The Star Sailor’s League Final entered another new phase for its sixth edition with a winning crew who, for the first occasion, not only weren’t Star boat veterans, but were also less than 40 years old. In fact the Brazilian champions are substantially younger than 40 - helmsman Jorge Zarif, just 26 and his crew Pedro Trouche, a year older.
Despite his tender years, this was not Zarif’s first Star Sailor’s League Finals, but his fourth. His first event was in 2014. This followed his victory in the 2013 Finn Gold Cup, when, aged 21, he became the second youngest person ever to claim the World Championship title Olympic heavyweight men’s singlehander. That year he also achieved his best result in the Star Sailor’s League Finals, finishing fourth with crew Henry Boening (who sailed with Robert Scheidt this year). With this year’s Finn Gold Cup claimed in Aarhus by Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz (11th in this year’s Star Sailors League Finals), 2018 was the first occasion Zarif hadn’t received an invitation to Nassau on the strength of his Finn sailing. Nonetheless he was keen to compete, but when he contacted the organisers in Switzerland there appeared to be no place for him, all 25 spots already having been allocated. In truth all had been filled, save one – one berth reserved annual for the winner of the Star World Championship, which was not taking place until October.
While Zarif has been wholly focussing on his Finn campaign for Tokyo 2020, this year he had planned to compete in three Star events, with veteran Guilherme de Almeida as his crew. Having previously sailed with Torben Grael at the Star Sailors League Finals, De Almeida had long ties with the Zarif family - as a teenager he had crewed in the Star for Jorge’s father Jorge Zarif Neto (who himself represented Brazil in the Finn at the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988).
At the beginning of the season the duo finished third at the Star Western Hemisphere Championship in Miami but then, aside from some training with their coach Luca Modena, there was a long gap to the Worlds in Oxford, Maryland in October. Nonetheless in this Eivind Melleby and Joshua Revkin got off to the strongest start, but it was Zarif and De Almeida who led going into the two race final day. A disappointing penultimate race left the title fully up for grabs, but a fourth place in the last was enough to secure the Brazilians the World title by five points. Impressively, Zarif became the youngest person to claim the Star World Championship title since the 1940s.
Two weeks before the Star Sailor’s League Final, Zarif competed in the Star South American Championship finishing third, but sailing with another crew. The Brazilian Star sailing gene pool is large and incestuous, so perhaps it was less alarming for Zarif that for the Star Sailor’s League Final, when with De Almeida being sadly unavailable to compete, he found himself sailing with his third crew in as many events. Not only this, but the Final was also the first event Zarif and Pedro Trouche had ever sailed together, although they were old friends having been Laser training partners prior to going to the 2008 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships.
While Trouche is also an ex-Finn sailor, in recent years he has been sailing big boats full time in addition to crewing on Stars, although usually with smaller helms. To make the maximum weight limit for the Star Sailor’s League Finals with Finn sailor-sized Zarif, he was forced to shed 18-20kg, making him one of the lightest crews competing. Trouche’s dieting advice: “Don’t eat. Don’t drink…” Despite all this, going into the Star Sailor’s League Finals, Zarif said he was reasonably confident as they had had a chance to do some training beforehand.
While generally across the first four days of Qualifying Brazilian Olympic legend Robert Scheidt and Henry Boening were the stand-out performers, in fact Zarif and Trouche shown some brilliance. They were top scoring crew on day three when the light-moderate conditions made for a pumping-fest. Zarif proved his skill in this due to his being a full-time Finn sailor, in this respect his credentials were by no means unique in the exceptional line-up of helmsmen. The duo also really demonstrated what they were capable of when in the first race of the final day of Qualifying. In this they were called OCS and had been late to turn back to restart. And yet following an incredible recovery they finished sixth.
The duo finished Qualifying fourth overall, although some 35 points adrift of Scheidt and Boening.
For the all-important last day of the Star Sailor’s League Final Zarif and Trouche had to fight their way through the quarter and semi final rounds, but did a sterling job, winning both. In the quarter final they led at the top mark and had extended their advantage to 15 boatlengths by the time they reached the leeward gate. In the semis Zarif started by the pin and once again was first round the weather mark, but the race was closer with his lead at the second top mark rounding just eight boat lengths.
In the four boat Final, they had to meet the stand-out favourites, Scheidt and Boening who had fast-tracked their way into the deciding round. On the one hand Zarif and Trouche were on a winning streak but Zarif later admitted they had been exhausted, whereas their compatriots were starting the race fresh. At the gun Zarif and Trouche won the pin while just above them Diego Negri and Frithjof Kleen were bow forward and fast. However Zarif and Trouche edged ahead holding the far left of the first beat and coming into the top mark almost on the port layline. From there they were unchallenged and went on to make Star Sailor League history.
The young Brazilians were ecstatic about their victory. As Zarif said: “Of course the Star Worlds and the other championships are much older, but here the level is much higher and I am competing against my biggest idols. To be able to sail against Robert [Scheidt], Lars [Grael], Mateusz [Kusznierewicz], Freddy [Lööf], Iain [Percy] – all these guys I grew up watching on the TV in the Finn and the Star, for me it is amazing. I went sailing and kept sailing because of those guys. It is a privilege to be here and a privilege to beat those guys.”
Trouche: “This is the biggest thing I’ve ever won in sailing. I have never sailed at a level as high as this before. It is the first time I have beaten Robert [Scheidt] - he is a legend so I am very happy about that.”
So what made the difference on the final day? Zarif said they seemed fast, which he attributed to the time they spent completely resetting the mast the previous day. “The changes worked well for us. We had good starts, great upwind speed and that made the job less difficult.”
Trouche agreed: “We were faster than everyone. Yesterday we changed everything - we took the mast down, changed the intermediates and we were very happy upwind. Downwind we already knew we were very fast.”
However tuning was by no means the only ingredient of their victory. They worked hard on board too. As Zarif put it, coming off the water: “We are surprised we had this kind of dominance, because the level is so high. We sailed our best today. We gave 100% - we hiked super hard, we pumped super hard the whole time and definitely that made the difference. I am super tired right now. We gave everything. Before the last race, I was thinking – I would like to be in Robert’s position being rested a little bit more.”
However they were also on a roll: “Our confidence was high, but the races were super physical in that kind of wind. In the end we kept doing the things we did in the first two races. We didn’t start so well in the last race, but at the end of the first beat we got a very good shift…”
As to being the first under-40s to win the Star Sailors League Finals, certainly the divide is increasing between the ‘Star boat legends’ many of whom aren’t sailing the boat regularly nor at the highest level while the younger guys, in the middle of their Olympic campaigns are both fit and race fit, albeit not necessarily in the Star boat. Trouche certainly attributed increased athleticism due to their youth as one vital ingredient to their success. “At the SSL Finals you have to be very strong, because there’s free pumping. But in the normal events when there’s no free pumping, so it is okay for the legends like Paul Cayard. That makes a big difference.”
Trouche also paid tribute to the rest of their ‘team’ that includes leading crew Bruno Prada, US helm and fellow past World Champion, Augie Diaz, plus their coach Luca Modena.
Robert Scheidt, who was the bookie’s favourite to win the 2018 Star Sailor’s League Finals paid tribute to Zarif: “Jorge has been having great results. He won the Worlds and won many regattas in the Finn. He is a second generation Finn sailor. He has a bright future ahead of him.”
From this Zarif will continue with his Finn campaign for Tokyo 2020, while Trouche plans to do the SSL Grand Slam events in 2019 and this will include competing at the inaugural Star Youth World Championship in Feburary with Thomas Hornos with whom he finished the senior’s World Championship in seventh place this year.
by James Boyd - www.sailingintelligence.com