Rolex Baltic Week set for final day showdown with just one point separating Star rivals

KIEL/GERMANY. World number one Star Class sailors Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada (BRA) may have finished second to Olympic gold medalists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (GBR) at the Qingdao Games last year, but they are doing everything they can to redress the balance at this year’s Rolex Baltic Week. After winning Friday’s (10 July) single race Scheidt and Prada lead Percy/Simpson (3rd) by just one point in the 2009 European Championships, with fellow Olympic medalist Fredrik Loof with his new crew Johan Tillander (SWE) a mere four points adrift in fourth.

With unsettled weather of clouds, rain showers, and southwesterly winds gusting up 23 knots on the Kiel Fjord in Germany, Friday’s sailing was postponed until early afternoon. Racing finally got underway on the third attempt at around 15.30, the first start having been abandoned due to a major windshift. With a current running behind the fleet for the first time this week, the second start was a general recall – of the 88 competitors, 26 were Black Flagged, whilst the race committee spotted a further 15 or so over the line that couldn’t be identified by either bow or sail numbers.

On the third attempt racing began in a shifty south-westerly of around 14-18 knots, on a two-lap windward-leeward course with a final upwind finish. Many of the dominant players were back in the pack for the first lap, with Flemming Sørensen/Niels Hansen-Thrysøe (DEN) getting the best start to lead around the top mark from Lars Grael/Ronald Seifert (BRA) and Diego Negri/ Giovanni Stilo (ITA) in third.

In an upset to the previous form, Scheidt/Prada found themselves back in 12th for the first lap, with Percy/Simpson around 16th, while Loof/Tillander rounded the top mark in 29th position. On the shifty racecourse the top mark was changed to a bearing of around 270 degrees.

However, this Olympic trio’s experience and determination saw them fight their way back into contention, showing phenomenal boat speed. Percy/Simpson leap-frogged their way back up the fleet throughout the second round, pulling ahead at one stage on the downwind leg, but Scheidt/Prada chose the better tactical options, taking the right-hand gate on the second downwind leg to secure the gun at the end.

Together with Negri/Stilo, who climbed one place to second, Percy/Simpson opted to go left at the final bottom mark, finishing in third. Fourth went to Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk (NZL). Loof too had pulled off some impressive place gains to finish in fifth position, with sixth going to George Szabo/Rick Peters (USA), a first top 10 position for them.

Iain Percy said: “It was very hard racing. We made a big mistake on the second run when we chose the wrong mark of the gate. Scheidt rounded the right mark and we took the left together with Negri. Immediately he overtook both of us. There was so much going on on that run that we simply missed making the right call. It’s a matter of practice, since we haven't sailed for eight months."

Today’s remarkable display leaves Scheidt/Prada in first place overall on 11 points, with Percy/Simpson just one point back in second – could the scene be set for a final day match race between the two rivals? Iain Percy wouldn’t be drawn on Saturday’s tactics, saying: “We'll see whether the last day brings one or two races. If only one gets underway it’s up to Scheidt to decide whether he wants to try to cover us or not. I think we don't need to be anxious about this because we have the best experience in match racing from the America's Cup and other regattas."

Scheidt added: "We managed to round the first mark in 12th position, although it was a very tricky beat. After this we worked our way through the fleet with good speed and looking for the shifts and puffs. We got nearly all of them right, but Percy sailed smart too. He overtook us on the second run when he gybed early, but good for us he went to the left gate mark. We'll see what's gonna happen on Saturday but we'll keep an eye on them that's for sure!"

Third overall are Loof/Tillander on 16 points. The Swedish pairing are far from out of contention, Loof commenting: "We started on the left side of the line and headed to the left when we got punished by a 30-degree right shift. Coming from 29th at the top mark and finishing 5th is not bad although our direct opponents did better. From the first mark to the finish we gained more than 150 metres on Percy, which indicates we were not slow. Maybe we will have an advantage being out of the duel at the top of the fleet."

The US American crew of Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube have moved into fourth on 36 points. First German crew overall is Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy in 5th, followed by Flavio Marazzi/Enrico De Maria (SUI) in 6th, then fellow home team Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (GER) in 7th. Three top-10 finishes leave Pepper/ Monk in 8th, although they have a 89th (BFD) to discard, while 9th is Xavier Rohart/Pierre Alexis Ponsot (FRA), Black Flagged on Friday, and 10th Nicola Celon/Edoardo Natucci (ITA).

Results after six out of eight scheduled races of the 2009 Rolex Baltic Week / Star Class European Championship on Friday (10 July)
1 Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada (Brazil) 11 points
2 Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson (Great Britain) 12
3 Fredrik Loof/Johan Tillander (Sweden) 16
4 Mark Mendelblatt/Mark Strube (USA) 36
5 Robert Stanjek/Markus Koy (Germany) 40
6 Flavio Marazzi/Enrico de Maria (Switzerland) 45
7 Johannes Babendererde/Timo Jacobs (Germany) 51
8 Hamish Pepper/Craig Monk (New Zealand) 56