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Regatta Report - 1999 World Championship, Punta Ala, Italy

1999 World Championship, Punta Ala, Italy
The following report appeared in the 1999 Starlights Magazine and was transcribed by David Bolles
Complete results for 1999

by Tom Londrigan, Jr., 4th District Secretary

Punta Ala, Italy-- The 1999 World’s Championship was held from September 3 to September 12 in Punta Ala, Italy which is on the West Coast of Italy in Tuscany approximately 200 miles north of Rome. The marina and surrounding countryside is breathtaking. The racing area was immediately outside the breakwater between the mainland and the Island of Elba. Access to the racing area was more convenient than any other previous World’s Championship. A sea breeze developed from the Northwest almost everyday and came in strong enough to create surfing conditions on the reaches and runs. The sun was almost always shining with temperatures in the mid-seventies. One hundred and twenty-nine boats sailed the regatta; the largest keelboat World’s Championship ever.

After the fourth start, race one was underway and over twenty boats were disqualified under the "black flag" rule, including the defending champion Colin Beashel and past champion Ross Macdonald. In about 12 knots of wind, Torben Grael / Marcelo Ferreira tacked immediately to port at the committee boat and rounded the weather mark in first. Grael trains for the America's Cup in these waters and knew that the sea breeze had not stabilized and that a shift to the right was imminent. Grael won the race with Hubert Raudaschl / Christian Nehammer finishing second and Ian Walker / Mark Covell third. As you can imagine, 129 boats created for difficult mark roundings. One boat was reported to have lodged his boom behind the upper shrouds but in front of the mast of a boat to leeward; his sail was destroyed.

Race two was sailed without the sea breeze but under the influence of a much lighter breeze from the West. However, crews were still hiking. Mark Reynolds / Magnus Liljedahl took a quick lead with a start at the "pin-end" of the starting line. The starting line consisted of three fifty-foot sailboats with large yellow flags hoisted to the top of the masts. Remarkably the starts went very well due to excellent race committee work and we enjoyed several races without recalls or black flags. Ross Macdonald / Kai Bjorn took over the lead on the leeward leg and held on to win. Peter Bromby / Lee White earned second, and Eric Doyle / Torn Olsen won third place.

Race three began with sunny skies, but a low front was on the horizon. The wind was approximately 140 degrees. The RC started the sequence and my crew commented, "Don't worry this is not going to be the start of the race because the "black flag" is not flying." Of course his comment guaranteed that we would get a race started on the first try. The wind was approximately 18 knots and building. However, the boats on the pin end were all crossing the boats to the right due to a slight post-start wind shift.

All 129 boats converged on the weather mark within 2 minutes of each other. The layline was six layers deep and we foolishly chose the first layer under Mansfield of Ireland. We never made the weather mark and the disturbance from the boats to weather was so great we couldn't keep the jib filled. We decide to jibe and look for another hole. Meanwhile approximately 20 more boats rounded the mark. In the middle of our jibe I noticed a man floating in the water 10 yards to leeward of the mark. We circled around him and I reached out my hand but to no avail. We were just moving too fast. Throughout this chaos, he appeared very calm and wasn't struggling. He raised his hand and said in what I thought was German, "gooten morning," It was a surreal experience to say the least. I assumed he was picked up by one of the many crash boats or competitors. Later on shore, I talked to him and he was not German but Italian, and he said "gommone." "Gommone" sounds just like good morning but means "rubber boat" in Italian. He was just letting me know that a rubber boat was on its way to pick him up. His "dismount" from the boat was recorded on videotape. Mark Neeleman / Jos Schrier of the Netherlands won the race with Mark Reynolds / Magnus Liljedahl in second. Ian Walker / Mark Covell of Great Britain were third.

Day four was another long day with plenty of wind. We sailed with a NE wind until 4:00 p.m. before we started the race in a strong NW sea breeze. The first start was a general recall and the second start went off cleanly except for some early starters on the pin end of the line. We had a front row seat for the bumper boats at the pin. Grael and Macdonald, two of the regatta leaders, were disqualified for starting early. At the first mark, John MacCausland was in the lead with Mark Reynolds closely behind. Due to the wind conditions we sailed another Olympic course. Race four was won by Mark Reynolds / Magnus Liljedahl, with John MacCausland / George Iverson second and Alexander Hagen / Carsten Witt in third.

During the week of racing, there were several tense situations. On Tuesday, a team was disqualified three times by the race committee. They skipped the offset mark once and, at the finish, ran straight into the race committee boat and broke their mast. On Wednesday night we watched a video set to music that recapped the first 4 days. Cameras were placed on a couple boats and crews' heads before the race and there was some beautiful helicopter footage. The video will be available for purchase in October.

Race five was delayed on shore while we all waited for the sea breeze to fill. We started on the first start and in strong wind and surfing conditions. Grael went right again, with many boats following his lead— but this time his local knowledge was a bust. The wind-shifted 20 degrees to the left and only came back after the boats on the right were well pass the layline. Again, we sailed an Olympic course. The second beat oscillated and Hoesch / Fendt of Germany, Anderson / Just of Denmark, D'Ali / Colaninno of Italy, and Doyle / Olsen were in the lead. The wind decreased on the last leg and that is how the top four finished.

As it stood going into the final race it was Eric Doyle's regatta to win. Macdonald was five points away and Hoesch was nine points away, Reynolds was fifteen points away and would have to finish at least 2nd with Doyle dropping to over 17th. He would also have to soundly beat Hoesch and Macdonald. We all expected a three-way battle on the last day.

The last race was sailed in hiking conditions but the wind was from the NE, or from the shore, and surfing conditions were not an issue. It was an oscillating breeze with more dramatic velocity changes. The last race was again off on the first start. Beashel and Doyle tacked to port quickly and worked the right side and looked to round the first mark in the lead. However, a shift to the left at the end of the leg paid off for about ten boats on the left including Macdonald and Reynolds. Macdonald held the lead for the remainder of the race; he did everything he needed to have a chance to win. Mark Reynolds finished second, he did everything he needed to have a chance to win. Two amazing feats considering the competition, the number of boats, and the unpredictable wind conditions of the last race. Hoesch was in the top 15 and had an outside chance to catch Macdonald. Doyle had to finish worse than 17th for Reynolds to win. At the first mark 17th place was within spitting distance of Doyle / Olsen. Macdonald only needed to beat Doyle by five points to win and fifth place was a long way ahead. It was to be Doyle's day though. Eric Doyle and Tom Olsen clawed their way back into the race. Heading towards the finish, three boats on the starboard layline appeared to have a chance to cross Doyle, but Eric tacked to leeward and crossed the line ahead of them in fourth place. They won the regatta by two points.

All World’s Championships should finish with such drama. Macdonald / Bjorn were second overall, Reynolds / Liljedahl third, Hoesch / Fendt fourth, Hagen / Witt fifth, Johansson / Moeller sixth, and Walker / Covell finished seventh overall to secure Great Britain's entry to the Olympics.

This was a fun, well-organized World’s Championship with many accolades going to Charley Cook and the Race Committee. They did an excellent job despite the large number of boats and difficult wind conditions. The Italian people were very warm and welcoming, and think everyone will agree this Championship was a huge success.

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