Tuesday, June 17, 2014

J/80 Women’s Match Race Worlds

J/80 sailboats- match racing in IrelandUSA’S Epic Racing Team Scores Podium Finish!
(Cork, Ireland)- Over the past fortnight, most of the world’s top women match racers were sailing J/80’s in Cork, Ireland in their bid to become the world’s #1 in their discipline.  The ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship is the first stop on the five event Women’s International Match Racing Series, a professional sailing circuit, hosted by the Women’s International Match Racing Association for the world’s leading women match racing sailors.

After the week long series, Olympic sailor and World #2 Anna Kjellberg of the Royal Gothenburg Yacht Club was crowned the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Champion.  Her team defeated Danish World #1 Camilla Ulrikkeholm (DEN) 3 – 1 in their Scandinavian battle in Cork Harbour, Ireland.

“This is absolutely incredible. We’ve never before sailed a regatta with such a great crew feeling,” the Swedish skipper smiled. “The last few weeks of my life have been completely crazy, giving birth to my daughter just five weeks ago, and now this,” she said, laughing and shaking her head.

With three victories needed to win the final of the 2014 ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship, Ulrikkeholm gained an early advantage by winning the first match of the final. Strong but very shifting and puffy winds, together with a swift current, put the sailors to the test. The second meeting ended in a fierce fight around the course, but Kjellberg kept control of her J/80 and passed the finish line one boat length ahead of her opponent.

When the Swedes won the third match, they put Ulrikkeholm under great pressure to break back. In the fourth match, the Danes got away ahead, but didn’t cover the Swedes well enough on the second upwind. Kjellberg was allowed to tack away for clear air, found an advantageous wind shift and passed into a leading position, which she was able to maintain to the finish.

“We’ve improved in every match during this regatta, and we know that in J/80 match racing it’s never over until it’s over. I think we had the right nerves today, with a rather calm feeling in the boat even when the competition was tough,” Kjellberg analyzed after her golden match.

On her loss Ulrikkeholm commented, “In these conditions it was hard also to be ahead. We made some mistakes not covering the Swedes enough, and then we didn’t have as good boat handling as the other days of the regatta.”

Kjellberg bow- Annika Carlunger- had no less than seven World Championship silver medals before this regatta, sailing with different helmsmen over the years. Now she got her eagerly awaited gold medal and shouted after having passed the finish line, “Finally, after all these years.”

In the Petit Final, Caroline Sylvan (SWE) put up a tough fight against Stephanie Roble (USA), but the American crew proved to be strongest at the end. With two straight wins, they secured the bronze in the 2014 ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship, the first event out of five on the 2014 Women’s International Match Racing Series.  “We never felt comfortably in control, but my team did an awesome job all the way around the course,” said Roble who praised her crew.

J/80 women sailors match race Ireland ISAF WorldsSteph goes on to comment, “From the awesome competition, beautiful sailing venue with evenly matched J/80’s, and the friendly event staff, to the crazy weather, Ireland was one heck of a trip!

The regatta format for the ISAF Women's Match Race World Championship was a single round robin, quarterfinals, semis & finals. For the round robin, our goal was to learn as much as we could about the J/80’s, the venue and each team we raced. Although it would have been awesome to win the round robin, we were prepared to race anyone in the quarterfinals. We came out of the RR tied for 4th and ultimately losing the tie breaker to place 5th with a 9-3 record. We thought that record would have placed us in the top three but the top 8 was incredibly close!

We ended up racing Claudia Pierce from New Zealand in a first-to-three-point series. Quarterfinals day presented us with some beautiful Irish summer weather: 25 knots, 50 degrees and whipping rain. With a reef in our main, we lead the charge off the dock with the semis on our minds. In race 1, we came in hot by giving Pierce a penalty, having a crush start and taking the race. Race 2 we had another strong start but she managed to stay hot on our tail with a few lead changes. We ended up reaching over the top of her on the last run to take the win. For the next two races, the breeze lightened up and we continued to dominate the starts. We had a few miscommunications on what to do with her tactically upwind, however, and she took the next two races. With all pressure on for the 5th race, we reset, took out our reef, and felt more relaxed with a wind shift that presented college sailing conditions (i.e. shifty and puffy). We, again, used our strong pre-start to gain control and led the race around the track.

For the semis, we were paired with Anna Kjellberg from Sweden who is ranked 2nd in the World. We knew we had a tough fight in front of us but were fully physically and mentally prepared for the battle. It was again a breezy, shifty day, 15-18 knots off Camden.

Each race was incredibly close in this series. After a close loss in race 1, we again determined that our pre-starts were our strength. For the next two races, we capitalized as much as possible on this, won the right side of the course and ultimately won the next two races. We had great momentum but in race 3 we copped a penalty for not sailing our proper course downwind. We tried to burn the penalty but she got around us. Race 5 left us in a sudden death scenario. Immediately upon entry, we gave the Swedes a penalty. All we had to do was stay ahead or stay just close enough to them so they couldn't make a play. Unfortunately, we had a boat handling error that set us behind and she was able to spin her penalty and keep her lead.

It was gut wrenching to lose the series after we put up such a tough fight. We came to shore knowing that we had left everything we had on the water. We were proud of our series and our regatta but we ultimately just ended up having more mistakes than Anna.

On the final day, we raced Caroline Sylvan from Sweden for the last podium spot. We left the dock with a mutual understanding that 4th was not an option for us. We wanted the bronze medal so bad and our flag on the podium. We did exactly that by winning the petite finals.

Although we didn't claim the World Championship title, we are still stoked about our finish. It was our first World Championship as a team and are still in the running for the overall Women's International Match (WIM) Series title. We are so happy with how we progressed as a team throughout the week and are very much looking forward to the rest of the season.”  View daily videos from the Irish J/80 WIM Series here.   For more J/80 ISAF Women's Match Race Worlds sailing information