Photo finish for Star Sailors League Finals
Published on December 9th, 2017
Nassau, Bahamas (December 9, 2017) – A balmy, near perfect 15 knots on Nassau’s Montagu Bay would be the setting for the ‘take no prisoners’ shoot out on the last day of the Star Sailors League Final. After three days of qualifiers, the top 10 of the 25 boat fleet were the crescendo of a competition that dangles a $200,000 Prize Purse.
The knockout format today narrowed the fleet to seven teams after one Quarter Final race, and then down to four after one Semi Final contest. This left the Finals being contested by France’s Xavier Rohart/Pierre-Alexis Ponsot, Britain’s Paul Goodison sailing with German Frithjof Kleen, Brazil’s Robert Scheidt/Henry Boening and the USA’s Mark Mendelblatt/Brian Fatih, the latter crew having ‘fast tracked’ straight through after decisively winning the qualifier series.
In the lone Finals race, Mendelblatt/Fatih led off the line and all the boats heading out to the left. But after Goodison/Kleen failed to match the jump off the start line, they cleared out to the right and found what was needed to deliver a lead at the weather mark, with all four boats nearly stem to stern.
At the second top mark rounding, the Anglo-German duo looked marginally more secure but with veins of breeze coming down the course, the outcome was still far from decided. On the final approach to the finish line, Scheidt/Boening closed, rolling in with more pressure and on some good waves as Goodison/Kleen looked slow.
However, at the very last moment Goodison/Kleen picked up speed to win by a metre. It was a suitable ending to this ultimate ‘championship of champions’ regatta, where the top team walked away with the winners share of US$ 40,000.
Goodison described the final seconds: “I was desperate to soak low to come into towards the pin end [of the finish line] and Frida [Frithjof Kleen] was going ‘YOU’RE GOING TOO SLOW, YOU’RE GOING TOO SLOW – COME UP!’. So there was a little panic. It was a little too close for comfort.”
In fact, the two time Moth World Champion and his burly Star veteran crewman had become experts at photo finishes having had a similar experience in the Semi-Finals. On that occasion, they were in a must-win battle against Germans Philipp Buhl and Markus Koy: The winner progressing to the final, the loser eliminated.
Winning that particular race within a race had been especially important for Kleen. “I was working hard to catch the Germans in the Semi-Final! You could see the difference between us – we were rolling more and that helped us,” he observed.
Despite losing the final, Robert Scheidt enjoyed the battle. “A lot happened – position changes, tacking on each other, penalties – and then we had a photo finish. We managed to do a good gybe on the inside and we got a little bit more pressure so that when we converged, I thought at one stage that we had got those guys. But in the end I couldn’t go low because I was blocked by the race committee boat. They deserved it and for us to be part of that was really exciting.”
It was interesting to note that three of the four finalists were former Laser sailors who competed at Athens Olympics in 2004. On that occasion Scheidt claimed gold, Goodison was fourth and Mendleblatt seventh. Throughout the Qualifiers this week, Mendelblatt and Fatih had been the stand-out crew but perhaps suffered from coming into the Finals cold whereas the other teams had already warmed up in the quarter finals and semis.
Goodison was delighted by the outcome: “I am over the moon – I didn’t expect this at all.” Given today’s slightly breezier conditions, the smart money had been on the Star veterans, rather than a newbie to the class like him.
“This morning we had a look at the trophy and I saw Bart’s name on it [the late Andrew Simpson, who won Star Gold in Beijing 2008 as part of the British Olympic team with Goodison] and Frida mentioned that the top crew got the Andrew Simpson Trophy,” said Goodison. “Somewhere up there I am sure Bart was smiling on us and making us hike a little bit harder. It is a great honour to race against these guys and I feel so happy to have won and I feel so grateful to have had Frida who has been my mentor, my pain in the ass, my everything for the last 10 days.”
And what will he do with his share of the prize money? “Well, I have a new Moth being built, but I think my family might get some better Christmas presents this year!” concluded the two time Moth World Champion, Laser Olympic gold medallist and now Star Sailors League champion.
Racing was held December 5 to 9.
Observations from Paul Cayard:
This was the toughest of the five SSL finals. The competitors were deeper than ever and the reasonably strong wind conditions required a lot of physical output. I, for one, am pretty tired after racing 13 races in 5 days. There are 11 Star World Champion skipper here. Only four qualified for the racing today. That tells me that the younger sailors coming from the smaller boats are very talented and sharp. They are picking up the particularities of the Star rather easily and their talent is pulling them ahead. I am very happy that the Star has been chosen to be the boat for this Allstar event. I think it is the perfect boat for the task.
I had thought of not coming this year as I was concerned about where I would finish. In finishing 7th, I exceeded my expectations. I feel extremely lucky and honored to be able to race against all the sailors in this fleet.
As competitors we all owe a great deal of gratitude to Michel Niklaus for his passion and vision in creating the Star Sailors League. His vision for the next 5 years is to have 4 “Grand Slam” events followed by the Finals each year. He is purchasing 100 Stars and setting up bases in various venues around the world to make this vision come true. He is continually upgrading the coverage of the event and the online following is growing exponentially. This is one of the brightest events to come along in our sport in a long time.
The 5th edition of the Star Sailors League Finals will take place once again in Nassau, the Bahamas, from December 3rd to 8th 2018.
The unique event format starts with four days of qualification races (maximum of 11) 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 action was being streamed live on Internet with expert commentary and the latest in hi-tech camera technology and Virtual Eye 3D Graphics. To watch… click here.