Among the stars gathered here in the Bahamas this week are stars of the stars. In terms of their results in past editions of the Star Sailor’s League Finals, top of the pile is American Mark Mendelblatt whose 1-3-1-3 score line makes him the most consistently successful competitor. However he is followed closely by Robert Scheidt with a 1-5-3-2.
Following his Star silver and bronze medals from Beijing and London respectively, the Brazilian Olympic legend is one of just three people ever to have won five Olympic sailing medals, alongside Ben Ainslie and fellow countryman Torben Grael. Scheidt has also been involved in the Star Sailors League since its inception shortly after the London 2012 Olympic Games. He also holds the kudos of having won the first ever edition of the Star Sailors League Finals back in 2013.
Five years on, is it time for Scheidt to win it again? “We are really excited to be here,” said Scheidt, looking his usual relaxed self, surrounded by the Star boats lined up on the dock outside Nassau Yacht Club. “We did the South American Championship three weeks ago to try to prepare a little bit and we showed up here three days before the regatta.” At the South Americans Scheidt won by a hair, taking gold on countback from fellow Star Sailors League Finals competitor, Lars Grael. In the incestuous world of Brazilian Star sailing, Scheidt was on that occasion sailing with Arthur Lopes, who is sailing in Nassau this week with Paul Cayard while Scheidt has Henry Boening back as his crew (Boening was seventh at this year’s South Americans with yet another helm), having sailed the last two editions of the Star Sailors League Finals with him.
So in five years how has the event progressed? “The level is amazing now,” continues Scheidt. “It is getting stronger every year - there is so much talent here. It is getting really tough to do well in this event! You have to really be on top of things and sail well to beat these guys. It is really exciting.”
The line-up for the 2018 Star Sailors League Finals includes five of the reigning Olympic classes World Champions, all crowned at this summer’s Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. However for the first time the generation beyond them is also represented, in the form this week of Guido Gallinaro, the 17-year-old Laser Radial Youth World and European Championship from Italy.
“It is great, because this format gives the chance to the young guys to come up and may be make it to the Final,” says Scheidt. “They can learn through the first few days and get faster during the week. It is great to see guys like Sime Fantela here and Guido – the young talent. The Star Sailors League gives a chance for these guys to learn the boat and to get better as Star sailors. And they are all really excited about it - they all want to come back next year.”
While winning a world title in an Olympic class gets you a ticket to the Star Sailors League Finals, so too does coming top ten in the rolling Star Sailors League ranking. In this Scheidt goes into the Star Sailors League Finals in second place, albeit more than 1000 points adrift of first placed Italian Diego Negri. “It is a very democratic format, because Star sailors can qualify through their ranking, so that also encourages people to race Stars more,” observes Scheidt.
As to the Brazilian’s prospects for the 2018 Star Sailors League Finals, he says: “For sure, preparation is still key – that’s sport. The guys who prepare better will start the regatta better and will have a better chance. We did what we could, given the time frame we had. We don’t feel 100% at the moment, but I think we will have our chances.”
According to Scheidt weather for the start of the event could be on the lighter side, but will improve over the course of the week.
The unique knock-out format for the event requires a marginally different approach. “With this different format the goal is to get through to the top ten and qualify for the Final, so you have to avoid the big mistakes, like OCSes and protests, or to try to make it to the Final and turn it on on the last day.
“It is a bit different because you don’t have to peak early in the regatta, winning races early on. The goal is to avoid the big mistakes early on. You just have to be consistent and be in the top 10. If you win the Series it is a bonus, as you make it directly into the Final race.”
For this year’s Star Sailors League, Scheidt is sailing his London 2012 boat. Was that lucky? “I would say so. We won the Worlds twice with it and got an Olympic medal at the Games in 2012 with it. It is great to sail the boat again after six years.”
Generally, looking back at the last five years of the Star Sailors League, Scheidt is grateful to its creator that the event exists. “Initially we suspected it wouldn’t happen but thanks to the determination of the SSL team, it all worked. They have made the Star Sailors League a real success and now it will grow even more, with more ideas for the future and a breakthrough in the exposure of the regatta, raising the profile of the sailors, prize money, giving a chance to young people to come and race and using great images of Nassau, etc - that is a strong package and we owe it all to the Star Sailors League. They worked really hard for this. There are not many people who spend their time and resources with such a pre-determined vision to make this such a success.”
by James Boyd - Sailing Intelligence