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Sailing Champions League Qualifier 1 – 2024

March 19, 2024

Sailing Champions League Qualifier 1 – 2024

After practice sailing on Thursday, come race day, the fog closed in and wind was zero at Vilamoura Portugal on Friday 15th March. The first of three qualifiers was being sailed in a fleet of J70’s and with the top league racing club teams from around Europe amusing themselves with improvised shore side games and new international friendships were formed for British teams Marconi and West Hoe Sailing Clubs.

Saturday started slow, with very light airs but as can be seen from the starts later in the weekend the race officials were able to deliver great racing.

The 15 teams were competing in flights each of 3 races, and the Swiss team from Kreuzlingen Sailing Club, skippered by Tom Rüegge (49er 2000 Summer Olympics) took 3 first places in their first 3 races. The Royal Danish Yacht Club team took 2, whilst the Åland Yacht Club (FIN) and Oberhofen Regatta Club also from Switzerland both took a win. It was no surprise that these 4 x clubs continued to do battle at the top of the leader board throughout the weekend, what with Markus Rönnberg once again skippering his team from Åland YC (Fin) competing as reigning SCL Champions from 2023 and runners up in 2022. On the first day of sailing however, they didn’t have it all their own way, as the team from the Polish Yacht Club Gdynia, lead by Rafal Sawicki, a former 470 sailor and national team coach, European and world championship medallist and ex-match racing 2x Polish champion, put in a series of wins towards the end of the day in flights 4 & 5 to be 2nd on the overnight leader board. This was not the first time that our British teams had raced in such exalted company, having matched up in June in last years qualifier in Sopot which the Polish team won.

Marconi started their first race happy with a 3rd place, ‘We chose to start in clear air towards the pin with good boat speed, when there was a clear bias at the committee end but the fleet were very compressed there’ said David Nickalls. The wind had stayed light but built throughout the day, 5-10kts and whilst managing to score a very good 2nd place in flight 3, Marconi were in 11th place overnight.

West Hoe SC with their newly assembled team, were on an ‘almost vertical learning curve’ said Tom Low, and yet ‘with some of the team never having sailed a J70 before, we relished the challenge, were learning quickly and enjoying the honour of sailing in such a highly competitive International sailing event.’

Sailing Champions League – QUALIFIER 1, VILAMOURA

All Images Credit: SCL/Prow Media/João Costa Ferreira

On the final day of racing the teams were met on the course with 12-18 kts of wind and all was set for some competitive racing both at the top of the leader board and at mid table where there were very few points separating the teams as they all tried to get into the top 9 and therefore qualify for the Sailing Champions League ‘World’ final later in the year.

Wins were now being scored by teams throughout the fleet, evidencing the fact that all were now getting up to speed in what for many was a very early event in their nations sailing calendar.

The APCC Nantes team (FRA) with Simon Bertheau notable European Match Racer and the only team to sail with a crew of 5, put their experience on show by scoring 2 x wins on the final day, as did Breskens YC (NED) and Oslofjord Sailing Club (Nor) which sealed their places in the SCL finals.

Sailing Champions League – QUALIFIER 1, VILAMOURA

As always, consistency won out and as Tom Low observed, ‘there were very few mistakes from the well practiced European teams’ that others might capitalise on. Oberhofen Regatta Club (SUI) lead by Nick Zeltner, World ranked Corinthian J70 and Wasp sailor also recorded 2 x wins on the final day to finish in 2nd place overall, beaten to the top spot by Åland Yacht Club (Fin). 3rd place went to Royal Danish Yacht Club (DEN) skippered by Henrik Jensen.

11 of the 15 teams all had at least one win and although neither of the British teams were able to qualify for the final, 12th & 15th respectively for Marconi and West Hoe SC’s. Dan Nickalls the Marconi helm summed up their experience. ‘Fantastic few days of high quality racing. We were genuinely competitive throughout, our boat handling underwent some minor transformations learning from other teams and our tactical skills developed as we learned from our mistakes. Currently exhausted but happy.’

Next up for British clubs in the Sailing Champions League are teams from The Royal Thames Yacht Club, and Solent University who will participate in Berlin, April 12th – 14th.

The British Keelboat League is open to teams from any British Sailing Club and the next events are the Womens event, May 11-12th at the Royal Southern YC and the open event, May 18-19th at the Royal Corinthian YC. See British Keelboat League website for details.



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