The JP Morgan Asset Management Falmouth Finn Festival continues this weekend with the opening of the Finn Gold Cup, the class world championship with 94 entries from 30 countries registered.
As an Olympic Qualification Regatta, the principal objective of the week is to select the remaining six nations for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Of course many nations are also using the regatta as their final sailor selection event, so the stakes are about as high as they could possibly be for many sailors here.
The regatta is being hosted by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, though the event is based at the Falmouth Watersports Centre with racing taking place in Falmouth Bay. A series of 10 races will constitute the opening series from Sunday 13 May to Thursday 17 May, with a medal race for the top 10 and an 11th race of the rest on Friday 18 May. The festival concludes next Saturday when the sailors will take part in the Olympic Torch relay, which passes through the town on the first day of its route around Britain.
The Finn Class has a quota of 25 entries into the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Eighteen nations qualified last December at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the USA, in addition to Great Britain as the host. The final six nations will be known by the end of next week.
The top favourites for the remaining places include Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, Poland and Turkey, though there are also others sailors from Bulgaria, China, Hungary, India, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway and Switzerland competing, and some of them stand a good chance of qualification if the week goes their way.
The entry list includes four former world champions and three Olympic medalists. Seventeen out of the 26 Olympians from 2008 are also competing here. It is perhaps the highest quality fleet the class has fielded for several years.
With a few exceptions it is fairly hard to predict any sort of form going into this regatta. It has been a very strange start to the season. Sailors peaked for the 2011 Finn Gold Cup in December last year and since then many have preferred to train in small groups rather than compete in the major events. Numbers at all events this year have been down with groups training in Cadiz, Valencia, Palma and other venues with only the Princesa Sofia regatta in Palma attracting the bulk of the top ranked sailors. In addition, the Europeans and Palma were generally very light while Hyeres was very windy.
Last week's UK National Championships provided a brief indication of form. Though Giles Scott (GBR) won the event, one man who arguably has some unfinished business next week is the five times world champion Ben Ainslie (GBR). After being denied a possible sixth title in Perth last December, he will be keen to rectify matters, in what could potentially be his final Finn Gold Cup.
Ainslie said earlier, “For me it's great to be sailing back in Cornwall where I grew up. I've never really raced here so I am learning a lot . It will be tough and I'll have to raise my game a little bit. It will be easier without Giles there, though it's still incredibly tough out there to win these races.”
Current world champion Scott is not able to defend his title next week due to a clash of dates with the the AC 45 event in Venice and his commitments to Team Korea. Scott explained, “I am sad that I'm not sailing the Gold Cup, but as much as I like Finn sailing, it is quite a good year to go off and do other things and get some new experiences."
Other former world champions Edward Wright (GBR), Rafael Trujillo (ESP) and Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) will also be in contention, as will the 2008 Olympic silver medalist Zach Railey (USA), who also picked up the silver medal in Palma earlier this year.
However Ainslie's main threat will probably come from the last year's runner-up, Pieter-Jan Postma (NED). Having won two races last weekend, he is clearly on form and should revel in the conditions if the wind and waves are up. Ainslie famously denied Postma the silver medal at last year's test event and Postma is determined not to let that happen again, coming back more focussed and prepared, and promising to race harder than ever before.
The silver medal at the test event went to Jonathan Lobert (FRA), who is another favourite next week. Double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) is also likely to figure highly. He won the last windy race at the UK Nationals and is one of the most focussed sailors on the circuit. Historically he has always performed better in light winds, but now seems to have overcome that and looks to be equally as quick when the breeze is up.
Kljakovic Gaspic said, "Getting ready for the Gold Cup I feel really good. I seem to have more speed especially in stronger winds which was a problem for me for a couple of years. So I am now quite competitive and I can't wait for the Gold Cup to begin.”
Other race winners or top performers could include Deniss Karpak (EST), Andrew Mills (GBR), Mark Andrews (GBR), Daniel Birgmark (SWE), Dan Slater (NZL), Chris Cook (CAN) and Brendan Casey (AUS), who recently won the Hyeres regatta.
We asked Scott for his predictions next week. “I would say Ben is the favourite. And then when it is windy PJ [Postma] will be quick. There are maybe four or five others who I couldn't decide between for the medals between, such as Ed, Jonas, Ivan and Jonathan, but for the win, Ben would be the safe money, going on history.”
A wide ranging media package is being rolled out during the championship courtesy of the main sponsor JP Morgan Asset Management as well as the International Finn Association including:
Live race tracking with one of the industry leaders, TracTrac.
Daily live blog with on the water Twitter feeds and viewer comments
Photography by Mark Lloyd, the Finn class and others
Daily YouTube video round ups of all the day's action
TV highlights feed via download
All this can be found through the event website at: www.falmouthfinnfestival.com
The opening ceremony will be held at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, adjacent to the regatta venue, on Saturday 12 May. Then, racing begins on Sunday 13 May with two races scheduled each day at 12.00 through until Thursday 17 May. On Friday 18 May the event will conclude with the medal race for the top 10 and the 11th race for everyone else.
Saturday 12 May, Events Square, Falmouth 10.30am – 11.15am Meet the competitors, opportunity to interview and photograph competitors prior to the Gold Cup starting on Sunday 13th May
Saturday 12 May 6.30pm, Opening Ceremony at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth.
Friday 18 May after racing (around 4.00pm) and at 8.00pm Prizegiving and Closing Ceremony at Festival Marquee at Events Square, Falmouth.