Twenty knot gusts. A cold easterly. Wind against tide. The light fading. Why on earth I set the big rig on the Laser for our Wednesday night sojourn is anyone’s guess but I sailed like a drain. I was okay on laylines and called the tide, I think, right but I was like an F1 driver with a sackful of cogs for a gearbox. I couldn’t find first gear, let alone second, third or heaven’s forbid top gear. A capsize at the final leeward mark, post-gybe, sort of summed up the evening race really but you know what? It was great fun. I scared myself with death-rolls, I surfed along at a frightening pace on the whipped up waves, exhausted my pathetic stomach and leg muscles and quite rightly got what I deserved with a finishing place at the back of the fleet. I’ll be back. I loved it.
But enough about my rank amateurishness, my daily dial into the Olympic scene down at Hyeres was another riveting observation exercise of pattern spotting. At this rate Jean-Paul Gaultier will be hiring me to do the summer collection. But the colourful patterns that are emerging are ominous for those with ambitions for medals at Marseille 2024. The natural order is shaking out as the competitors come to the end of the regatta and it’s almost as if an Olympic guidebook could start to be written. Well for some classes…
I’ll kick off with the Nacra 17s where I had high hopes for the British genius of John Gimson and Anna Burnet to usurp the fast-driving Italians of Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti. No dice I’m afraid. The Italians have been on a tear with seven race wins out of eight and Hyeres is all theirs.
But why the dominance? I asked someone very close on the coaching side over a steak pie this week in the Pier View pub in Cowes (yes that one) and he pointed very much at the development cycle that the Italians have been on. They’ve poured top dollar into this and that gives me hope as the RYA are past-masters at fighting on the financial front if that’s what is required. The RYA could well go nuclear with the Gimson/Burnet chosen pairing. This battle in the Nacra’s has a long way to run – mark my words.
One class where development is limited however, is the Lasers and it’s a right old ding-dong up at the sharp end between Germany’s Philippe Buhl, Pavlos Kontides from where else but Cyprus and the Aussie supremo Matty Wearn.
As it stands right now, Buhl is looking pretty but the margins are so waif-like that Kate Moss could split them. The Lasers are a fascinating scene and I’m delighted to see Britain’s Tokyo Olympian, Elliot Hanson, sharking his way up to sixth after a slow start and showing some serious consistency just ahead of Micky Beckett who is always in contention. Not much to separate these top elite athletes.
However, in the Women’s Kitefoil, it’s a very different story. The gulf in class between St Francis Yacht Club’s Daniela Moroz and the rest of the field can be measured in light years and she’s in another galaxy.
After 16 races (yes 16), Daniela is a healthy 12 points up on the nearest challenger and it’s a masterclass. She really is the superstar of this Olympic cycle and one heck of a fine racer and technician. She transcends the sport and is a fine, superb ambassador for female athletes. I’d put my house on her winning gold in Marseille.
But I tell you somewhere where I wouldn’t gamble and that’s the Men’s Kites…I couldn’t see beyond Theo de Ramecourt for the title in Hyeres after his demonstration in Palma but this week it has all been Max Maeder from Singapore who has pulled out an astonishing nine race wins and really capitalised on his obvious potential.
I always like that Donald Rumsfeld quote when commentating on sailing: “as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. ” And I can tell you, I don’t know who’s going to win gold in Marseille.
And that’s true too in the Mixed 470, the 49ers, the ILCA 6’s – the patterns are forming but the order isn’t quite there enough to comment on. From a British perspective there have been great performances from Martin Wrigley and Eilidh McIntyre in the 470s and I’m loving the battle between Daisy Collingridge and Lymington’s Hannah Snellgrove – both well into the Top Ten and firing on all cylinders. I really have the highest of high hopes for medals in both these disciplines come Games time.
It’s a great scene down in Hyeres where the racing has been tough and uncompromising. Plenty of spills and dinks across the fleets – some rather nasty crashes too – but overall a superb regatta on the Olympic pathway and you can’t really get better than the Cote D’Azur at anytime of the year.
And if any Laser sailor happens to be feeling generous and wants to offer any speed tips that will make me go faster on the Costa del Solent – I’m all ears…just sayin’…I’d be very grateful.