Call me a turncoat, but I am eyeing the Finn Europeans that kick off in Vilamoura this week with some anticipation. It’s the heavyweight fleet but I’m coming round to the athleticism on display and with half the AC boys decamping from Auckland after years of daily weight sessions and cardio-work, the fleet at the sharp end are looking pretty competitive.
Giles Scott is the man to beat – marrying huge technical skill and the RYA’s development programme plus an impeccable, golden-rich pedigree in the class as well as utter heroics on tactics with Ineos. Funnily enough the current world rankings on the World Sailing website have Scott at a lowly 11th but that’s largely due to participation over the AC period. He’s white hot for this one. And with less than 100 days to go until the much altered Tokyo Olympic Games gets going, the Europeans is a much-needed check in to see relative speeds and any new thinking in the class. Expect Nils Theuninck, Nick Heiner and fellow Brit and Ineos team member Ben Cornish to provide the tests.
Another one that has really caught my attention in recent days is the resurgent Europe Class in the UK. You literally can’t buy one for love nor money at the moment. Boats are swapping hands at a pretty penny with the prized Winner hulls fetching top dollar. I’ve been chatting with Steve Cockerill at Rooster Sailing who is now importing them new and the demand is strong. I first met Steve back in about 1986 when I was bombing around the Lymington River in my Topper. We were both much much younger but just as keen as today and he brought down a beautiful wooden Claridge-built hull and let me have a go. It was a day on the water that I’ve never forgotten. What a marvellous playground the Solent is for disaffected youths! Ultimately I decided on a 420 on the advice of the coaches at the time, with some regret, but I’ve kept a watching brief on the Europe for years.
There was an apocryphal tale of a school either in Sweden or Denmark which aimed to be a factory for Europe champions and I remember studying for dull exams at the time thinking what a brilliant idea it would be to have a school where the balance of sail training and schoolwork was 70/30. Sign me up. I’m not sure whether it really existed but it was a good story nonetheless in my teenage years.
Looking at the results for the Men’s World championships going back to 1966, there has never been a British winner. Equally, despite her gold medal success in the class at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, not even the great Shirley Robertson managed to win the World Champs in the Women’s Division – although she did go on a run between 1998 and 2000 of 2nd, 3rd, 2nd. Not to be sniffed at racing against the greats of Carolijn Brouwer, Margriette Matthijsse and Kristine Roug.
Looking back on the Men’s fleet to 1990 it is dominated by the Danes and Norwegians with six wins apiece followed by the Swedes with five championship wins. Surely this has to be be a British hoodoo worth aiming at? The fleet is building back nicely buoyed by the raw enthusiasm of Steve Cockerill with fleets popping up all over the place and if you have a spare eight minutes today, have a look at this video taken over the weekend – the last bit when the big gusts hit downwind show just how much fun these boats are…
But just like its bigger brother the Finn, the Europe is a mighty tweaky little number. It’s all about getting the power into the rig and the choice of spars and then matching the sail to the spar is something of a dark art. UK Sailmakers are making some beautiful new sails that point to the moon but there’s some head-spinning theories about mast bend of the carbon rigs for sailors of the 73-75kg category in the fleet at the moment but what a lot of fun. Rolling the clock back, digging out that long-forgotten wetsuit, actually getting wet again and all at a safe social distance – what’s not to love about the Europe? And you don’t need to be King Kong to sail it.
The question haunting the Finn fleet this week is that of Olympic exclusion from the Paris Games in 2024. If the double-handed offshore proposal gets ditched then surely the Finn is in pole position to save the medal from being withdrawn by the powers-that-be? It has to be the only alternative but no doubt some committee, probably the same one that thought the Yngling was a good idea, will come up with a bonkers solution to keep Asia Pacific and Oceania happy (or wherever) and secure the African vote and we’ll have Olympic Dows or Junks shoe-horned into the schedule. Breakdancing is on the schedule for Paris 2024 so anything can happen.
You simply can’t bet against sheer stupidity once it gets to the committee stages. The Finn should be announced as the first reserve if the Olympic goons can’t commit to the offshore double-handed which would be a terrific event and has some big guns like Kenny Read backing it. Try it. It’s totally French. But if you can’t get your head around it, get the Finn back for a last hurrah before a thorough overhaul of the Olympic classes for 2028.
Not sure anyone is listening though. Getting through to the Olympics decision makers is a bit like Bruce Springsteen at concerts shouting: “Is there anybody out there?”