Andre Budzien (GER) maintains his overall lead at the Finn World Masters in Sopot, Poland after an action packed day of thrills and spills in GdaƄsk Bay as strong winds and a full race programme tested the sailors to the limits of endurance. Defending champion, Michael Maier (CZE), is one point behind in second, while Allen Burrell (GBR) is another eight points back in third.

It was a different day in Sopot. The 235 Finn sailors were treated to proper windy conditions and perfect Finn sailing conditions. Strong, gusty winds replaced the light, fickle winds that have dogged the event so far. In one day the fleet sailed as many races as it had already sailed so far this week, to not only make it a valid championship, with also to allow the discard to come into affect. With five races now sailed, the competitors can discard their worst race, which for quite a number of sailors was a BFD.

It was a hard call to run all the races today with the Masters having a wind limit of 20 knots. However that is just a recommendation and it is left to the race management to make the best decision. The offshore wind meant the water was only slightly choppy, but also that the pressure was quite patchy, with several monster gusts causing more than little excitement, especially at the crowded mark rounds. Imagine 20 Finns planing full pelt, on the edge of control, towards a narrow gate, where some have to gybe. For some, the goal was just to make it round intact. Most succeeded, though there were a number of spectacular capsizes and broaches.

Blue fleet got the day under way as they sailed three races to catch up with the lost race from Wednesday. Michael Maier (CZE) took the first race, but in the second had problems with his centreboard, which allowed Ray Hall (NZL) into the lead which he kept to the finish. Maier ended the day with another race win. Aleksandr Kuliukin (RUS) and Igor Frolov (RUS) both had good days with top places to move into fourth and fifth overall. A sixth for Hall in the third race just squeezed him into the medal race on equal points with Marc Allain Des Beauvais (FRA).

Hall recalled his race win, "Mike and I both came off the line at the pin, and I took a hit back into the middle. There were a couple of Russian guys who came out of the right on a good lift and led us both round the top mark. Mike managed to get through to the front on the downwind and I moved up to third. On the second beat I stayed on the left and got on Mike's hip and pushed through at the top mark. I ducked him on the gybe and was able to free pump down to gain the inside angle and came back to cover. He rode down on me on the final reach in the big gusts, but I was able to hold it up the last beat to the finish."

"It was nice. I'd take that every day. Then I broke the tiller extension in the second race, so that was a bit of a painful one, but I still managed sixth. It was a good day, with a good Finn wind and some great rides on the reaches and downwind. It was great fun."

In Yellow fleet Andre Budzien (GER) was made to work for his two race wins. He was in trouble after both starts and had to work his way through on the beats, but his downwind speed saved him. Conversely, Allen Burrell (GBR) should have done better today based on his upwind performance, but he lost places on the downwinds. However it was enough to move up to third, though a nine point gap to first might be too large to bridge. Walter Riosa (ITA) and Piet Eckert (SUI) both had consistent days to also make Friday's medal race.

Budzien commented, "Very good day for a light man like me. It was nice but my first beats are always not so good in heavy winds, but in both races I had a bit of good luck two or three hundred metres before the top mark, where I got some good windshifts and got near to the top guys. Downwind I had good speed. It was hard to defend upwind, but on the downwind I managed to make some distance. In the first race it was Allen pushing me and in the second it was Piet Eckert. I needed a 100 metre or so lead round the downwind mark to keep the lead upwind."

Burrell mulled over his missed chances, "It was a pretty hard day actually. I felt like I had really good speed upwind in the breeze, but I was struggling downwind a bit, maybe because I am bigger than the other guys. I am really aching now, but it was a good day and good fun. It was good for me to race today but a lot of sailors will have struggled in those conditions, because it was quite windy. It's pretty tough on the older guys."

Five races are needed to be able to sail a medal race, so Friday's schedule will be the final race for Yellow and Blue groups (less the medal race sailors) and then the medal race itself. The Masters use a Top Ten Plus rule, which means all sailors on points equal or less than tenth place can sail the medal race. So, tomorrow there will be 12 boats in the medal race.

Interestingly, the top three are all Grand Masters, so will also be competing for those medals. The Grand Grand Masters is being dominated by Henry Sprague (USA), who led Yellow fleet round the first mark in the first race today. He has a 30 point lead over Chris Frijdal (NED), but also has a BFD from race 1, so still needs another good race to take that title. The points are much closer in the Legend category with Howard Sellars (GBR) holding a two point lead over Richard Hart (GBR). While Sellars capsized and retired in his second race in Yellow fleet today, 75 year old Hart completed the three gruelling races in the Blue fleet, and finished all three the top 50. That is some achievement and underline his determination to always sail his best.

The final fleet race is scheduled for 11.00 on Friday with the medal race to be sailed as soon as possible afterwards.

Results after five races:

1 GER 711 Andre Budzien 4
2 CZE 1 Michael Maier 5
3 GBR 2 Allen Burrell 13
4 RUS 161 Aleksandr Kuliukin 14
5 RUS 31 Igor Frolov 17
6 ITA 55 Walter Riosa 22
7 SUI 86 Piet Eckert 24
8 SUI 5 Christen Christoph 26
9 GER 193 Thomas Schmid 28
10 NZL 2 Ray Hall 32
11 FRA 99 Marc Allain Des Beauvais 32
12 RUS 20 Alexey Marchevskiy 32

Full results at:

More photos at:

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