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7 June 2007, 10:01 am
World Champion Takes The Lead
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Finn European Championship 2007
Balatonfoldvar, Hungary

Only one race was sailed on day three at the ISAF Grade C1 Finn European Championship. The race win went to Walclaw SZUKIEL (POL) after a close battle with Dan SLATER (NZL), but the current World Champion, Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) takes the lead of the regatta with a 16,4,17 scoreline.
Wednesday dawned colder and cloudy on Lake Balaton, with more light winds providing very tricky conditions. Course 2, the double return loop was sailed again. However, conditions were more challenging with a fickle 4-6 knot breeze that turned some sailors race into a game of dice.

Race 3

After two general recalls, race three started under a black flag. Most of the fleet immediately tacked off to the right, however at the top mark, SZUKIEL emerged from the middle to lead by a considerable margin. Behind him were Anthony NOSSITER (AUS), Rafal SZUKIEL (POL), Joao SIGNORINI (BRA) and Stefan DE VRIES (NED). Both downwind legs proved to be decisive. Those who stayed in the middle lost places while those who sailed the angles down the outside generally gained places.

At the end of the leg, SZUKIEL had retained his lead with Gasper VINCEC (SLO) moving up to second and Dan SLATER (NZL) moving from the mid-teens to third. Again most of the fleet tried the right hand side of the beat, although this time more conservatively. By the final windward mark, SLATER had moved up to second and was challenging SZUKIEL for the lead on the downwind to the finish.

For many the final leg changed everything. SZUKIEL said, 'Halfway down the final downwind, Dan came across me to the left and passed me in more pressure. I nearly followed him but then saw Johan sailing down the right side in more pressure as the wind filled in. I sailed more to the right and found enough wind to sail past Dan again and win the race.'

With the wind dying slightly on the right, and the pack in the middle blanketing each other, those on the right made large gains. Johan TILLANDER (SWE) moved from the 20s to third, while Brendan CASEY (AUS) who was about 80th at the first mark, took another 20 places to finally finish eighth. VINCEC held onto fourth, with SZUKIEL in fifth and Michael MAIER (CZE) in sixth.

The race officer tried for over two hours to start a second race, but with the wind swinging to a new direction, dropping and generally not being co-operative, he sent the sailors ashore to wait. After some sweet onions on bread was served by the club, he finally called it a day at 17:00 with very little sign of wind on the lake.

High Scoring

This event is looking like being a very high scoring regatta. After just three races, HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN moved from fifth to first after scoring at 17th today. SLATER's second place moves him up to second overall, while overnight leader Eduard SKORNYAKOV (RUS) drops to third. The highest placed British sailor is in fourth place. After a 19th on Wednesday Nick CRAIG (GBR) moves up two places to fourth overall with Brendan CASEY in fifth and André BUDZIEN (GER) in sixth. In the juniors, Marko KOLIC (ITA) is in 29th place, only 4 points ahead of Ian COOK (USA) who placed 11th today. Third placed Junior is Frederico MELO (POR). With the seemingly random results of some competitors, it is hard to make any sort of prediction for the rest of the regatta.

The depth of the fleet here is a major challenge to competitors. With 27 nations competing, and 91 boats on the water, getting anywhere near the front is very tough. Currently, there are 16 nations represented in the top 20. Interestingly, the Dutch and the British teams both have three boats in the top 20. Highlighting how tough it is to stay consistent here, the winners of Tuesday's races finished 47th and 76th respectively.

Time Out

One distinctly non-European competitor sailing here this week here is SIGNORINI. Having campaigned a Finn for the Athens Olympic regatta in 2004, where he finished tenth, SIGNORINI took some time out of his Finn to sail in the Volvo Ocean Race on board Brasil 1.

'Since Athens all I have done in the Finn are a few local regattas in Brazil and then I started sailing again in August last year. My first real regatta was Palma this year and then Hyères, Holland and now here. After this week I will go home for a bit and then return for Cascais before going to Qingdao for the pre-Olympics.'

He describes sailing on Brasil 1 as a life changing experience. 'Some moments were very hard, but we managed to win one leg and finish third overall. We felt this was a great result because we were the on second lowest budget of all the boats. The race changed me into another person. It changes the way you look at things - but in a good way. Also it was very good for sailing in Brazil. Everyone followed us and the race and it generated lots of interest. There were six Brazilians on board so it was a nice atmosphere for all of us.'

SIGNORINI is here in Balaton with fellow Brazilian Jorge ZARIF (BRA) who represented Brazil at the 1984 Olympics in Long Beach, USA. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, SIGNORINI said, 'In Cascais we will try to qualify Brazil for the Olympics and then back home we will have some trials to select who goes. Actually, in Qingdao it will be interesting. The conditions there are supposed to be light with strong tide. Now that is exactly what we have in my home town of Rio.'

Speaking about the class in Brazil he said, 'The Finn class in Brazil is growing all the time. We have lots of new young sailors coming into the class and one of our guys has recently started building Finns from a old mould donated to us by Pata Marine in Hungary. All the new boats back home are being used, so this will help us to expand the fleet.'

Scenic Setting

Balatonfoldvar is an attractive, quiet village beside the enormous Lake Balaton. Most of the sailors are staying in hotels within a few 100 metres of the club. Running parallel through the town is the main road from Budapest and the railway line. The trains have to be dodged each morning as the sailors walk to the club.

Spartacus Sailing Club is a small club with no more than 100 members. It was only established in 1990 although it has a complicated history dating back to 1939 when the Royal Hungarian Yacht Club built a clubhouse on the end of a peninsula constructed from dredged mud and sand when the beautiful marina alongside it was built. The club is justifiably proud of the fact that many of its members have represented Hungary at the Olympic Games and won several world championships in various classes.

The clubhouse has a beautiful outlook, with a lawn overlooking the hills around the eastern part of Lake Balaton some 50 km away. The western end of the lake is hidden by a large peninsula that separates the two parts of the lake. The lake has an average depth of just 2-3 metres deep and because of the high temperatures experienced so far this year - which the locals admit is unusual so early - the water temperature is already over 20 degrees.

On the lake shores there are flashing white lights at various intervals. The approach of bad weather is forewarned by a doubling in speed of the flashing. Last evening as sailors were finishing off the last of the complimentary goulash and wine, the lights were blinking faster in the distance and a line of wind appeared on the water. Within 5 minutes a stiff wind was scattering serviettes and empty plastic cups around the lawn. Within 15 minutes, the club was being lashed by 30 knot winds and torrential rain. Many of the locals are convinced this increasing occurrence is caused by global warming. The questions on the sailors minds is what happens if this occurs during a race.

Two races are scheduled for Thrusday, again at 10:00, again wind permitting.

For all the news on the Finn European Championship CLICK HERE.

Robert Deaves (As Amended By ISAF). Image, The start of race 3:© Robert Deaves,IFA
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