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'Not for the faint-hearted': Kiwis battle Mistral in Hyères

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A fortnight after an impressive medal haul in the European season-opener in Spain, the focus shifted from standing on the podium to merely staying upright for New Zealand’s sailors on the opening day of the French Olympic Week regatta.  

The 27-strong Kiwi contingent had to battle the French Mistral wind in Hyères overnight, with much of the racing abandoned as the infamous northwesterly reached speeds of more than 30kn.

“It was pretty wild out there and definitely not for the faint-hearted,” said Tom Saunders, who sits fourth overall after two races in the ILCA 7 competition – one of the few fleets that managed to complete all of its scheduled qualifying heats.

“It’s what we’ve come to expect here and it’s good to get tested in these extreme conditions. It’s quite fun when everyone’s just trying to survive and pretty much stay upright.”

Saunders won the second of his heats after a fifth in the first, courtesy of a yellow flag.

“Trying to do a few penalty turns going downwind at about 30kn wasn’t much fun but it was still a solid start with two low scores. It was my first yellow flag in four years and to have it in these conditions … you can only really laugh about it.”


Tom Saunders won the second of his two qualifying heats after a yellow flag in the first. Photos / Sailing Energy

It’s been only two weeks since a false start in the medal race at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma de Mallorca saw Saunders miss out on a podium spot - but it's felt much longer.

“It felt like time went quite slowly [in the build-up to Hyères]. It was obviously not the finish I was after in Palma, which added to the frustration, but it pays to have a short memory with this stuff – to take your lessons and move forward," Saunders said.

“All I can do is just keep sailing well to keep giving myself chances.”

Teammate George Gautrey, fresh off a sensational silver medal in Palma, ended the day in 11th after scores of 5 and 6 in a qualifying fleet that includes overall day 1 leader Elliot Hanson and runaway Princess Sofia winner Michael Beckett.


George Gautrey sits 11th overall after two races in a tough ILCA 7 qualifying fleet. Photos / Sailing Energy 

“It was a pretty tough fleet with four of the top six from Palma in it, but I’ve come here to race the best and it’s a good chance for me to dial in in conditions that we haven’t sailed in since September,” said Gautrey.

“Today was definitely not the best I’ve ever sailed. There was a bit of rust but I’ll tidy up a few areas and get back out there.”

Erica Dawson and Micah Wilkinson managed a sixth place in their only heat in the Nacra 17 and are also 11th in the overall standings.

Justina Kitchen is 27th after four completed qualifying races in the women’s kitefoil, while Olivia Christie (39th in the ILCA 6) and the 470 mixed team of Brittany Wornall and Sam Street (51st) also managed some racing.

There was no such luck for the 49er fleet, where two Kiwi crews - Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn, and Isaac McHardie and Will McKenzie – will be among the favourites this week following their respective gold and bronze medals in Spain.

While the 49er FX teams briefly headed out onto the course, they spent most of their time trying not to capsize before even making it to the start line.


Jo Aleh and Molly Meech - and most of the other 49er FX sailors - battled to stay upright as strong winds wreaked havoc in Hyères. Photos / Sailing Energy

“The Mistral sure lived up to its reputation – it was probably the windiest I think I’ve been out in in the FX,” said Jo Aleh, who started sailing in the class with Molly Meech last year after earlier winning Olympic gold in the 470.

“We were sent out in about 30, 35kn … but I don’t think anyone actually made it to the start line in our fleet. We got most of the way there and had a little swim, along with the rest of the fleet. Hopefully, we have a little less breeze tomorrow and can get some racing in.”

Aleh and Meech finished 17th in Palma after leading the fleet on the first day.

Also in action in Hyères will be Alex Maloney and Olivia Hobbs, as well as the Reynolds-Smith twins, Courtney and Brianna.

Results and standings after day 1 of the French Olympic Week regatta in Hyères:

ILCA 7 (155 boats):
1st: Elliot Hanson (GBR) 2 1 - 3 points
2nd: Philipp Buhl (Ger) 1 2 - 3 pts
3rd: Francisco Guaragna Rigonat (Arg) 2 3 - 5 pts
4th: Tom Saunders (NZ) 5 1 - 6 pts
11th: George Gautrey (NZ) 5 6 - 11 pts
66th: Luke Cashmore (NZ) 30 14 - 44 pts
72nd: Luke Deegan (NZ) 21 27 - 48 pts
116th: Caleb Armit (NZ) 46 31 - 77 pts

ILCA 6 (94 boats):
1st: Sarah Douglas (Can) 1 2  - 3 points
2nd: Emma Plasschaert (Bel) 2 4 - 6 pts
3rd: Matilda Nicholls (GBR) 7 1 - 8 pts
39th: Olivia Christie (NZ) 22 18 – 40 pts

Nacra 17 mixed (46 boats):
1st: Jason Waterhouse/Lisa Darmanin (Aus) 1 - 1pt
2nd: Ruggero Tita/Caterina Banti (Ita) 1 - 1 pt
3rd: Mateo Majdalani/Eugenia Bosco (Arg) 2 - 2 pts
11th: Micah Wilkinson/Erica Dawson (NZ) 6 - 6pts

470 mixed (64 boats):
1st: Jordi Xammar/Nora Brugman (Spa) 1 1 - 2pts
2nd: Hippolyte Machetti/Aloïse Retornaz (Fra) 2 2 - 4 pts
3rd: Lara Vadlau/Lukas Mahr (Aut) 5 3 - 8 pts
51st: Brittany Wornall/Sam Street (NZ) 18 DNC33 - 51 pts

Kitefoil women (50 boards):
1st: Daniela Moroz (USA) 1 (2) 1 1 - 3 pts
2nd: Jessie Kampman (Fra) 1 1 (2) 2 - 4 pts
3rd: Maddy Anderson (GBR) 2 3 (7) 1 - 6 pts
27th: Justina Kitchen (NZ) (15) 12 12 11 - 35 pts.