No racing was possible on the second day of the Finn Gold Cup at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, with a series of violent electrical storms rolling through Fremantle. By early afternoon all racing was abandoned for the day for safety reasons, and with forecasts of 100 kmph gusts coming from the storms, it was a spectacular show of the power of nature against man.
Among the 72 strong Finn fleet are a number of new young faces trying their hand at the tough Olympic singlehander, and all looking to try and qualify their country for the 2012 Olympic Games.
One such sailor is 20 year old David Leigh (RSA) who is sailing his first major Finn regatta. Having started sailing when he was 11, Leigh has been sailing in the Finn competitively since the beginning of the year. “I went over to Europe for two months which was amazing. I have been sailing full out in the Finn since August.”
“I sailed the Laser before but the Finn is a completely different step in sailing. It is also more expensive as well, but each class has its ups and downs. It's much more difficult but this is what makes the Finn an elite class to sail.”
“I was lucky to even get into this event and to get everything organised beforehand. Coming from South Africa it is very expensive so from what we have organised I'll just keep trying my best and enjoy the experience. My goal at this stage is just to take as much experience out of the event as possible.”
“I haven't had any coaching so far. I just teamed up with a sailor from the UK and sailed a few Nationals in Europe. My major challenges going forward are firstly funding and then fitness. Upwind I struggled to find a good rhythm. Downwind I would gain positions but then loose out upwind.”
After the first day Leigh is lying in 67th place with a lot of work to do to make the cut for Weymouth. “It was a tough first day. There's a first time for everything though and hopefully I can get into the top 60 by the end of the event. But it has been awesome sailing conditions so far and hopefully better sailing to come after what we had today. I didn't expect to be as fast as the top guys but I did expect to be a bit further up the fleet.”
What differentiates the Finn class for him? “Back home, and everywhere else I have sailed, the Finn class and the sailors have always had something magic about them. It has always been a class for gentlemen. This is one reason the Finn is a magic boat. It is much more physical than any other class I have sailed but definitely the most rewarding so far.”
Leigh is also benefiting from a growing home fleet in South Africa, after the local class, in association with Pata Boats of Hungary and the International Finn Association development programme helped fund the import of a hull mould from Europe. “Having many more new boats in the country leaves a much more competitive fleet to sail in.” And that can only be good news for the aspiring Olympian.
Another newcomer to the class is 19 year old Anders Pedersen (NOR). Though he started sailing the Optimist at age six, he didn't start racing until he was nine, but like many of the young sailors in the Finn fleet these days found that his size meant he had to find bigger boats to sail. “I was a bit big so I started sailing the Europe dinghy early on and when I was 16 I started to sail Laser, until this year when I started sailing Finn in August.”
“I was struggling to keep my weight down in the Laser. That's why I started looking at the Finn class. The Finn looked really cool, and seemed like the boat for me. I talked to Peer [Moberg] who helped me a lot with the gear I needed and how to do things.”
How is he finding the transition from the Laser to the Finn? “The biggest difference between the boats is to learn how to set up the boat and the sail. And the boat is much heavier to sail, and more physical on the downwind. And all the sailors are a bit older and more experienced so you get more punished for every mistake you make.”
“My goal in this event is to gain experience in the class and learn as much as possible about the boat.”
Pedersen has been helped a lot in making the step into the Finn by four times Olympian Peer Moberg [NOR]. “Peer has helped me a lot. Without him I wouldn’t be able to be here. I have learnt how to sail the boat, and how to trim the sail and set up the boat, but there still a lot to learn. Our focus has been on speed, to get the boat going. The major challenges right now is the physical side and to not get into stupid situations.”
After the first day Pedersen sits in 58th place after two 29th finishes on Monday, “The first day for me wasn't any good. in the first race I made some bad mark roundings and some wrong decisions. My speed was good in the first race, but I made some beginner's mistakes. The second race I made a bad decision and changed to my strong wind sail, which turned out to be a very stupid decision.”
“The most fun part is to see how fast you go when you work really hard. It really is a boat that goes faster the more effort you give. Of course it's also very important how you set up the boat, and you have to be very focused about your gear.”
Both these young sailors are gaining valuable experience here in Perth but have a very steep hill to climb as they try to realise their Olympic dreams.
Looking ahead to the rest of the week in Fremantle, the weather is expected to improve overnight as the storms pass inland, and the schedule has been changed for three races on Wednesday starting at the earlier time of 12.00, with the lay day on Thursday being used for one race to conclude the qualification series. The fleet will then be split into gold and silver fleets on Friday and Saturday before Sunday's medal race.
Follow the Finn racing on the class blog at: http://www.finngoldcup.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=6 which includes the Twitter feeds of many of the sailors racing in Perth. All you need to know in one place.
Full results so far at: http://www.perth2011.com/competition/PERTH2011/SAM002000/results