Horses For Courses

Published on February 10th, 2016

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
These have been tough days at the 2016 49er and 49erFX Worlds being held in Clearwater, FL. The venue is shallow, and once the wind gets into the teens, keeping the Olympic skiff upright in the steep chop is a struggle. When capsized, if the mast hits the bottom, expect breakage.

I’ve sailed enough at this venue in March for the Snipe Midwinters to know that it can be anything. This isn’t Miami. Clearwater is toward the top of the state and can feel the full force of winter storms. I’ve seen more good weather than bad, but the bad weather is bad. Thank goodness for spring break entertainment.

While far from extreme, conditions on day one (Feb 9) of the Worlds proved too much, keeping the 49erFX women ashore while the 49er men got in just one race. According to the event report, six masts broke. Three-time Olympian Giulia Conti (ITA) couldn’t take it anymore, using the 49er Sailors Forum on Facebook to share her frustration:

“It is so disappointing to see, once again, lots of 49ers coming back ashore with a broken mast. It’s been already 30 masts in one week. It is so sad to see in the fleet, people having to find a way to escape this reality using inflatable balloons, floating noodles, milk bottles… on the top of masts.

“Looking at the beach right now, there’s no distinction between amateur and pro boats. I think it is really embarrassing for the class. Showing the world we are the highest representatives of an Olympic Class in this way… but what choice do we have?

“It is just unacceptable to organize a world championship (and ANY 49er regatta) in a place with shallow water. Capsizing in the 49er and 49erFX class is absolutely part of the game. It’s how the skiff sailing works. In some conditions you might capsize and still be top three at the finishing line. But today, in the 2016 World Championship, capsizing in a race may result in being unable to sail 3 or 4 races. This is completely unfair.

“It is unfair for people who are making a huge economic effort to make an Olympic Campaign. It is unfair for all those teams who have the Olympic Trials and who may not qualify for the Games because the water is not deep enough. It is not fair for us to have to decide between speed performance and equipment safety. It is not fair to not be able to test the racing area because you might break something, even if the wind conditions would allow you to do so in a normal place.”

Despite a better forecast on February 10, reigning Olympic Gold Medalist Nathan Outteridge was not optimistic in his morning post on the class forum:

“Somewhere out there amongst the massive surf break you can just see some FX girls about to spend a lot of money today.”

Nathan was right. The 49erFX teams got in one race before conditions were deemed unsuitable, a lucky break for those teams which endured not so lucky breaks. No racing today for the 49er fleet. Racing concludes February 14.

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