A huge fleet of 99 Finns from 30 nations has registered for the ISAF Sailing World Cup Mallorca, which starts on Monday, the traditional start of the European season. The Finns have amassed the second largest entry out of all the 11 fleets in Palma and includes almost every top sailor currently in the class. It also marks the start of a six month lead up to the ISAF Sailing World Championship in Santander, Spain, where half of the country allocations for the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition will be decided.
SWC Mallorca therefore represents an important test for the season ahead to see which of the current sailors have benefited from winter training and gear development. In effect, it is the first real test of the Olympiad where everyone who wants to be in Rio in 29 months time will be out to prove themselves.
The line up includes the new world number one Oliver Tweddell (AUS), along with the 2013 European Champion Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) and world champion Jorge Zarif (BRA). Also sailing are the winners of the SWC Miami (and last years winner here in Palma), Giles Scott (GBR), and of the SWC Melbourne Björn Allansson (SWE).
Other names to watch include 2010 world champion Ed Wright (GBR), London 2012 Bronze medalist Jonathan Lobert (FRA) and double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO).
The Russians are fielding the largest team with 12 sailors in Palma, while the Italian team are not far behind with 10 sailors. The British are as usual here in strength and numbers also with eight sailors including Scott, Wright, Andrew Mills (GBR), Mark Andrews (GBR) and four younger sailors.
South America is well represented with not only regulars Zarif and Bruno Prada (BRA), but also sailors from Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Oliver Tweddell will be sailing his first regatta as the world No 1. He said, "It is pretty cool to be ranked number 1 in the World as it is a reflection of a solid 2013/14 season. However, the main focus this year is qualifying the country for the Olympics in Santander, and from there continually improving my performance towards Rio. For me Palma is a training regatta where I am aiming to implement some new techniques and regatta processes in the lead up to Santander. Santander is the peak event for the season, so everything I do between now and then is all focussed at being the best prepared I can for that event."
"Since Miami, we have had a few training camps back home, and a little bit of time off to rest and recover. I have got a new Devoti hull for this season and have been really pleased with its performance so far." Reflecting a lot of new mast and sail development in the class, he said, "A lot of sailors are using different makes and models now, so we are just checking in to see if there are any potential benefits for us."
Australia has a strong and developing Finn team with Jake Lilley (AUS), silver medalist at last year's Silver Cup (Junior Worlds) also here in Palma. Tweddell continued, "Jake and I work really well together, we both push each other hard in training on and off the water. We complement each other well with different strengths and weaknesses, which in turn will only help us both improve in the long run. Our aim is to be the best Finn squad in the world, so we will continue to work together to achieve that goal."
Giles Scott, who took the SWC Miami from Tweddell in a medal race thriller is looking to continue his winning streak that includes the EUROSAF event in La Rochelle in October, the Copa Brasil de Vela at Rio in January and then Miami. "There's a massive fleet here so presumably we'll be racing in fleets which will make a bit of a change to the norm and obviously with those numbers comes a lot of great sailors. For sure it seems this cycle has stepped up a gear with the ISAF Worlds only a few months away. Not too sure what the criteria is for Santander qualification but for me nothing really changes. I just want to sail well here in Palma."
"I've done about 10 days in Palma since Miami but other than that I've not been up to too much, chilling at home in the cold. But the British Finn fleet is in a pretty good place at the moment with a good group of young lads coming though as well as the rest of us who have been doing it a while now. It's a pretty big group so James 'Dr Dre' Gray has taken on coaching the younger guys which is great as it keeps a big group working well without anyone loosing coaching attention."
One of the new sailors to the class in 2013, Josh Junior (NZL) comes into 2014 as the new New Zealand champion after a busy season down under over the European winter.
He said, "It's been a really good summer for me down in New Zealand. I had a great season last year, so we have just been trying to build on that. We spent a bit of the summer trying to gain a better understanding about how the rigs and sails worked, as well as competing in our local regattas."
"The result here is not to important. but it will be good to see how far we have come over the summer, and like all events I always like to go well, so I will be looking for a good result."
"Everyone seems to be here for this event, and I think everyone has put a lot of work in over the winter. It will be interesting to see how everyone has developed, but for sure the standard will be higher this year than last year."
Racing for the ISAF Sailing World Cup Mallorca / 45th Trofeo SAR Princesa Sofia starts on Monday with a 12 race series for the Finns, ending in the medal race for the top 10 next Saturday.
Over the last few days a small group of Finn sailors and ISAF judges have been taking part in a Rule 42 clinic, organised and arranged by the Finn Class and ISAF. One of the chief objectives of the clinic was to start to build a library of video clips to train judges and sailors on the nuances of Rule 42 decisions. In all, 36 situations were outlined and attempted on the water including sculling, pumping, rocking, tacking and gybing. It is worth noting that around half of the actions outlined were permitted actions to train judges not to penalise a legitimate action.
The panel of sailors was a good mix of new, elite and experienced sailors across the age range, and representing 10 nations. The weather didn't quite play along with high winds on Saturday precluding any on the water sessions, but the clinic concluded Saturday afternoon with a lively discussion and presentation of the clips obtained on Friday. These clips will be made available through the Finn Class website in due course and will be supplemented during the year.
Follow the ISAF SWC Mallorca at: http://www.trofeoprincesasofia.org