Just under 90 Stars lined up on Kiel Fjord on Monday for the first day of Rolex Baltic Week and the Star Class 2009 European Championships.
With 11 out of the top 12 teams on the current ISAF World Sailing Rankings
taking part the competition was always going to be hot, with the Olympic contenders immediately resuming the battle they began in Qingdao last August - and some of them are clearly out for revenge.
The 86 Star keelboats had a tense start to proceedings, with a two-hour delay before the start of racing as committee and competitors waited for the weather to settle. After a cloudy, drizzly morning a new weather front came through at lunchtime as predicted, bringing sun and around 18 knots of west southwesterlies.
The top quality fleet finally got underway after three postponements due to the shifting winds, and with the startline packed with ultra-competitive teams the Black Flag was brought into force - four helms fell foul of crossing the startline early, including Diego NEGRI (ITA).
Monday's single race was a two-lap windward-leeward course, with each leg around 2 nautical miles. In gusty conditions the Stars were powered up and sometimes overpowered, with two boats dismasted - Mats JOHANSSON
and Leif MOLLER
(SWE) were first to lose theirs - and several teams reporting damage or torn sails.
The early leaders were Kunio SUZUKI
and Daichi WADA
(JPN). The former Olympic Laser sailor had a textbook first beat, judging every wind shift correctly to show the fleet around the first top mark. Behind them all three medallists from the 2008 Olympic Games were chasing hard. Fredrik LOOF
(SWE), who was third at Qingdao, followed in second, with gold medallists Iain PERCY
and Andrew SIMPSON
(GBR) in third, and Olympic silver medallists Robert SCHEIDT
and Bruno PRADA
(BRA) in fourth.
By the second beat British team of PERCY and SIMPSON had fought their way to the front, a position which they held to the final downwind gate, with LOOF and SCHEIDT still in third and fourth respectively. Alexander SCHLONSKI
and Frithjof KLEEN
(GER) of the home nation were on their tails in fifth.
However, in the shifty conditions LOOF, sailing with new team mate Johan TILLANDER
(SWE) made the better call up the final beat, heading left to just edge past the British team and take first at the finish line. Behind PERCY and SIMSPON were in second, with SUZUKI and DAICHI in third.
Winner LOOF said afterwards, "We hadn't had a brilliant start but worked our way through the fleet. We were pretty fast in these conditions and gained step by step. Finally we overtook the Brits on the second half of the very last beat."
Second placed crew SIMPSON said, "It was a really tough race today, very shifty and much more wind than we expected. We felt like one year ago in Qingdao with all the Olympic medallists fighting each other. But also the Japanese sailed a clever race with easy decisions.
"We were leading at the second gate but Freddy took a high risk on the last beat heading hard left, this paid off. We're very happy with the second place and it's great to be back racing again in such a competitive fleet."
In fourth was current world #1 SCHEIDT, who was suffering some damage sustained in the breezy conditions. SCHEIDT explained, "We had a small rip in our mainsail and couldn't really trim it hard on the final beat. Otherwise we would have attacked the Japanese more."
Current European champions Robert STANJEK
and Markus KOY
(GER) were fifth as first home team, while fellow German boat of SCHLONSKI and KLEEN took sixth. Flavio MARAZZI
and Enrico DE MARIA
(SUI) were seventh, Alexander HAGEN
and Kai FALKENTHAL
(GER) eighth, American competitor Mark MENDELBLATT
and Mark STRUBE
(USA) finished in ninth, and Silvio SANTONI
and Fabio TOCCOLI
(ITA) in 10th.
Tuesday's racing is scheduled to begin at 11:00 (local time), with two races of around 2-2.5 hours duration.
Results - click here