Californian Mike Holt to defend 505 World title

Published on March 25th, 2015

International teams from four continents are set to contest the SAP 505 World Championships in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at the end of this month. Among the favourites for the 505 world title is the defending champion, Mike Holt from California, who won his first 505 World Championship last year in a wet and windy Kiel in Northern Germany.

Last year in Kiel, the weight-conscious Holt was shivering in a shorty wetsuit, although his shorts should be better suited to the warm and windy weather expected in Port Elizabeth, known to South Africans as ‘The Windy City’, or ‘The Friendly City’. Hosted by the Algoa Bay Yacht Club, the event starts with the two-day Pre-Worlds on March 25 before the World Championships on March 28-April 3.

Holt should have been accompanied by a strong contingent of fellow Californians. However a dockers’ strike in San Francisco and endless amounts of shipping red tape and bureaucracy prevented some of the US 505s from reaching Port Elizabeth in time. Among those affected is Mike Martin, the only sailor ever to have won the 505 World Championships both as helm and crew, who had been hoping to steer his boat with Adam Lowry on the wire.

The first time Martin won the Worlds, it was crewing for Howie Hamlin in 1999. A year later he was steering his own boat in Durban, the last time the event was held in South Africa, when Martin finished runner-up. Martin would later blitz the 2009 Worlds on his home waters of wind-swept San Francisco Bay, and he was gearing up for another windy regatta on Algoa Bay. “Yes, it’s a real shame, because I think the conditions really could have suited us,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be back for the next Worlds in Weymouth 2016.”

Two of the top American teams avoided the shipping disaster, with Holt having stored his Worlds boat in England for the past winter, and Hamlin taking delivery of a brand new boat for the event. Holt admitted to have done very little sailing since winning last summer’s World Championship.

“I have been working hard on fitness as usual, lots of running, bike riding and rowing to be fit and keep the weight down,” said Holt, who after winning the Worlds with temporary crew Rob Woelfel, is back with his regular front man, Carl Smit. “Not sure what the weather will do; it has been pretty breezy, but we are moving out of summer down there so I suspect it will be a lighter event. We did a week of training in Florida in a borrowed boat and I raced with Rob in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, but not much sailing other than that. I suspect that is the case for all the Northern Hemisphere boats though, giving an edge to the Australian teams and also the South Africans.”

Aside from the Americans there are some other former World Champions in the fleet, including Denmark’s Jan Saugmann and Britain’s Ian Pinnell, who have each won a light-wind Worlds in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Saugmann is hoping for a case of ‘it’s not normally like this’ in the Windy City. “I know that we are extremely fast in lighter conditions, so this is what I hope for. Mike Holt and Carl Smit are in a class of their own in stronger weather. Howie Hamlin and Jeff Nelson (Martin’s 2009 Worlds-winning crew) – I have never seen them sailing together but they know their business, and the top teams from Australia and Germany are also very good in the breeze.”

Of the small German contingent, Stefan Bohm and Gerald Roos, would be expected to be the top performers. The 2013 Worlds runners-up are gunning for gold. “We are well prepared, the suitcases are ready and we are burning for the first warning signal at Port Elizabeth,” said Bohm, who has been sailing with Roos for 22 years in the 505. “We expect exciting sailing conditions with big waves and most of the races in strong breeze. Therefore, we had a tough fitness programme and the crew’s weight is set to meet the expected local conditions.”

The South Africans can’t wait to welcome their international guests to Port Elizabeth – and give them a good run for their money on the race course. Among the local favourites are Alexander and Warwick Ham. “Alexander and I have been sailing together as much as possible,” said Warwick, “although within limits as Alexander is at Stellenbosch University in the Cape, currently studying Mechanical Engineering, and I am based in Johannesburg. Hardly conducive to regular training time together. We are currently sailing on par with the Funke brothers and fancy our chances for a top 10 finish, given slightly heavier wind conditions.”

For most of the international teams who are used to cooler climes, they can look forward to some fantastic sailing in PE, even if the sharks are not too far below the surface.

“The sailing in PE is excellent with really good wind – an average of 14 knots at this time of year,” said Warwick Ham. “We can expect some wave action plus a little bit of current, and the water is not that cold. From what we have seen in PE over the last number of years we can expect air temperatures of between 20 to 23 degrees C and water temperatures of about 18 degrees C. I usually sail with a thin 3mm wetsuit, but on a warm day can even sail in shorts and a rash vest.”

According to Ham, Jan Saugmann’s wish for light airs could yet come true. “In the last six years we have sailed a number of big regattas here and in spite of PE being known as the Windy City, the majority of regattas were won by the light wind specialists. We have had one or two really heavy wind races, which the heavier teams, like ourselves enjoy, but on average the conditions were lighter.”

The SAP 505 World Championships will be fully covered by SAP Sailing Analytics and live online coverage and expert commentary. One thing to look out for is a performance prediction tool, which matches up the weather forecast with the past performances of the teams. So it will be interesting to see if the raw statistics from the SAP data back up what the sailors feel to be the case – that the Americans and Australians are quick in the breeze and that European teams such as Saugmann and Pinnell tend to be quicker in the light. It’s going to be a fascinating contest.

Event websiteCurrent entrants

Photos by Christophe Favreau/ SAP. Story by Andy Rice,

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