On the start line in Nassau tomorrow will be the most international and diverse line-up as the Qualification rounds get underway at the Star Sailor’s League Finals, to determine who will be 2019’s ‘Star of the Sailing World’. As ever the line-up pits Olympic sailors - past, present and future - with America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race winners and champions from all manner of classes at World, European and continental levels.
Across the 23 teams taking part, 22 nations are represented including for the first time Spain (in seven time round the world race sailor Roberto Bermúdez de Castro, who campaigned the Star boat for Athens 2004, sailing here with Miguel Fernandez Vasco), Uruguay (in former Snipe World champion Ricardo Fabini, runner-up at this year’s Pan-American Games, sailing with Argentinean Federico Calegari) and South Korea (in three time Olympic Laser sailor and triple Asian Games champion Jeemin Ha, in safe hands sailing with Star veteran Mark Strube).
“I only heard about it this year,” says Ha of the SSL Finals. “It looked cool, but I never thought I’d be part of it! This is a great chance to sail against some big names. Compared to the Laser, the techniques on the Star boat are similar, but the steering is different - it is big and heavy, so the momentum is different. I don’t know yet how I’ll get on...”
In terms of age, grand-daddy this year is yacht racing legend Paul Cayard, back sailing here with his Athens 2004 crew Phil Trinter. The renowned Louis Vuitton Cup and Whitbread Round the World Race winner, himself a former Star boat World Champion from 1988, turned 60 this year, but far from hanging up his sea boots, he finished fourth this year at the SSL Breeze Grand Slam and sixth at the Star Worlds in Porto Cervo in June. While several up-and-coming Olympic contenders are competing this year including 25-year-old British Laser sailor Lorenzo Chiavarini (sailing with German Kilian Weise), the youngest is Finland’s Oskari Muhonen (sailing with Ukrainian Vitalii Kushnir). He is one of only four people to be a two time winner of the Finn Silver Cup (for under 23-year-olds).
Present Olympians are best represented by Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic, the Laser silver medallist from Rio 2016, sailing here with Finn sailor Tudor Bilić. Given that the last two SSL Finals have been won by Paul Goodison, a former Laser gold medallist and Jorge Zarif, the Finn Gold Cup winner, Stipanovic should be in with a good chance.
While Zarif is busy campaigning for Tokyo 2020, his crew Brazilian Pedro Trouche will defend their title, sailing with the event’s sole Kiwi, 2006 Star World Champion Hamish Pepper.
“I am really happy to have the chance to return and maybe defend the title,” says Trouche. “Sailing with Hamish is very different but last year we had some nice tuning up together, so we started talking about sailing together this year.” Of this year’s line-up Trouche observes: “We have more younger guys and the line-up is stronger. In Nassau we can also have some breezy days so the game is open. I really don’t know what is going to happen...”
Pepper is one of several Star boat powerhouses among the last generation to compete in the former Olympic keelboat at London 2012. They include Swedish gold medallist Freddie Lööf, sailing here with US London 2012 competitor Brian Fatih, silver medallist (and gold medallist from Beijing 2008) Iain Percy, sailing with Lööf’s 2004 Star World Championship winning crew Anders Ekström. London 2012 bronze medallist Bruno Prada returns, sailing with Poland’s Mateusz Kusznierewicz, who was eighth in Weymouth, a place ahead of SSL President, France’s Xavier Rohart, who is back once again with Pierre-Alexis Ponsot.
Of this group, favourites must be Kusznierewicz/Prada, this year’s World Champions in the Star boat, however Kusznierewicz doesn’t see it this way. “That was almost six months ago and other people have improved since, so our expectations are normal. The SSL Finals is a very special event, the only one where you come up against Olympic, World, European and Continental Champions, America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race winners, etc. There are old friends, but also new faces – we really enjoy it. It is impossible to say who will win - at least 10 out of the 23.”
Three Match Racing World Champions are competing, including Britain’s Ian Williams (sailing here with former Star World Champion Steve Mitchell), who achieved this accolade a record six times. Then there is US Virgin Islander Taylor Canfield (sailing with Arnis Baltins), the present M32 catamaran World Champion, who won the title in 2013 and the 2017 champion, Australian Torvar Mirsky, sailing with Ireland’s Robert O'Leary (brother of London 2012 competitor Peter).
Another Star boat old guard, who have covered more miles than most in recent years, is Italy’s Diego Negri, sailing with Germany’s Frithjof Kleen, Paul Goodison’s 2017 SSL Finals winning crew. Kleen now runs the SSL training centre in Riva del Garda where many of those racing here have been training. From that Kleen reckons two of the ‘dark horses’ this week could be Portugal’s Bernardo Freitas, sailing with former Lars Grael crew Samuel Gonçalves and Chiavarini/Weise.
However having finished third at the last year’s SSL Finals, Kleen believe they are in with a good chance: “We are very confident that if nothing goes too wrong we should be in the top 10. It will be nice to see the big battle between the legends like Percy, Mateusz, Freddy, etc. But everyone has proved they are very good sailors who have earned the right to be here.”
Author: James Boyd - Sailing Intelligence