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Pathway to the Podium and Purse

Published on November 28th, 2017

When 25 star-studded teams go up against each other at the Star Sailors League Finals on December 5 to 9 in the Bahamas, don’t expect much give and take with a $200,000 Prize Purse on the line. Mark Mendelblatt (USA), who has won two of the past four years at the SSL Finals, never expects any favors at this event.

“Generally in this fleet, if you try and make a tight cross, you’re most likely not going to make it,” said Mendelblatt. “The guy’s probably going to put a hole in you, or protest you, and you’re going to be doing circles. One of the ways we’ve been successful in this regatta is not taking those chances. And not forcing the situation; we try to avoid those situations where it could go either way.”

But sometimes even the cautious Mendelblatt approach doesn’t always work. “There are a lot of different styles on the race course. I’ve seen guys throwing in it in there at the weather mark and hope for the best. Sometimes we’ve done that because we’ve had no other option but it often ends up in a lot of shouting and penalty turns and we try to avoid that. For sure there are guys coming in more aggressive with nothing to lose. I’ve seen that over the years, but our approach is to stay out of trouble whenever possible.”

Mendelblatt also knows you’re not going to win without taking a few calculated risks. One of those is getting cleanly off the start line in good shape and, if that one worked out, the next big decision is often whether or not you can safely tack and cross the other starboard boats to your right. This is where Mendelblatt’s experience in the Star comes in.

“The tack-and-cross decision changes based on a lot of things,” reports Mendelblatt. “If you look over your shoulder and you realize the other guy has hit a couple of bad waves and he’s stalled out, then you have a much better chance of crossing. If you’re sailing into a header and he’s just starting to sail into it, you know you’re tacking on a lift and he’s going to get more headed – you know you can cross him. If it’s flat water, with the narrow angles, you’ve got a better chance of tacking and crossing. There’s a lot of variables to consider.”

The unique event format starts with four days of qualification races that advance the top ten teams to the final day of knockout races. From the qualifiers, the top team gets a bye to the Final, the runner-up goes to the Semi-Finals and teams from 3rd to 10th have to fight on yet one more race in the Quarter-Finals. The knock out rounds lead to the four-boat shootout in the Final.

The Final is a brutal, sudden-death race where the winning team takes home the lion’s share of the purse. “You don’t have to worry about a crowded start line, but you do want to position yourself so you get what you want and if you can, try to hurt the guy next to you. Make sure you’re ahead of that guy and hopefully ahead of the other two. But mostly the same principles of any racing apply: get the boat locked in, get in the groove, and sail fast around the course. Once you’ve got to the final four, winning that race is the only thing that’s going to make you happy.”

The action will be streamed live on Internet with expert commentary from special studio guests (details). On the water, the latest in hi-tech camera technology, as well as Virtual Eye 3D Graphics, will provide thrilling viewing. Armchair sailors can also join the race with Virtual Regatta.

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Source: Andy Rice, Scuttlebutt

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