Bite of winter opens European season
Published on April 4th, 2022
Palma, Spain (April 4, 2022) – In every respect other than the air temperature, there was a baptism of fire on the Bay of Palma when three of the new classes contested their first races in the Olympic classes arena at the 51 Trofeo Sofia Mallorca today.
While considered the spring Olympic class opener for the European season, the bite of winter was very much in the air.
With half of the ten events getting underway, it was a cold day as strong, gusty offshore breezes pumped up to well over 25kts at times to provide a stiff test for the debuting iQFOiL mens and womens foiling windsurfing classes and the mixed 470 dinghy class.
Britain’s powerfully built Sam Sills reveled in his preferred windy conditions in the Men’s iQFOiL fleet, with him admitting it was cold enough for him to have two wetsuits on. Sills banged in two opening wins in his 50 strong fleet before jumping the start gun to land a UFD disqualification which he immediately atoned for with his third winning gun.
With Finn Hawkins in second and Andrew Brown third, Sills leads a GBR monopoly of the top three places proving the benefit of the squad’s extended training period in Lanzarote and two good weeks practice on the Mallorcan regatta waters.
“There is a long, long way to go to the finish line but that is a good way to start,” said Sills. “You never quite know what to expect at the start of a season. But days like these when it is so windy and so gusty you just try to hang on and sail my best.
“But that is as good as I have started a regatta for a long, long time. And it is great to be here in the Olympic arena with the iQFOiL. The RS:X was fun but it was very hard, this is hard but it is more fun. The competition is tight and everyone is pushing, the standard goes up every event.”
Sills is a past double world champion as a youth windsurfer and an accomplished former RS:X racer who has been competing at the Sofia for ten years.
“It makes it very interesting with the slalom starts as the guys from the PWA (Professional Windsurfing Association) Tour are probably better starters,” added Sills. “But I have practiced the starts a lot. The one that was over was a learning point and this stage of this event it is good to be trying different starting techniques and so I won’t be trying that one again.”
In the Women’s iQFOiL, France’s double European champion Hélène Noesmoen made the best start, conditions today being more reminiscent of her native Les Sables d’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast than the Mediterranean.
The tough conditions were an acid test for the freshly formed mixed doubles partnerships in the 470 dinghy. The challenge of keeping the boat upright left little time to fine tune maneuvers and communication. Spain’s Olympic 470 bronze medal winning helm Jordi Xammar is now sailing with Nora Brugman in which they battled through to 1st and 2nd places in their two heats. This puts them in tied at the top with the Italians in the other qualifying group, Giacomo Ferrari and Bianca Caruso.
“We were out of control today,” grinned Xammar, who has just flown back from skippering the Spanish F50 foiling catamaran in the season finale of SailGP in San Francisco. “I’ve spent the past two weeks feeling out of control 100 percent of the time, so I think that actually helped me deal with that feeling of being out of control in the 470 today.”
Xammar admitted he had made a promise to himself before leaving the beach that he wouldn’t try anything to dramatic. “We were trying not to do stupid mistakes and trying to be smart, and maybe we were a bit too conservative, but we are happy with our day.”
In the ILCA 7 men’s fleet, Cyprus Pavlos Kontides, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, posted two wins to lead ahead of GBR’s Michael Beckett and Germany’s Philipp Buhl who both sailed to a second and a first in their respective qualifying fleets.
The 115 foiling Formula Kite riders will make their debut on the Olympic classes stage tomorrow on the Bay of Palma. In itself the sheer magnitude of a regatta of 1000 athletes from 62 nations and ten classes sailing on eight course areas is something of a culture shock.
And for many free-spirited souls, the step into the Olympic arena at this first Hempel Sailing World Cup Series regatta of 2022 is a first warning of the dedication, focus, and discipline that will be required to land a medal in Marseille in 2024.
“Usually with our own events we have 100 or so riders so the scale of the organization here is amazing,” said Enthuses Antoine Weiss, Youth Coach for the French national team which had three male athletes in the top four and women placing third and fourth at the 2021 Formula Kite World Championships. “As we build up to the Olympics, this is a good first warm up, a chance for the athletes to get a feeling for a really big event like this.
“They get a better idea for what they have to do. They start to understand this thing. And now, here, it feels real. And from here they will be more focused and give more energy to the programs. Now if you don’t train properly you just won’t succeed. The top 10 level in both fleets is very hard to get into. For the moment there are 20 or 30 girls at this top level but for the men right now even to get into the top 50 is difficult.”
Naturally the French are determined to transform their current dominance to actual medals at their home waters Olympics in a little over two years time.
“We started kite foiling early and we have a lot of racers and the Federation give good support to the riders,” said Weiss but cautions, “Marseille is very specific with the Mistral especially. There is no beach. The Mistral is more onshore and very gusty. In the thermal sea breeze it is easy. And right now it is hard to train there as well. We tend to train at Hyeres and Montpellier.”
Short, sharp high speed races – typically 12 minutes long – leave no room for errors. The schedule in Palma is for four races each day. After two days of qualifying, the top 14 athletes go forwards to the Finals while the top two qualifiers progress directly to April 9’s Medal race with the remaining 12 riders split into two semi final races, with the winners of each advancing to the Medal race.
Competitors sign in four kites for the regatta – from any one of the five different IKA approved brands. The four licensed brands each have between eight and ten kites ranging from 7m and 25m to choose from. During the regatta competitors can change at any time when a flag is shown. As soon as it is shown the competitors come back to the beach to change. There are ten different licensed foil manufacturers of which two – one German and one Italian – are prevalent.
Here they sail classical upwind-downwind courses, going upwind to the first buoy where they turn out to reach across to another upwind-downwind (an outer loop or trapezoid) while the Final is a shorter standard windward-leeward. The target time for the qualification races is 12 minutes and six to nine minutes for the final.
MORE: For the North American contingent, Canadian Sarah Douglas had the dominant day, posting a pair of deuces in the 83-boat ILCA 6 fleet to sit in third overall. For USA, two tenth place finishes by Louisa Nordstrom/ Trevor Bornarth among the 57 Mixed 470 teams has them in 20th overall.
Racing is being held April 4-9.
Ten Olympic events begin with a staggered schedule:
April 4 – First race day for ILCA 6 & 7, 470, iQFOiL
April 5 – First race day for 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17, Formula Kites
With 62 nations represented, there are 1,093 competitors with 843 boats in Palma de Mallorca for the largest Olympic class regatta since the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Part of the Hempel World Cup Series, the popular Princesa Sofía regatta is back after a two year break due to COVID-19, and is the first of two regattas in 2022 that gathers all Olympic class boats in one place.
2022 Hempel World Cup Series:
April 4-9 – Hempel World Cup Series Palma (Princess Sofía Regatta), Spain
May 31-June 5 – Hempel World Cup Series Amsterdam (Allianz Regatta), The Netherlands
TBC – Hempel World Cup Marseille, France
The Hempel World Cup Series is the definitive annual circuit for the world’s leading sailors and Olympic hopefuls. Mirroring the Olympic style of sailing in format, duration and fleet sizes, the World Cup Series visits prestige venues across the globe at all stages of the four-year Olympic cycle, supporting athletes in their quest to qualify for the Games and connecting fans with the very best sailors in the sport.
Source: Trofeo Sofia Mallorca