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International One Metre Worlds at Marseille, France

by Peter Stollery 30 Oct 2007 08:49 GMT 13-20 October 2007

The 7th World Championship for the International One Metre Class was hosted by the Yachting Club Pointe Rouge in Marseille from 13th to 20th October and was run in an enclosed harbour 2 miles north of their facilities. The venue had previously been used for the IOM Phocea Cup in 2006 which formed part of several years planning by French enthusiast Robert Fabre in order to host what has become the biggest radio sailing event in the model yachting calendar.

76 skippers from a record 23 countries had qualified to compete and with such a strong take up of allocated places around the world, several skippers were disappointed and left to sit at home and follow the action on what turned out to be excellent website coverage. All of the previous World Champions were entered and they would have to work hard to add to their previous successes as the standard of the entry and its strength in depth was unquestionably the best it had ever been. Only one of the recognised world class skippers was unable to attend but such was the high calibre of the field assembled, at least 10 skippers were banded around during the two practice days as potential winners.

There were also some exciting prospects amongst some of the lesser known names. The Croatians were congratulated on their IOM development programme which had put together a very keen, talented and young squad (5 of their 8 strong team were under 25) and who had also moulded all of their own boats, albeit to recognised designs. In addition to these talented contenders, French Olympic Finn skipper, and recent member of the Chinese Americas Cup campaign, Guillaume Florent, was attending his first international IOM event. Florent has become addicted to the IOM over the last couple of years describing it as a fascinating learning curve and commenting that he was amazed that there weren’t more top class dinghy sailors expanding their sailing knowledge in this way.

The only disappointment of the practice days was the discovery that there were even less individual designs at the event than previous years, with recognised production boats dominating the entry list. Of these, the only new design at the Championship was, ironically, a British design that was actually over ten years old. The Widget has been revisited over the last couple of years and with new rig, fin and rudder positions together with a new deck layout, the boat has been reborn, claiming the British Nationals in the hands of former World Champion Martin Roberts (GBR) earlier this year. With Brad Gibson (AUS) also sailing one which he had prepared meticulously it was clear that this design would feature at the top of the leader board.

Day 1 began with superb weather which lasted throughout the week. The wind was light and blowing from right to left across the venue which presented two main challenges to the skippers. Firstly, ensuring good visibility of the start line meant that the first beat was comparatively short and secondly, the boat storage facility on the shore was directly upwind and caused some tricky wind shifts in the last third of the beat. Most of the top skippers had incident free seeding races, finishing in the top three and therby qualifying for heat A. The two notable exceptions were Craig Smith (AUS), the defending champion, who got involved in several incidents and only recovered to 4th place and Zvonko Jelacic (CRO) who was the victim of mistaken identity for an individual recall at the start.

The 5 seeding races were won by Gibson (AUS), Alexis Carre (FRA), Roberts (GBR), Torvald Klem (NOR) and Guillermo Beltri (ESP). In race 2 Florent (FRA) demonstrated that he was learning fast as he took the first race win which was followed in race 3 by an equally confident race win by Gibson (AUS).

Day 2 was a mirror image of the first in terms of the wind but the intensity of the racing stepped up a gear with race 4 delivering a massive port shift off the start line which inevitably led to a high number of incidents and protests at the first mark. The only skipper to escape the chaos was 18 year old Juan Marcos Egea (ESP) who sailed his Topiko clear to record his first ever race win at international level.

To prove that he meant business he repeated his success and won race 5 in slightly stronger winds, but nothing that had skippers reaching for their No. 2 rigs. After a slightly indifferent start to the event Roberts (GBR) finally laid down his intentions with convincing win in race 6 but it was Egea (ESP) who claimed the day with his third win in race 7. A notable casualty of the day was Graham Bantock (GBR) who, after suffering minor damage in race 6, dropped to heat B from where he never really recovered, spending five races in B and one in C.

The wind swung more to the east for the start of day 3 which finally allowed a much longer first beat to be set. Smith (AUS) who had been somewhat inconsistent in the earlier races obviously enjoyed the more spread out nature of the racing and led Gibson (AUS) home for his first win of the event in race 8.

By this stage of the event Gibson (AUS) was starting to establish some high level consistency and a 2nd and a 4th in races 9 and 10 helped to distance himself a little at the top. However, Roberts (GBR) was not going to let a gap develop and he put together an excellent string of results including wins in races 9 and 12. This run also coincided with Gibson’s first wobble, with a poor result in race 11 dropping him to heat B and an unsuccessful attempt to finish in the top 6 to get back to heat A in race 12, the last race before the lay day. This race was also controversial as a protest between Smith (AUS) and Egea (ESP) resulted in a very harsh non excludable disqualification for the young Spaniard, effectively ending his challenge for the title.

After a day of sight seeing and relaxing the Championship resumed on day 5 with the promise of wind - and lots of it! It had swung 180 degrees and the courses could now be much bigger with start lines at the leeward end of the race track.

Rig 1 was still being used but was at its limit and Roberts (GBR), known for his prowess in these conditions, tacked off the start line in race 13 and crossed the entire fleet on port to claim an easy win, his 5th of the event. The wind, known locally as the Mistral, had kicked in by the next A heat and all had changed to Rig 2. However, an all too common general recall and a short postponement thereafter allowed most of the skippers to change to rig 3 before the next start. The race was won by Beltri (ESP), who after having some very poor results early on was now up to third overall. Roberts (GBR) had bad race following a sheet hook up and his day got worse when he dropped to heat C in race 15. This race was won by Smith (AUS) who coped well with the extreme gusts (35kmph) and the bizarre lulls.

The final race of the day was a nervous affair with many of the title contenders changing up to rig 2, convinced that the wind was easing by Roberts’s (GBR) confident display in the larger rig as he climbed out of heats C and B. But the bold decision back fired as some of the strongest gusts of the day left the rig 2 skippers floundering. Smith (AUS) and Roberts (GBR) both finished in the bottom 6 and only Gibson (AUS) managed to achieve a respectable score amongst the rig 2 skippers. The race was won by Jelacic (CRO) whose results up until then had been well below his normal high standards.

The penultimate day had been expected to deliver even stronger winds but sadly, although the direction returned to the northwest after the first race of the day, the strength never returned.

Race 17 saw the only race win for a skipper who did not finish in the final top 8. Ante Kovacevic (CRO), who would normally be expected to be a top 10 contender, had struggled for form all week but finally got a good start and led the fleet home.

Race 18 created some IOM Championship history as, after two general recalls, the third start was conducted under the black flag rule. Unfortunately, Kovacevic (CRO) was amongst three skippers deemed to have started early and given BFD which took the gloss of his win in the previous race. However, his compatriot Jelacic (CRO) finally seemed to be finding some consistency with his second win.

Meanwhile at the top of the leader board Smith (AUS), Gibson (AUS), Beltri (ESP) and Roberts (GBR) were all struggling to find good results but race 19 was to change this with Gibson (AUS) 1st, Smith (AUS) 2nd, Roberts (GBR) 3rd and Beltri (ESP) 5th. The final two races of the day seemed conclusive as to who would be contesting the title on the last day. Smith (AUS) and Beltri (ESP) both had top 6 finishes in both but Roberts (GBR) and Gibson (AUS) were disappointed with an 8th the best of their four scores.

So would it be Smith (AUS) or Beltri (ESP)? No skipper had ever defended the title before but with a 16 point gap to Gibson in 3rd Smith (AUS) looked to have only one boat to beat in the last two races. But this was no ordinary final day.

Race 22 was sailed in a gusty rig 1 wind and was won by Roberts (GBR) who had not given up his slim chance of another title. Gibson (AUS) recorded a good 3rd finishing behind Peter Stollery (GBR) in 2nd who was steadily closing in on the top four after sailing an extremely consistent event, being the only skipper to never drop out of the top heat. Smith (AUS) and Beltri (ESP) appeared too preoccupied with one another and got caught up in several incidents resulting in a 16th and 18th respectively.

Suddenly, going into the last race of the event, there were just 8 points between the top four and Smith (AUS) and Beltri (ESP) would be starting it in heat B! However, they held their nerve and made it to the heat A showdown where one of four would be crowned champion and all the top five places would be up for grabs. Gibson (AUS) made the best start at the far end of the line with Roberts (GBR) at the opposite end to leeward. Smith (AUS) and Beltri (ESP) were in the middle of the line and seemed unaware of the closeness of the situation as again they began to match race one another towards the back of the fleet, an approach which ultimately saw them finish the event in the protest room. Gibson (AUS) meanwhile, had sailed to the right of the course which paid dividends as a starboard shift allowed him to power in to the windward mark in first place. The shift effectively ended Roberts’s (GBR) challenge as his approach on port ended in calamity. Gibson (AUS), clear in front, was able to relax and watch his rivals continue to make mistakes behind allowing him sail on and win his fourth race of the event and claim his first World title.

Overall Results: (top ten)

1st Brad Gibson, AUS (Widget) 103pts
2nd Guillermo Beltri, ESP (Italiko) 114pts
3rd Craig Smith, AUS (Obsession) 117pts
4th Martin Roberts, GBR (Widget) 123pts
5th Peter Stollery, GBR (Isotonic) 125pts
6th Zvonko Jelacic, CRO (Topiko) 168pts
7th Juan Marcos Egea, ESP (Topiko) 205.5pts
8th Guillaume Florent, FRA (Topiko) 219pts
9th Ian Vickers, NZL (V6) 241pts
10th Graham Bantock, GBR (Topiko) 242.3pts

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