The 86 Star keelboats had a tense start to proceedings, with a two-hour delay before the start of racing as committee and competitors waited for the weather to settle. After a cloudy, drizzly morning a new weather front came through at lunchtime as predicted, bringing sun and around 18 knots of west-south-westerlies.
The top quality fleet finally got underway after three postponements due to the shifting winds, and with the startline packed with ultra-competitive teams the Black Flag was brought into force, four helms fell foul of crossing the startline early, including Diego Negri (ITA).
Monday's single race was a two-lap windward-leeward course, with each leg around 2 nautical miles. In gusty conditions the Stars were powered up and sometimes overpowered, with two boats dismasted, Mats Johansson and Leif Moller (SWE) were first to lose theirs, and several teams reporting damage or torn sails.
The early leaders were Kunio Suzuki and Wada Daichi (JPN). The former Olympic Laser sailor had a textbook first beat, judging every wind shift correctly to show the fleet around the first top mark. Behind them all three medalists from the 2008 Olympic Games were chasing hard. Fredrik Loof (SWE), who was third at Qingdao, followed in second, with gold medalists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR) in third, and Olympic runners-up Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (BRA) in fourth.
By the second beat British team of Percy/Simpson had fought their way to the front, a position which they held to the final downwind gate, with Loof and Scheidt still in third and fourth respectively. Alexander Schlonski/Frithjof Kleen (GER) of the home nation were on their tails in fifth.
However, in the shifty conditions Fredrik Loof, sailing with new team mate Johan Tillander (SWE) made the better call up the final beat, heading left to just edge past the British team and take first at the finish line. Behind Percy/Simspon (GBR) were in second, with Suzuki/Daichi (JPN) in third.
Winner Fredrik Loof said afterwards: "We hadn't had a brilliant start but worked our way through the fleet. We were pretty fast in these conditions and gained step by step. Finally we overtook the Brits on the second half of the very last beat."
Second placed crew Andrew Simpson said: "It was a really tough race today, very shifty and much more wind than we expected. We felt like one year ago in Qingdao with all the Olympic medalists fighting each other. But also the Japanese sailed a clever race with easy decisions.
"We were leading at the second gate but Freddy took a high risk on the last beat heading hard left, this paid off. We're very happy with the second place and it's great to be back racing again in such a competitive fleet."
In fourth was current world number one Robert Scheidt (BRA), who was suffering some damage sustained in the breezy conditions. Scheidt explained: "We had a small rip in our mainsail and couldn't really trim it hard on the final beat. Otherwise we would have attacked the Japanese more."
Day Two: Triple-whammy of Stars tied at the top
For the second day of racing the Kiel Fjord yet again produced gusty west-south-westerly conditions which caused some gear damage on Tuesday (7 July). Although the skies were dotted with clouds, there were thankfully no signs of the thunderstorms which arrived the day before. Racing on a two-lap windward-leeward course for the day's opener, first victory went to Percy/Simpson. After a close downwind duel with rivals Scheidt/Prada, which saw Scheidt yellow-flagged by the on-the-water jury, the Olympic gold medalists added a win to the second place on the first day to top the leader board.
Behind them the Greek team of Emilios Papathansiou and Karnoutsos Apostolos took second. However, the Greek duo failed to complete the opening race on Monday and fell foul of the Black Flag in Tuesday's second, leaving them with two 88-point scores and plunging them down the overall results to 61st position. Fellow Qingdao Olympic medalist Fredrik Loof showed consistency in shifty conditions to take third, Scheidt held onto fourth after completing his 720 penalty turns, whilst fifth went to Mark Mendelblatt and Mark Strube (USA).
For the second race of the day Scheidt and Prada didn't put a foot wrong to take the gun, finishing first ahead of Babendererde and Jacobs, who gave the world number one a good challenge until the final leg. Third went to Alberto Barovier and Nando Colaninno (ITA), who had not previously troubled the top 15 at this year's Rolex Baltic Week - proving that the 86-boat fleet is packed with contenders who could upset the established order. In fourth place were Juan Kouyoumdjian and Alejandro Colla (ARG). The renowned yacht designer helped create the latest Mader-built Star which was sailed to Olympic gold last year by Percy/Simpson in Qingdao. In the third Rolex Baltic Week race Kouyoumdjian was followed home by Loof in fifth and Percy in sixth.
After two days of racing this leaves all three Olympians - Percy, Loof and Scheidt - tied at the top on 9 points apiece. With one win and one second place to count, it is Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR) who top the leaderboard overnight. Percy was pleased with his win today, but admitted that they the shifting conditions at the Rolex Baltic Cup were still a challenge.
Percy said: "We were in a hard position fight with Robert Scheidt on the downwind finish leg, but he got a yellow flag (720) and we won safely at the end. But in the last race we should have finished third. We lost three boats on the last 100 meters before the line. It was very tricky, shifty and gusty winds, and we got the tactics totally wrong. This was pretty frustrating. We still need to improve."
In second overall is Fredrik Loof, sailing his first event with Johan Tillander. Loof commented: "I'm happy all in all to be with the top runners again with my new crew. We need to be a little more aggressive at the start. Our upwind speed is okay and the downwind speed is already excellent. But it is still a long way to go at the Rolex Baltic Week with five races to go."
Robert Scheidt added: "We lost three boats when we got the penalty by the on-water jury. The decision was okay but didn't make us happy at all. The second race was easy at the end when the two young Germans [Babendererde/Jacobs] stopped attacking us to cover their second place. Before that they were only 30 meters behind us. Scoring a bullet is still a nice feeling in such a competitive fleet."
Those young Germans - Babendererde and Jacobs - are currently lying in fourth overall after some determined sailing in Tueday's second race. Timo Jacobs commented: "We were almost leading at the first mark in race two, but misjudged the tactics on the downwind leg totally, ending up 20th or so at the gate. But we fought back boat by boat into the top 10 again. On the last beat to the finish in race 3 we had five boats close behind us. Then we decided to better cover them instead of attacking Scheidt for the bullet."
The cream keeps rising to the top at Rolex Baltic Week - July 8, 2009
Day 3 of the Rolex Baltic Week on the Kiel Fjord, northern Germany, brought cloudy skies and showers. The gusty, shifty conditions which have characterized the event so far continued, with south-westerly breezes shifting up to 20 degrees. Today's average wind strength was around 12-15 knots, but the rain clouds also brought squalls which pushed the pressure up to 18-20 knots.
A large shift just after the gun saw the first start recalled, but the fleet restarted under the Black Flag just after midday. Xavier Rohart (FRA), with new crew Pierre Alexis Ponsot, sailed a near-faultless race to lead around every mark and take the gun. Behind him there was plenty of scrapping for positions, with Percy/Simpson pushing hard to climb through the fleet from ninth at the first top mark, to sixth at the gate, then finally surging past Hamish Pepper (NZL) on a wave to take second. The Kiwi duo of Hamish Pepper and Craig Monk held on for third, with world number one Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (BRA) fourth.
Fifth across the line was the home team of Alexander Schlonski/Frithjof Kleen (GER), but were found to have been black-flagged at the start. Fifth place points went to Flavio Marazzi/Erico De Maria (SUI), who couldn't quite get to Robert Scheidt, while Loof climbed from 14th to sixth. Throughout the entire fleet there were plenty of place changes, with a single high scoring race or black flag putting paid to many teams' chances.
The second race of the day saw an exciting match-racing style finale, with Fredrik Loof and Robert Scheidt pushing hard to get their nose in front. Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (GBR) took the early lead, and showed the fleet the way round until the final beat, when they tacked back in from the favored right-hand side to the middle of the fleet a bit too late to lose a handful of places. This put Loof out in front, and set up a tacking duel for the race win with Scheidt. The Brazilian tacked out to the right just as Loof headed for the left-hand side. The Swede was held out to the left of the pack, whilst Scheidt got a little shift to overtake into first place.
Third place went to Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA), winner of the 2006 Rolex Baltic Week, whilst Percy/Simpson finished in fourth. A fifth rounded off an improved Day 3 for the French pairing of Rohart, a former World Champion, and Ponsot. Hamish Pepper was among those to fall foul of the black flag.
This second win for Robert Scheidt leaves him in second place overall on 10 points, just one point behind the Olympic gold medalists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson, who can now discard Tuesday's sixth, and one point ahead of Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander in third. While just two points separate the leaders, it's a further 15 points back to fourth-placed Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER). As fellow German helm Johannes Babendererde, lying in 7th overall, put it: "After fourth place the silver fleet begins!"
With two more days of racing for the Rolex Baltic Week, there's no doubt that Scheidt and Loof will be looking to upset the Olympic order. However, Scheidt warned that the British leaders would be a hard act to beat, saying: "If you want to beat Percy you really need to sail very well. He is pretty quick and without his fault you hardly can beat him at all."
Percy repaid the compliment, adding: "It is the same the other way around. These guys at the top all sail very well. We are a bit untrained since we haven't raced since the Olympics [only Kieler Woche], that doesn't help. We were a bit unlucky in the second race or made a small mistake, however you see it, and we got punished right away. But it's a great regatta, fantastic competition."
The Rolex Baltic Week teams now have a chance to regroup and repair any damage with a reserve day scheduled before the final three races. Crew Markus Koy (4th place overall) commented: "We are satisfied with our ranking, although we had a little problem with our boat speed. When it got lighter upwind we were too slow. We'll pull the mast out on Thursday and want to change the rig trim."
Racing resumes on Friday, 10 July, with two more races scheduled. The Star Class European Championship will end on Saturday with one final race to come. The sailors and organizers celebrated the classes' traditional mid-week prize-giving with an extra-ordinary Rolex Baltic Week dinner on Wednesday night.
Early celebrations - and a day of relaxation July 9, 2009
Thursday (9th July) was a layday for competitors in the 2009 Star European Championships at Rolex Baltic Week, giving the 89 crews a chance to relax, regroup, and make repairs to their boats after three preceding days of gusty, testing racing. Many teams could be seen checking their boats and rigs in the Olympic marina Kiel-Schilksee. For others it was time to chill out in the Rolex Baltic Week race village and recover from five hard-fought races in fresh breezes.
The evening before the teams got the chance to celebrate the event's achievements so far in this world-class fleet, with the traditional Star Class Mid-Series Prize-giving and Rolex Baltic Week dinner. Over 200 sailors, organisers and honourable guests gathered in the lavishly decorated Grand Marquee to enjoy a delicious dinner of fine cuisine.
After the hungry crews had been treated to a starter of fried scallops and king prawns or sardine tartar and deep-fried Manchego cheese with Rioja figs, a prize-giving was held for the mid-regatta leaders. Silver plates courtesy of Robbe & Berking were awarded to the podium winners by Alexander Hagen, Continental Vice President of the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association ISCYRA.
Currently in first place are Qingdao Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR), followed by bronze medallists Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (BRA) in second place, and the Olympic silver medal winner Fredrik Loof, sailing with Johan Tillander (SWE) in third. With just two points separating the three leaders, and Loof 15 points clear of fourth placed Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER), these three teams are now surely favourites for the big prizes on Saturday, including the Rolex Submariner Date timepieces (one each is awarded to the first-placed helm and crew) and the Oskar Meier Perpetual Trophy for the winning skipper and crew.
The luxurious evening continued with a main course of grilled filet of beef with red wine sauce, free-range "Ahrensboeker" chicken on glazed vegetable tarte, or "Strander" turbot. Then live music was supplied by the band "Max & Friends", who played non-stop pop and soul hits during a dessert of 'Salt and Pepper' brownies, strawberry tiramisu and lemon tarte.
At midnight the band and guests sang a 'Happy Birthday' to celebrate Dierk Thomsen's 74th. Thomsen, the chief organizer from Kieler Yacht-Club and Vice Commodore of the ISCYRA, received a Star jib signed by all competitors, while the party continued deep into the night.
After Thursday's relaxation, the Star fleet can expect yet more big breeze racing to come. A storm depression is approaching northern Germany, which may result in racing being postponed on Friday morning, however Race Chairman Christian Haacke from Berlin hopes to get two more races underway in the afternoon.
Day Five. July 10, 2009: Rolex Baltic Week set for final day showdown with just one point separating Star rivals
With unsettled weather of clouds, rain showers, and southwesterly winds gusting up 23 knots on the Kiel Fjord in Germany, Friday's sailing was postponed until early afternoon. Racing finally got underway on the third attempt at around 15.30, the first start having been abandoned due to a major windshift. With a current running behind the fleet for the first time this week, the second start was a general recall - of the 88 competitors, 26 were Black Flagged, whilst the race committee spotted a further 15 or so over the line that couldn't be identified by either bow or sail numbers.
On the third attempt racing began in a shifty south-westerly of around 14-18 knots, on a two-lap windward-leeward course with a final upwind finish. Many of the dominant players were back in the pack for the first lap, with Flemming Sørensen/Niels Hansen-Thrysøe (DEN) getting the best start to lead around the top mark from Lars Grael/Ronald Seifert (BRA) and Diego Negri/ Giovanni Stilo (ITA) in third.
In an upset to the previous form, Scheidt/Prada found themselves back in 12th for the first lap, with Percy/Simpson around 16th, while Loof/Tillander rounded the top mark in 29th position. On the shifty racecourse the top mark was changed to a bearing of around 270 degrees.
However, this Olympic trio's experience and determination saw them fight their way back into contention, showing phenomenal boat speed. Percy/Simpson leap-frogged their way back up the fleet throughout the second round, pulling ahead at one stage on the downwind leg, but Scheidt/Prada chose the better tactical options, taking the right-hand gate on the second downwind leg to secure the gun at the end.
Together with Negri/Stilo, who climbed one place to second, Percy/Simpson opted to go left at the final bottom mark, finishing in third. Fourth went to Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk (NZL). Loof too had pulled off some impressive place gains to finish in fifth position, with sixth going to George Szabo/Rick Peters (USA), a first top 10 position for them.
Iain Percy said: "It was very hard racing. We made a big mistake on the second run when we chose the wrong mark of the gate. Scheidt rounded the right mark and we took the left together with Negri. Immediately he overtook both of us. There was so much going on on that run that we simply missed making the right call. It's a matter of practice, since we haven't sailed for eight months."
Today's remarkable display leaves Scheidt/Prada in first place overall on 11 points, with Percy/Simpson just one point back in second - could the scene be set for a final day match race between the two rivals? Iain Percy wouldn't be drawn on Saturday's tactics, saying: "We'll see whether the last day brings one or two races. If only one gets underway it's up to Scheidt to decide whether he wants to try to cover us or not. I think we don't need to be anxious about this because we have the best experience in match racing from the America's Cup and other regattas."
Scheidt added: "We managed to round the first mark in 12th position, although it was a very tricky beat. After this we worked our way through the fleet with good speed and looking for the shifts and puffs. We got nearly all of them right, but Percy sailed smart too. He overtook us on the second run when he gybed early, but good for us he went to the left gate mark. We'll see what's gonna happen on Saturday but we'll keep an eye on them that's for sure!"
Third overall are Loof/Tillander on 16 points. The Swedish pairing are far from out of contention, Loof commenting: "We started on the left side of the line and headed to the left when we got punished by a 30-degree right shift. Coming from 29th at the top mark and finishing 5th is not bad although our direct opponents did better. >From the first mark to the finish we gained more than 150 metres on Percy, which indicates we were not slow. Maybe we will have an advantage being out of the duel at the top of the fleet."
The US American crew of Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube have moved into fourth on 36 points. First German crew overall is Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy in 5th, followed by Flavio Marazzi/Enrico De Maria (SUI) in 6th, then fellow home team Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (GER) in 7th. Three top-10 finishes leave Pepper/ Monk in 8th, although they have a 89th (BFD) to discard, while 9th is Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot (FRA), Black Flagged on Friday, and 10th Nicola Celon/Edoardo Natucci (ITA). Scheidt and Prada crowned 2009 Star European Champions in photo-finish finale at Rolex Baltic Week
Final Day = July 11, 2009
World number one Star class sailors Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada from Brazil clinched the 2009 Star European Championships title on Saturday (11 July) at a nail-biting final day of the Rolex Baltic Week in Kiel, Germany. Topping a world-class fleet of 89 boats, Scheidt/Prada went into the last day's racing with just a one-point lead over early leaders and Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (Great Britain). But they extended it to a four point victory in a dramatic final showdown between these long-standing rivals, with fellow Olympic medallist Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander from Sweden snapping at their heels in third overall tied on points with the Brits.
In a fresh south-westerly breeze of 18-19 knots, racing got underway at the first attempt with a clean start. The bulk of the pack started close to the favoured committee boat end, with few teams opting for the pin end. Covered by the fleet, the three big guns struggled to get a clear track up the first beat. Loof came out best, in fifth place, whilst the early lead went to Flemming Sörensen/Niels Hansen-Thrysøe (DEN), followed by Martin Lovrovic/Sinis Mikulicic (CRO) and Johannes Polgar/Tim Kroeger (GER). Lars Grael (BRA) rounded the first mark a little ahead of Loof, with Percy back in 13th.
Overall leader Scheidt was initially buried in the pack, approaching the top mark somewhere in the upper 30s or lower 40s. The breeze dropped to 13 knots during the first round, with Xavier Rohart (FRA) making gains to climb to fourth. As a new windward mark was set, the breeze picked back up for the second round to 17-18 knots. The Danes were still in the lead at the second top mark, but the Croatian team lost out to first Rohart then Polgar. Of the podium contenders, Loof was still in fifth whilst Percy had dropped one place down to 14th and Scheidt still failed to make any impression on the race. The downwind finish saw the French team pushing their boat right to the edge in gusts of around 20 knots, surfing the small waves and grabbing the bullet from Sörensen by less than a boat length. Polgar/Kroeger celebrated their first podium finish in third with Loof/Tillander coming 4th.
Scheidt/Prada immediately discarded their 30th place, replacing it with a fourth from earlier in the week. Meanwhile Percy/Simpson were also able to discard their 10th from the day's first race, but were forced to bring a 6th place finish from Wednesday into the calculations. Hence, Scheidt/Prada's overall lead crept up to three points, but with 88 boats at the starting line and the ever-present black flag, it all hung on the final race.
With tensions running high, race chairman Christian Haacke from Berlin promptly started the final race of the Rolex Baltic Week at 13.30 (local time), on a 1.75-nautical mile course with an upwind finish to determine the overall winners. In blustery breezes the sun came out for the grand finale.
And what a finale it was, with all three podium contenders separated by less than two boat lengths at the final gun. An easing breeze made for an ultra-tense final lap, with both Percy and Loof able to creep through the leading group. Overall leaders Scheidt/Prada opted to cover Percy/Simpson in defence of the overall title, letting Loof and the German team of Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs through.
Whilst the Olympians duelled for position, at the finish it was Babendererde/Jacobs who took a popular home win, whilst just half a boat length behind them came Loof/Tillander (SWE) in second. Crucially in third place were Scheidt/Prada, who managed to hold off closest rivals Percy/Mitchell by just half a boat length, who were overlapped in fourth.
This gave Scheidt/Prada the 2009 Star European Championships, and the Rolex Baltic Week prizes of two Rolex Submariner Date timepieces, with 18 points, including no fewer than three race wins. An exhilarated Scheidt said afterwards: "What a day... tough and great racing again out there. We missed a big shift to the right in the first race and never came back. We needed to wash our minds free from that one before we went into the last. And we started well, sailed fast and clever, leading and controlling the fleet halfway up the final beat. Then the wind died and we saw Percy and Loof firing along the course coming closer and closer. It was hard to decide whom we should cover. We kept closer to Percy than Loof and managed to stay ahead of the Brits, with Loof and the great young German guys passing us. We are so happy to win this tough regatta and proud to receive the watches (Rolex Submariner Date timepieces)."
Tied on 22 points overall are Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson, and Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander, with the Brits just taking second on countback. A disappointed Percy said: "We sailed badly again on the last day especially on the wind shifts. We didn't deserve the title this time." And third-placed Loof commented: "I'm pretty happy about our performance coming here with a new crew mate, although we missed the top of the podium [it was] quite tight."
Behind the top three were more than 40 points between Loof/Tillander and the next crews, Loof explained: "The three top scorers pushed each other very hard and that might make the difference to the rest of the fleet. We've trained with Scheidt at the beginning of the season and we all had a big benefit from this. They are a bit faster upwind I think and we have an advantage downwind."
Loof also praised the organizers of Rolex Baltic Week, saying: "The Rolex Baltic Week was a great regatta on the water and on shore. Close racing and fabulous social events. Thanks to the organizers." For many of the leading Star contenders the battle now continues, with the world championships in Sweden next month. Loof added: "We are looking forward to the Worlds in two weeks time from now in Swedish home waters off Varberg. I know this area very well and hope for revenge there!"
Brits Percy/Simpson will not be taking part in the re-match however, as crew Andrew Simpson has an important wedding to attend - his own! "We came here because of the ongoing legal action the America's Cup and no racing there," explained Percy. "We have a quiet season and will not going to the Worlds in Sweden because Andrew will celebrate his marriage."
In fourth overall at the Rolex Baltic Week was the consistent duo of Flavio Marazzi/Enrico De Maria (SUI). The final race winners Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (GER) finished top German team in 5th beaten by not more than half a point, with team mates Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (GER) in 6th. Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA) took 7th, with double race winners Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot in 8th. Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk finished 9th overall, with Diego Negri/Giovanni Stilo (ITA) rounding off the top 10.
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