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Contender World Championship at Quiberon, France

by Ed Presley 31 Jul 12:04 BST 20-26 July 2019

France! Why not? The small but welcoming French Contender fleet had put their lives on hold to host the Contender worlds at the picturesque yet deserted National Sailing Centre at Quiberon. Their reward? 135 Contender sailors from across many seas.

Following a week of breezy French Nationals at the same venue, the Contender fleets from around the globe converged on Brittany and started a greatly anticipated Worlds week at The Ecole Nationale de Voiles et des Sports Nautique (ENVSN).

Forecasts appeared to show very light winds for the entire event. Several Contender superstars eyed these reports suspiciously as the previous four or five world championships had been in decent breeze, so this was likely to be a very different affair.

After an extensive and unnecessarily complicated measurement and the first of two AGMs(?), racing (drifting) got under way. On the first day Graham Scott showed what the UK fleet had already come understand, he was going fast. Graham has been steadily returning to form after a number of injuries and this season he has been dominant on the UK circuit. It was a relief for the rest of the UK sailors to prove that Graham has got better rather than the rest of them getting worse!

With Graham leading he was followed by a number of fast Germans and the determined current Champ, Mark Bulka. Mark had been completely dominant in the French Nationals in breezy conditions but at 93Kg he was going to have his work cut out to repeat that at the worlds. After 2 days racing in the light stuff he was still in 3rd with good numbers, however surrounded in the top 20 by the malnourished.

Germany seems to have a high quota of fast light wind sailors who were right up there; Gernot Goetz, Marcus Meisenmacher and Max Billerbeck has all scored low numbers but had also managed to count a discard in the form of letters in the first two days racing, everyone seemed to be taking turns to throw away the lead.

The format of racing was to have six qualifying races over the first three days followed by four finals races over the last two days. This proved to be a painful task due to the uninspiring forecast. After three days only three races had been completed. At this point the decision was made to end qualifying and move into finals. This decision meant that there were no discards for the qualifying series, meaning that many star sailors were left carrying an OCS or one poor result and would not make it into the Gold fleet. The silver fleet contained many of the heavier sailors that had not been able to compete with their smaller compatriots. This raised an interesting problem, because if the fans turned on for the final two days much of the silver fleet would be faster than a lot of the gold fleet.

Never mind that, it's the final two days and the wind never really delivered much anyway. All races were completed in 6-8 knots. Max Billerbeck was able to win enough to lead overnight on day 4 after discarding a BFD and replacing it with a 1,2, with Marcus scoring his first big numbers in the first gold race, as did Graham Scott. The fleet came together for an inexplicable canteen based Championship dinner.

Into the final day, these three would be the focus of attention however, Mark Bulka and Soren Dulong Andreason would also be close enough to compete, after Soren had a great day with a win and a 7th to make up for mixed results in the qualifying.

In the first race of the final day Graham Scott had a poor start and had to make up ground finishing in 9th. Marcus was further back in a similar position after picking up weed somewhere on the course effectively ending his chances with a 2nd big score.

The first race was won by Soren, closely followed by Max. Mark Bulka had an uncharacteristic 20's result, taking him out of contention. It was now in Max's hands to win or lose in the last race. Graham would need to beat Max by 11 places to take the win. As it turned out, these two sailed together around much of the course, just outside the top ten. Max rounded the final leeward mark one place ahead of Graham and should have been able to keep a close cover from there for the win. Obviously Graham tacked away from Max as soon as he could but rather than cover, Max decided to hit the left hand corner, this risky move could have allowed Graham and ten others to overtake Max however, his luck was in and he was able to finish 2ndbehind Macus and take the World Championship.

This is the first Worlds title for Max Billerbeck who has always been a dominant force in light winds as well as following the trend made by Soren of light guys that can hold their own in breeze. The only consistent performer in week of frustrating breezes Max is a deserving champion. In the Female Championships the UK's Fiona Collins cemented her status as legend by adding the Worlds title to her Euros from last year, but in a bizarre twist she had pre-decided to leave the class after the event.

A difficult but successful week of sailing was enabled by the members of the French fleet rather than the venue itself, thanks to them for all of their hard work. The Contender class continues to grow with strong representation from Germany, the UK and Australia. Wooden Bonezzis still staunchly refuse to age, although the mix in the top ten is more varied than ever with five of these grand pianos up there joining; one composite Kraus, two Shappi's and two of the new Hartley epoxy boats, proving their worth on the biggest stage.

The next big event to look forward to is the UK Nationals at Broadstairs and the 2020 worlds at Medemblik.

Full results can be found here (PDF format)

Daily Videos:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

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