This year, the 2008 European Youth Championships for the International 420class was hosted by the sailing club USKOK in Zadar, Croatia. Sweden sent a full team of seven crews to the regatta this year, a fantastic improvement from last year when only two crews made the journey to the Netherlands. The regatta was open to all sailors under the age of 19 and attracted 117 entries, with teams coming from twenty eight countries including Brazil, the U.S.A, Chile and Australia to take part in the event.
The venue was excellent with warm blue water meeting white pebble beaches for launching boats within meters of the club house. Almost everyone found themselves staying within convenient walking distance of the club and every street seemed to be lined with trees and vines dripping with figs, pomegranates, kiwi fruit, grapes and olives. The club itself helped make the regatta even more enjoyable as it’s large cafe directly overlooking the beach and racing area providing a comfortable place from which to watch racing, socialize, or simply a chance to check emails and OS results on the computers provided.
The regatta was opened in spectacular fashion on the waterfront in Zadar’s old town, with proceedings taking place on a traditional yacht just off the shore and broadcast back onto land, with the the flags of all of the competing nations being brought by sea to the back drop of a massive electrical storm which lit the night. The trend for huge storms continued at the end of the regatta too, with a huge storm front passing right over Zadar and forcing a shortening of the closing ceremony and even doing some hail damage to cars that made an early start home.
Apart from the storms which disrupted the opening and closing ceremonies, the weather for the regatta was beautiful, with temperatures of around 30 degrees every day making sailing a dream. The warm-up race, sailed on Friday the 8th before the opening ceremony began in SE wind at about 8 -10kts. It may have been due to the fact that it was only a warm-up race but when the race committee hoisted the AP thirty seconds before the start, nearly all sailors headed for the top mark without a second glance at the start boat. The result was that the restarted race consisted of about five boats who proceeded to sail the wrong course as the RC had changed courses between starts.
The qualifying series then began on the Saturday, with six races sailed over two days in wind that was generally around 10-14kts. Many of the Swedish
team found that the start line was more difficult than at the World Championship as the younger members of the fleet often lack the calmness and technique in their starts that the older sailors have developed. On the water, things were looking positive for Viktor and Veronika Holmgren and Carl and Wille Johannisson to qualify in gold fleet. However, black flags in races one and three assured that Viktor and Veronika would sail the finals series in silver fleet. The other competitors in the Swedish Team showed some good skills at times but had individual problem that impeded their performance: John and Sofia Gustafson found it difficult to regain the consistently which they had displayed in Athens; Fredrik Gustafsson and Calle Jr Johansson experienced tuning issues and were not on the pace; Martin Koch and Axel Benson struggled with a lack of big fleet experience; Elin Ogeman and Kalle Mattson suffered from poor starts; and Oliver Molse and Jacob Palmquist had issues with boat handling and big fleet racing. The combination of strong fleet and lack experience and preparation meant that only one boat qualified for gold fleet, with the rest being left to fight in silver fleet.
After a a brilliant seafood dinner provided by the yacht club and a relaxing lay day, the final series of the regatta began with difficult wind from the SSE at around 3-5kts. The change in wind strength gave many of the lighter sailors the chance to improve their performance.
The silver fleet was dominated by all female crews from Great Britain, France, Greece and Italy, and it was not uncommon to see the girls at full stretch on the trapeze while other crews were sitting on the side of the boat. Despite preferring stronger winds, Viktor and Veronika Holmgren scored some very good results on the first day of the finals and put themselves in a position for a top five finish once discards came into play, scoring a 3rd, 18th and 9th. John and Sofia Gustafson had a tougher start to the final series, having qualified 45th and then beginning with a 29th, but they lifted their performance and scored a 9th and 10th on the first day to improve their scorecard. Fredrik Gustafsson and Calle Jr Johansson qualified in 34th place for silver fleet and showed initial improvement with a 22nd place in the first race of the finals, however concentration dropped as the afternoon progressed and their results for the next two races slipped to 33rd and 34th. Martin Koch and Axel Benson came into the regatta with the least preparation of any of the team after Axel spent the month prior to the regatta in the U.S.A. The boys did well to qualify 36th in silver fleet after resolving ongoing boat speed issues, however on the first day of finals the lack of racing experience began to take its toll and they recorded results of 41, 52 and 33. Elin Ogeman and Kalle Mattsson from GKSS had problems starting consistently in the qualifying series which in turn put pressure on them throughout the races, they qualified in 43rd position but they were not able to resolve the problem entirely in time for the final series and started with scores of 51, 49 and DNF. Oliver Molse and Jakob Palmquist, the other team members from GKSS, were sailing in their first major 420 regatta outside of Sweden. The boys seemed comfortable on the starting line but suffered from a lack of boat handling and big fleet experience, qualifying 53rd and then scoring 54th, 54th and 41st. Meanwhile in gold fleet, Carl and Wille Johannisson were beginning to improve their performance against tougher competition. They qualified for gold fleet in 47th and then scored a 42nd, 37th and 23rd on the first day of the finals.
The second day of the finals was in similar conditions, with light wind from the SSW. Only one race was completed on day two and apart from Viktor and Veronika who scored an eighth, and John and Sofia with a 27th, the rest of the team struggled around the 40s and 50s. There was a ray of hope for Carl and Wille however, in the fact that they were second around the windward mark in the attempted second race of the day, only to have the race abandoned due to lack of wind after reaching the outer loop mark 2.
Day three of the finals saw a return to NNW wind, once again at a modest 5kts, but regardless of the change of day or direction fifth race of the series belonged to Carl and Wille who finished second in the resail of the abandoned race from the previous day. Unfortunately this performance was short lived as they backed the race up with an OCS to undermine the benefit to their scorecard; however the knowledge that they were able to compete at the front of the gold fleet was invaluable for them and the other team members.
In silver fleet, Viktor and Veronika continued to perform well with another 7th and 14th. John and Sofia also continued to improve scoring a 13th and an 18th and Fredrik and Calle Jr had a 28th and 12th. Day three was not so successful for Martin and Axel who finished with a BFD and a 42nd, Elin and Kalle who scored a 42nd and 48th, and Oliver and Jakob who ended with a 36th and a 40th.
The final day of racing finally brought some strong winds from the south at 18-20kts. The sailors’ were once again getting over enthusiastic with their starting and unfortunately many Swedish sailors fell foul of black flags. Viktor and Veronika had the chance to secure a medal placing, only needing a couple of sound races in the windy conditions, however a black flag in the first race followed by and 8th left them in 7th overall at the end of the day. John and Sofia managed two black black flags on the final day but, due to stronger results in the middle of the series, still managed to finish in 25th overall. Fredrik and Calle Jr were sailing much better in the stronger winds but had a port and starboard incident in the first race and finished 25th then scored a BFD and finished the regatta in 31st. Martin and Axel saved their best until last, finishing the regatta with a 24th and 25th, and lifted themselves into 43rd. Elin and Kalle also had their best race of the regatta, scoring a 7th in the first race of the day. The adrenaline was obviously flowing for Elin who was over the moon with the result but may have caused her to push a little too hard for the last race and get a black flag, they finished 52nd but still on a high from the previous race. Oliver and Jacob tried hard to stay with the fleet in the strong winds however in the end chose to retire from the last days races due to the strong winds, they finished the series in 55th place.
In gold fleet, Carl and Wille had a few issues staying in touch with the fleet in the first race and finished 40th, but then got in phase for the second race and rounded the top mark in 5th, if not for a sticky jib cleat and bent mast they could have improved their position but ended the race in 16th and the championship in 34th.
As a coach, I am very proud to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented group of sailors and I am extremely happy for their successes. I am pleased to see the improvement in the Swedish 420 fleet to the point that the sailors are now truly competitive on an international level and I look forward to this generation laying a strong foundation which will benefit the sailors to come in the future. Many thanks must also go to the Swedish 420 Association, KSSS, GKSS, and the parents for all of their help and support in making these results possible.
Swedish Team Coach, Galen Mack