What happens when you add 300 Finns to a popular Italian beach resort with fantastic sailing conditions and a full social programme, while reuniting sailing friends from across the globe for a week of relaxed and friendly but fiercely competitive sailing?
Next week at the PuntAla Camping Resort on the Tuscan coast in Italy we will find out. The 2011 Finn World Masters has broken all records this year with 306 Finns from 29 countries pre-entered.
The previous record set in 2009 of 264 registered boats looks set to be smashed as the boats starts to gather this week for the first race on Monday 13th June. The Finn World Masters seems to get more popular every year, not least by Finn sailors getting older and reaching the qualifying age.
Unsurprisingly Italy is fielding the largest team with 52 boats, while Germany and The Netherlands are not far behind on 50 and 47 apiece. Great Britain has 26 and Switzerland has 21, and there are entries from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and South Africa.
The defending champion is Michael Maier (CZE), who also won the event in 2006. He is still sailing almost full time on the senior Finn circuit, so he is definitely the one to beat.
Also expected to be at the front will be the three times winner Andre Budzien (GER). Budzien's three wins from 2007 to 2009 followed straight on from four times as runner-up, while last year he was runner up for the fifth time. His remarkable record of eight consecutive top-two placings is a record within the class.
Others to look out for include the 2005 and 2007 bronze medalist Allen Burrell (GBR), who recently won his first British national title; bronze medalist in 2009, Laurent Hay (FRA) who should perform well if the wind is light; silver medalist in 2009 Jurgen Eiermann (GER); and Marco Buglielli (ITA), another good performer in light winds.
Surprisingly a lot of the top ten from the past few years will not be present, and while this means there could be some new names at the front it also highlights that the event still has a long way to go to reach saturation. The milestone of 200 entries was only reached in 2008, and with 300 boats on the water looking likely for 2011, one wonders where this will end and whether venues can be found to host such massive regattas.
The Grand Masters (50-59 years) section has 99 entries, and while Michael Gubi (AUT) is not defending his title, last year's runner up Lars Hall (DEN) is competing. In the Grand Grand Masters (60-69 years) section, with 77 entries, the defending champion is Luksa Cicarelli (CRO) while last year's Legend (70+) winner Richard Hart (GBR) is also back to defend his title.
At 73 years old, Hart is sailing about as fast as he has done over the past 20 years and recently won a race at the British Nationals, beating sailors 50 years his junior in the process and earning himself a nomination for the Seahorse Magazine Sailor of the Month award. Last year he was virtually unchallenged for the Legend trophy, but this year there are more Legends competing than ever before. A total of 23 Legends will line up to win one of the most coveted trophies in the class. To be a Legend world champion is the ambition of almost every sailor in the class; in fact just to be a Legend is the ambition of almost every sailor in the class.
The venue – and the major sponsor for the event – is the PuntAla Camping Resort, a massive bungalow, mobile home and camping park set in a pine forest on the shores of the Mediterranean in the Maremma region of Tuscany. The racing will be organised by the resort's own sailing club, the Circolo Velico Cala Civette. Most of the competitors will stay in the resort for the week, with the boats launched from the perfect sandy beach into the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean. The popularity of this venue has undoubtedly been a key factor in the massive pre-entry this year.
The racing will be held within the Gulf of Follonica, which is largely protected offshore by the Island of Elba, Napolean Bonapart's once-while place of exile. The bay is not unknown to Finn sailors. Scarlino, located a few miles up the coast, hosted the 2008 Finn Europeans, and will again host it in 2012. The geography of the gulf means it is protected from strong currents and very strong winds, and it has a fairly reliable seabreeze.
The practice race and opening ceremony will be held on Sunday 12th June. To cope with the large entry, the huge fleet is being split into various heats, changing each day. Eight races are scheduled from Monday 13th June to Friday 17th June, when the new 2011 Finn Masters World Champions will be crowned.