 US (click here for report). Here Mark comments on the event…
What was the strategy since the first day?
This year with the new system there is an advantage to winning the series and we were in a position to do it going into the last day of the qualifying but we sailed poorly that day. So we lost that chance. But in some ways it was good to sail the first race of the knockout round because it gave us a little bit of a feeling for what’s going on out there and we were able to have some good races. But you know the qualifying series is good because everyone gets a chance to practice, get going and then it’s all on the last day.
So going into the final day, what was your gut feeling?
I won’t lie. I was nervous to try and come back and get into the last race was really important in this regatta. I wasn’t able to eat too much. I was a little bit nervous but still feeling good. I’m still feeling good.
What did you learn last year that was useful for this year?
A little bit about the conditions. I’ve sailed here before last year as well. Out there is not steady wind. It looks steady but it’s not. It’s shifting back and forth, and you have to know when it’s a real shift and when you should just keep going and not worry about it. I think it did help a little bit just having the experience of sailing here last year and feeling the wind and the timing of the shifts.
Everyone will definitely say you were very consistent but in the final day you weren’t always leading. So what was the secret?
Even with the first race, off the start, I told Brian, “We’re not in good shape here, we gotta make it happen.” We stayed calm and we were able to come back to the fleet on the first beat and we got fortunate with a few wind shifts but you have to sail a little bit not looking around too much, just focusing on your boat and making your boat go fast, and hopefully you’re going to get a good shift at some point and it’s going to go your way.
What is the best mind set? Did you always feel you were going to win or was there any moment you felt in real danger?
In the quarter-final race, we were feeling in danger for sure. Halfway up the first beat we were feeling, “This isn’t good.” We talked to each other and said, “Let’s just stay calm here and keep working together and use our speed and get back.” And it worked. We were going well.
Was this the race of a lifetime?
Oh for sure, it is. To beat guys like Freddy Loof, Mateusz Kusznierewicz, and Robert Scheidt and all the other guys who are here is incredible. We did not have any expectations coming in: only to sail our best regatta. And you know these guys beat me more times than I beat them in my career as a Star sailor. With Robert, I can count the number of times I beat him on one hand and I’ve been sailing against him for 25 years so it feels great to win this event.
What do you think of the fleet? Robert didn’t make it. Was that because of the standard or because the sailing was unpredictable?
I think in the semi-final race, Robert got some bad luck on the second beat. He was in position to move to the final but it’s the same thing that happened so many times in the regatta: you think you have a wind shift, you tack on it and the next thing you know you made a mistake. I think that Robert got caught on some bad shifts, some bad luck similar to what happened to us during the final day of qualifying. It just happened at the wrong time for him but he was clearly going very fast upwind and downwind; he’s a real champion. I know he didn’t make the final race this time but he’s gonna be back in the Star, in the Laser, making the final race. He doesn’t make too many mistakes. It was just bad luck that happened to him.
What do you think of the format? Is it fine, or have you any suggestions for the future?
Maybe put a little bit more importance on the qualifying, I would say.
Is being champion good incentive to train more on this boat?
Well, I tell you, earlier in the year, I had a few offers for my Star – people wanting to buy it – and I said, “no, no, I gotta keep my boat, I gotta sail, I gotta get ready for Bahamas.” I’m really hoping that the Star Sailors League continues. I think it is fantastic. I think the Star boat obviously is bringing in the best sailors in the world still. The format is excellent. It’s exciting, it’s great. I have no plans to sell my boat. I’m keeping my boat and I’m going to do some more Star regattas, for sure.
What about the young new guys?
It’s always interesting to see how the non-Star sailors, the Finn guys and the Laser guys – and we had a 470 guy here. It’s always interesting to see how they are going to go and I think this year they went better than last year. These Finn guys downwind – you know, George and Giles – it’s unbelievable how fit they are. They stand up in the boat, they’re really rocking it back and forth and, as you know, we have no Rule 42 here so these guys are just moving on the run so if we wanna beat ‘em next year, we’re going to have to get better downwind for sure.
Interview by SSL. Photo by SSL/Giles-Martin Raget.