Gilles Martin-Raget /

Mendelblatt and Faith crowned

Star Sailors League Final concludes in the Bahamas

Sunday December 7th 2014, Author: Alex A, Location: Bahamas, The

The last day of the second Star Sailors League Final (SSL) in the tropical waters of the Bahamas held plenty of surprises. The direct elimination rule and shifty winds made the course extremely tactical. The defending champion, Brazilian supremo Robert Scheidt and SSL ranking list number 1, Italian Diego Negri, both paid the price. Neither made it to the final which featured the four top qualifiers: Mendelblatt, Loof, Kusznierewicz and Zarif who finished in that order.

10 teams raced for the Quarter Finals with the top six yachts joining Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom in the semi. After two general recalls, the fleet finally got away. In the first few metres of this unforgettable day, the right-hand side seemed the place to be. But Negri/Lambertenghi and Gaspic/Sitic didn’t get off to a great start. The Croats then chose to go to the far right of the course, while a good part of the fleet went left. In the second leg, Kusznierewicz, Scheidt, Mendelblatt and a rejuvenated Negri had the look of being in charge of the race but on the third leg, the Italian lost ground to Scott and Rohart. However, coming up to the second mark, the Poles took control of the fleet, ahead of Mendelblatt, Scheidt, Rohart and Scott.

The last leg was close, the main aim was not to win outright but to stay in the top six to go forward to the semi-final. Negri/Lambertenghi spent most of the time in the middle in sixth position. The first of the challenger to the Italians were Polgar/Koy who tried to make up ground on the left. Zarif, Polgar and Negri made all the armchair sailors grip the edge of their seats. For the last 10 minutes, they were clustered together just two boatlengths apart. This group were continually swapping the important sixth position so often, it was hard to keep up with them even on Virtual Eye. Zarif, The young Brazilian Finn sailor racing with Boening held sway in the end, sending Polgar, Negri, Stanjek and Gaspic back to the Nassau Yacht Club. The finish was incredible including a broken pole on the Italian’s boat just metres from the line.

In the Semi-Final, Rohart and Ponsot seemed to come out worst at the start while Mendelblatt, Scheidt and Zarif fared best in the beat all the way to the first mark. In the last few metres, Mendelblatt taking a middle, as he has done all week, while Zarif was on the far-left and Scheidt and Scott were on the other side. The Americans were first to the top mark and behind them, a compact group formed with Loof, Scott, Zarif and Kusznierewicz all taking turns to chase the leaders. In Leg 3, Zarif flirted with leading, playing the slight shifts well. However one of the toughest and most experienced sailors out there, Mendelblatt stayed in control. On the offensive were Kusznierewicz and Rohart, who made a protest about Scott at the last buoy, resulting in a red flag then cost the young British sailor dearly. The fourth leg was the fieriest of all, with a memorable battle that will go down in the annals of the sport and definitely merits watching again and again. It was tough for everyone as the new free pumping proved extremely physically demanding. All the big names fared worst at the line, Scheidt/Prada, Rohart/Ponsot and Scott/Milne’s aim of winning the Star Sailors League came to a shocking end as none of them made the cut.

The eagerly-awaited grand finale was a four-horse race: two Europeans, one American and a Brazilian. Zarif got off to the best start but Mendelblatt was ahead of him at the mark with Loof and Kusznierewicz third and fourth respectively. The American quickly proved well capable of holding the lead for two legs, followed the whole time by the Brazilian. The three chasers had the toughest battle – to stay on the podium yet pose some kind of threat to the leader who has been unwaveringly consistent all week long. But just when it all seemed sewn up, the wind shifted left moving the mark 20° and turned everything on its head, with Loof now in front and Mendelblatt slipping back to fourth. Then once again in Leg 5, the third and final upwind in the series, Loof was behind and Mendelblatt in front. Kusznierewicz sliced in front of the American just a few metres from the turn with surgical precision. There was no protest as he snatched leadership but once again, he was only able to hold on to it for a few minutes.

The last downwind seemed like it would be the do-or-die one. In the end, the last leg was the real decider. The much-hoped-for edge-of-the-seat three-boat gallop for the last kilometre materialised with Mendelblatt in the middle, Kusznierewicz to the right and Loof left. Zarif was lagging slightly behind. Despite the best efforts of the other three, however, the Tampa Bay skipper held sway. And Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih won the race of a lifetime with a two and a half-length lead on Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom, ahead of the two heroes that won Gold in the Star in the recent Olympics. For the record, Mendelblatt/Fatih also acquitted themselves very honourably last year taking the third step on a podium that also featured Scheidt and Kusznierewicz/Zycki. This year the podium was rounded off by the Pole but just a hair’s breadth behind him was the 22 year old two-time Finn World Champion Jorge Zarif, definitely the strongest rookie of the week.

Once ashore Mendelblatt discussed his victory:

What was the strategy since the first day? "This year with the new system there is an advantage to winning the series and we were in a position to do it going into the last day of the qualifying but we sailed poorly yesterday. So we lost that chance. But in some ways it was good to sail the first race today because it gave us a little bit of a feeling for what’s going on out there and we were able to have some good races. But you know the qualifying series is good because everyone gets a chance to practice, get going and then it’s all on the last day"

So at breakfast, what was your gut feeling? "I won’t lie. This morning [Saturday Dec 6th] I was nervous to try and come back and get into the last race was really important in this regatta. I wasn’t able to eat too much. I was a little bit nervous but still feeling good. I’m still feeling good."

What did you learn last year that was useful for this year? "A little bit about the conditions. I’ve sailed here before last year as well. Out there is not steady wind. It looks steady but it’s not. It’s shifting back and forth, and you have to know when it’s a real shift and when you should just keep going and not worry about it. I think it did help a little bit just having the experience of sailing here last year and feeling the wind and the timing of the shifts."

Everyone will definitely say you were very consistent but today you weren’t always leading. So what was the secret? "Even with the first race, off the start, I told my crew 'we’re not in good shape here, we gotta make it happen' ya know. We stayed calm and we were able to come back to the fleet on the first beat and we got fortunate with a few wind shifts but you have to sail a little bit not looking around too much, just focusing on your boat and making your boat go fast, and hopefully you’re going to get a good shift at some point and it’s going to go your way."

What is the best mind set? Did you always feel you were going to win or was there any moment you felt in real danger? "The first race we were feeling in danger for sure. Halfway up the first beat we were feeling 'This isn’t good', you know. We talked to each other and said “Let’s just stay calm here and keep working together and use our speed and get back”. And it worked. We were going well."

Was this the race of a lifetime?  "Oh for sure, it is. To beat guys like Freddy and Mateusz and Robert and all the other guys who are here is incredible. We did not have any expectations coming in: only to sail our best regatta. And you know these guys beat me more times than I beat them in my career as a Star sailor. With Robert, I can count the number of times I beat him on one hand and I’ve been sailing against him for 25 years so it feels great to win this event"

What do you think of the fleet? Robert didn’t make it. Was that because of the standard or because the sailing was unpredictable?
"I think in the semi-final race Robert got some bad luck on the second beat. He was in position to move to the final but it’s the same thing that happened so many times in the regatta: you think you have a wind shift, you tack on it and the next thing you know you made a mistake. I think that Robert got caught on some bad shifts, some bad luck similar to what happened us yesterday. It just happened at the wrong time for him but he was clearly going very fast upwind and downwind, but he’s a real champion. I know he didn’t make the final race this time but he’s gonna be back in the Star, in the Laser, making the final race. He doesn’t make too many mistakes. It was just bad luck that happened to him."

What do you think of the format? Is it fine, or have you any suggestions for the future? "Maybe put a little bit more importance on the qualifying, I would say."

Is being champion good incentive to train more on this boat? "Well, I tell you, earlier in the year, I had a few offers for my Star – people wanting to buy it – and I said, no, no, I gotta keep my boat, I gotta sail, I gotta get ready for Bahamas. I’m really hoping that the Star Sailors League continues. I think that what Michel is doing is fantastic. I think the Star boat obviously is bringing in the best sailors in the world still. The format is excellent. It’s exciting, it’s great. I have no plans to sell my boat. I’m keeping my boat and I’m going to do some more Star regattas, for sure."

What about the young new guys… "It’s always interesting to see how the non-Star sailors, the Finn guys and the Laser guys – and we had a 470 guy here…. It’s always interesting to see how they are going to go and I think this year they went better than last year. These Finn guys downwind – you know, George and Giles – it’s unbelievable how fit they are. They stand up in the boat, they’re really rocking it back and forth and, as you know, we have no Rule 42 here so these guys are just moving on the run so if we wanna beat ‘em next year, we’re going to have to get better downwind for sure."

Star Sailors League Finals 2014 results:

1) Mark Mendelblatt – Brian Fatih
2) Freddy Loof – Anders Ekstrom
3) Mateusz Kusznierewicz – Dominik Zycki
4) Jorge Zarif – Henry Boening
5) Robert Scheidt – Bruno Prada
6) Xavier Rohart – Pierre-Alexis Ponsot
7) Giles Scott – Stephen Milne
8) Johannes Polgar – Markus Koy
9) Diego Negri – Sergio Lambertenghi
10) Robert Stanjek – Claus Olesen
11) Ivan Kliakovic Gaspic – Ante Sitic
12) Eivind Melleby – Mark Strube
13) Torben Grael – Guillerme De Almeida
14) Josh Junior – Myles Pritchard
15) George Szabo – Edoardo Natucci
16) Emilios Papathanasiou – Antonis Tsotras
17) Luke Lawrence – Joshua Revkin
18) Augie Diaz – Arnis Baltins
19) Luke Patience – Jamie Buchan
20) Marcelo Fuchs – Ronald Seifert



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