It’s hard to think of an event that brings together more world class sailing talent than the finals of the Star Sailors League.
This year’s final is due to take place in Nassau from December 5th to 9th where 25 international teams will be converging on the Bahamas for a brutal but irresistible knock-out challenge.
Aside from some of the best Star sailors the world has seen – eg Robert Scheidt, Torben and Lars Grael, Fredrik Loof - there are some famous Wild Cards in the line-up, like offshore legends Franck Cammas and Loick Peyron, superstars in France, plus Olympic champions including Paul Goodison, who dominated this year’s Moth worlds in Lake Garda against another stellar line-up.
Digby Fox has anchored the TV broadcast for the past five years, and this year again American Kathleen Tocke will be contributing with stats and observations as an ex-Olympic class sailor and Snipe world champion.
Digby will also be joined this year, for the first time, by two co-commentators who would probably do pretty well if they were given the tiller of a Star.
New Zealand broadcaster Peter Lester first made a name for himself by winning the Worlds in the popular OK singlehanded dinghy and then went on to forge himself a career in big boat sailing, not least as tactician on board New Zealand’s ‘Big Boat’, the 130ft leviathan keelboat that proved no match for the wily Dennis Conner and his smaller but much nimbler 55ft catamaran, Stars and Stripes, in the 1988 America’s Cup.
Peter has raced with many of the legends, working as Russell Coutts’s tactician for a spell during the 1990s, so he knows a thing or two about top-level competition. “It’s an intriguing format for the Star Sailors League,” says Lester, who has commentated on every major event in yachting from the Olympics to the America’s Cup to the Volvo Ocean Race. “The knockout nature of the event really puts the pressure on the sailors, and it’s very entertaining for spectators.”
The other addition to the commentary team is Shirley Robertson, a double Olympic champion who’s turned herself into one of the most accomplished and prolific broadcasters in the sport, not least as the presenter on CNN Mainsail.
Shirley is fiercely competitive and if she gets a chance to go Star racing for the first time Shirley would probably show the regulars a thing or two. “I love the Star - always have. When I was racing in the Olympics they were the big daddy of all the classes - powerful, majestic, insanely complex and technical - raced by legends in our sport. I can’t wait to see them on the beautiful waters of Nassau. The ‘L’ in SSL could stand for Legends! The calibre of this year’s line-up is beyond impressive. Loick Peyron in a Star? Can't wait to see that!”
As the commetating anchor, Digby Fox is looking forward to being joined by two such luminaries from the racing world. “We’re so lucky to have passionate and accomplished experts like Shirley and Peter who are not only great sailors but great analysts of all the moves on the race course. We’ve got all the Virtual Eye technology helping us make sense of what’s going on, the same technology that we’re using in the Volvo Ocean Race right now. But having those expert eyes and ears out on the race course is vital in adding energy, insight and a perceptive eye on all the tactical moves going on. I’ve worked with both Shirley and Peter for America’s Cups and CNN Mainsail, and I know they’ll add awesome insight and analysis for the viewers and fans.”
Like Robertson and Lester, Digby has worked on the TV production of pretty much every major event in sailing and he’s taking time out of his role as one of the TV producers for the Volvo Ocean Race, with the Star Sailors League dates happily coinciding with downtime for the Volvo fleet while they’re resting up in Cape Town.
“Pretty much all of us working on the TV production for the Star Sailors League have worked at the Olympics, the America’s Cup and the Volvo Ocean Race, and it’s great to be able to bring pretty much the same production values to the close quarters racing in the Stars. We use the same half-million dollar on-water camera and it’s operated by perhaps the best cameraman in the business, Adam Brown. ”
The other thing that excites Diggers, as he’s known, about the Star Sailors League is being joined in the commentary booth by some of the legends in the sport. “Dennis Conner has been a regular on our shows and aside from winning the America’s Cup four times he’s a former Star World Champion so he really knows what he’s looking at. Dennis is always engaging, and he’s not afraid to call a spade a spade. The same for Jochen Schümann [three time Olympic Champion and twice America’s Cup winner from Germany]. If Jochen sees someone making a stupid move on the race course he shoots with both barrels. It’s full on fantastic.”
Diggers has one message for potential SSL fans and viewers: “For any sailor who wants to improve their game on the water and learn from the best, I really recommend they tune in to watch the live coverage of the racing in Nassau. It’s entertaining and you get these incredible insights into the tactics and strategy on the race course. The Stars are an excellent vehicle for watching and learning, they’re not moving at a million knots, so any fleet racer, from Oppie sailors upwards, can absorb the tactical and strategic part of our complex and most wonderful game.”
Tune in on December 5th for a treat.