Next week, the Finn class returns en-masse to La Rochelle, France for the 2013 Finn World Masters. To date some 307 sailors from 27 countries have pre-entered and if all show up it is destined to be not only the largest Finn Masters ever, but also the largest Finn event ever.
While the seniors have held their European Championship in La Rochelle in 2004 (and will again in 2014), the Masters' last visit was way back in 1996, when it was held over the same week as the Finn Gold Cup. But the event has moved on a long way since those distant days when it only attracted a mere 120 boats, though a look at the results list from 1996 shows that many of the same names will be competing next week.
Last year's winner, and the winner for the last three years, Michael Maier (CZE) is back. He is undoubtedly the favourite to take a record equalling fifth Masters title, and barring any disasters shouldn’t have too many problems doing so. The real interest is around who will be chasing him closely enough to cause an upset, or end up on the podium with him.
Allen Burrell (GBR) will be looking for a third successive medal, having been runner-up to Maier in 2011 and 2012. He commented, “It's going to be a great event with 300 Finns and hopefully some perfect weather conditions. The level is always increasing as we get older and younger sailors come in so getting into the top 10 is going to be harder than ever this year, especially with a lot of new sailors competing. Hopefully La Rochelle will suit the bigger, stronger sailors so I hope to be fighting for a medal at the end of the week, but with that many boats anything can happen.”
Laurent Hay (FRA) has been the top Frenchman in recent years at the Masters but he agreed with Burrell. “This year the level should be very high, with of course Mike Maier the best of us. There is also Uli Breuer (GER), Allen Burrell, Karel Van Hellemond (NED) (his first Masters), Andre Budzien (GER), Rob Coutts (NZL), Jorgen Svendsen (DEN).....and several other new sailors in the Masters. So my goal is first to have beautiful races with a lot of pleasure, and if I finish in the top 10 I will be satisfied.”
Explaining the expected conditions, he said, “In La Rochelle we could have different type of winds. The sea breeze sets between 14-18 knots if the weather conditions are OK. But the main characteristics of La Rochelle is a strong chop due to shallow water.”
The fleet is split in Masters (40-49), Grand Masters (50-59), Grand Grand Masters (60-69) and Legends (70+). There are a record number of Legends this year, 27 in total, including the Legend champion for the past two years Howard Sellars (GBR).
There are also many new faces this year including some very strong and successful sailors from across the world. As well as van Hellemond, Svendsen (Danish champion and world number 1 in OK Dinghy, there is Karl Purdie (NZL), a double OK Dinghy world champion who stepped into the Finn the first tie last year.
He said, “ I've always wanted to sail a Finn but it was only at the end of my OK Dinghy career that I was getting big enough and financial enough to be able to sail one. So to sail one is kind of a dream come true. A big attraction I must admit was the Masters scene where you get to line up against past Olympians and medallists.”
“My own goals next week are to hopefully give the top 10 a bit of a run for their money, though long term of course it would be nice to finish top three. It will also be great to just mix with and meet past and current greats of the class. Given the number of entries I can see getting off the start line in good shape will be hard.”
The age range of sailors is as large as the fleet size. The youngest is 39 (you have to turn 40 in the same year to qualify), while the oldest is 78 year old Gus Miller (USA). Surprisingly this is only Miller's second Finn Masters. He said,“The first was also in La Rochelle in 1996.” Miller finished 12th. “I was also in La Rochelle for the 2008 Europeans where I coached the Chinese Team as part of an IFA Development clinic.” Miller said he is using the Masters as a “warm up/practice regatta for the Finn Gold Cup in Tallinn,” this August. Miller famously stated that he wouldn't give up Finn sailing until he had sailed a Finn Gold Cup in Tallinn, though no one really expects him to keep to his word.
Finn Masters President Fons van Gent (NED) said, “It is a great pleasure to return to La Rochelle again and I am sure the Société des Régates Rochelaises will do a wonderful job in keeping us happy on and off the water. So far we have more than 300 entries but it is not about the numbers but about the quality of racing and in this I am sure the Société des Régates Rochelaises will do us proud. It will be nice to meet so many Finn Masters and their families again, especially the large contingent of Legends. It shows that La Rochelle is a popular venue.”
It's been a very sad few days, but the 300 or so Finn sailors arriving in La Rochelle are hoping to lift their spirits a little bit with a memorable week of friendly and competitive racing. Racing begins on Monday 20, May with eight races scheduled until Friday 24, May.
Follow the racing online at the club website at:http://www.srr-sailing.com/finn-world-master/ as well as on www.finnclass.org and http://www.facebook.com/pages/Finn-Class/110408332633