Double World Champions Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz, together with three other Dutch teams, have been back in action for a windy week at Kiel, Germany.
Fifty-one teams, shaking off the rust after lockdown, fought for a medal in wind and sea conditions which must surely be at the limit of what is possible in boats which weigh just 120kg – yet carry a monstrous 45m² of sail area!
Bekkering and Duetz provided us with the thrilling performances we have come to expect. Saturday was undoubtedly the windiest day – and it didn’t begin well!
Beating fast upwind the pair found themselves compelled to give way to another competitor fulfilling their obligation by tacking their boat through the wind – Alas, straight into the path of another competitor! Tacking immediately again there was a missed communication between skipper and crew which resulted in being overpowered by the wind and a capsize! Upwind capsizes don’t frequently happen to professional sailors but the bath they took proved just what was needed to wake them up.
Steering clear of a messy pack after the starting gun in the next race they found they had sixteen boats ahead of them and set determinedly about their task of climbing through the fleet – dismissing their competitors one by one. By the second turn they had fought their way to a more familiar place in the field, rounding the second mark (Annette dousing the spinnaker in a beautifully controlled manner as though the sea was flat calm) they found themselves in 4th position – a slot they retained throughout the final two legs of the race.
Another thrilling performance came in the third and final race of that day. By this time the wind had reached 20 knots over such a lumpy sea that the start was delayed when one of the official start boats dragged his anchor and had to re-set it.
Tensions high – the race began nervously with all vessels being short of the line at the gun. Once underway Bekkering and Duetz had failed to come away in the top ten, but now sailing at their very best they made the most of every gust and fluke in the wind (for which Kiel sailing is famous) to claw their way up the pack. By the first turn they were in fifth place …at the second mark they were in third place and on the final downwind sprint toward the finish line they were snapping angrily at the heels of the Spanish boat ahead of them in second place. In order to cross the finish line, between the marks, vessels have to perform one of the most dangerous manoeuvres in sailing – a ‘Gybe’. This is when a boat has the wind behind but slightly to their left hand side (let’s say) and has to steer a new course so that the wind will be behind but slightly to the right. During this turn all three sails must be taken inboard and immediately set on the other side. The full power of the wind (which wants to blow the boat over) will change suddenly from left to right – requiring perfect control to stay upright. I mention all this because Bekkering and Duetz had already performed their manoeuvre when they were chasing the Spanish boat hard. The Spanish boat chose to perform their manoeuvre just metres from the finish line but cracked under pressure from the Dutch boat. In a dramatic turn of events, sailing at twenty knots, the Spanish vessel capsized so close to the line that they bounced over it upside down – but not before Bekkering and Duetz had shot ahead of them to claim a very well deserved 2nd place!
On the fourth and final day Bekkering and Duetz were back on form – quickly establishing themselves among the leading five, and staying there.
Their consistency during those last two heats (finishing fourth, then third) helped them to a very respectable fifth place in the competition overall. In fact they finished with the same number of competition points as Denmark (4th overall) and Great Britain (3rd overall) – but with other performance factors during the competition taken into consideration they were awarded fifth place. Just one more point would have gained them a place on the podium. They will, however, be relieved to have cleaned off their ‘lockdown’ rust and to have returned to top-flight standard.
The competition winners were Germany who having put in a very consistent performance during the event will be delighted with a win on home waters. Second place went to the USA – exceptional sailing from the Americans lifted them onto a previously unfamiliar position – the podium. Third place was won by the British boat – Dobson and Tidey being well known names at international events.
In summary we look back on a thrilling event where capsized boats turned the races into an obstacle course on occasion – some boats going inverted even before the start! Such is the choppy water of Kieler Fjörd where, undaunted by Covid 19, the annual event was held for the 139th time!
At the end of the month the Dutch team will be in Austria competing in the European Championship. We will bring you all the news.
Victron Energy is proud to sponsor the Dutch 49erFX racing team who never fail to provide professionalism and action when it counts.
Thanks to Sailing Energy who own the copyright to the first two images in this story, and to Sasha Klahn who owns the copyright to the last. (Other credits appear below the image to which they relate.)
A two minute video highlighting Saturday’s action can be found here.