fantastic falmouth

fantastic falmouth

In days of old Falmouth in the UK was the first and last port of call for vessels plying their trade across the Atlantic, but over the past two weeks the whole town has welcomed Finn sailors from across the world for the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Finn Festival, which incorporated the British Finn Nationals and then the Finn Gold Cup.

Located about as far west as it’s possible to go on the UK mainland, Falmouth also used to be the home town of Britain’s most decorated sailor, so it’s no exaggeration to say that the expectations on Ben Ainslie’s shoulders were pretty high. He did not disappoint.

While his arch rival Giles Scott won the British Nationals with Ainslie looking uncharacteristically off colour, the double Olympic Finn champion regrouped and not only dominated the Finn Gold Cup in Scott’s absence the following week, but showed a level of performance that was even more unbelievable than usual to secure his sixth Finn world championship, twice as many as any other sailor in the 56 year history of the event.

He trailed the 2010 World Champion Ed Wright by one point after the first day, scored the same points on the second day to take a seven point lead, and then in a remarkable display of speed and skill won the next five races; and that even surprised Ainslie.

On the Thursday, it was the biggest day many could remember, with monster waves and 25 knot winds, Ainslie won all three races. In his own conservative style, he would always be in the top group at the first mark and then consolidate until the final downwind when he would effortlessly surf through to take the lead and the winner’s gun. In the final race of the day, when 30 boats had already had enough and gone home, Ainslie led from start to finish, with mountainous seas to negotiate upwind and white knuckle rides downwind, to win by a staggering 200 metres. Superlatives are just not adequate to describe that achievement.

The praise that Ainslie received from both observers and his fellow sailors underlines the magnitude of this victory, which he described as the most ‘special’ out of all his six titles. Wright sailed an excellent series as well to take home the silver while double world champion Jonas Høgh-Christensen’s consistency won him the bronze. But there were a lot of other stories from the week as well.

Greg Douglas won the Canadian Olympic trials after a great day’s racing on Big Thursday. His former coach, 2008 Olympian Chris Cook, had re-entered the fray and looked to be heading for a trials victory over his former trainees, including a race win on Monday. However, proving that you should never, ever give up, Douglas knuckled down, got on with the job and posted three good results on Thursday. Unfortunately for Cook, and unbeknown to Douglas, Cook fell ill on that day and failed to finish the last two races. Douglas got the ticket to Weymouth.

The Polish trials also concluded this week, with 2008 Olympian Rafal Szukiel up against a strong challenge from the young star Piotr Kula. While Szukiel suffered in the strong winds, Kula sailed his socks off and was rewarded by a sixth place finish overall and his ticket to Weymouth. This, from a team that didn’t even make the gold fleet in Perth.

One of the favourites for the title, and the runner-up in Perth, Pieter-Jan Postma failed to find his rhythm and finished down in eighth. Despite winning medals both in last year’s test event and in Perth, he still had to meet National authority criteria this year in order to be sent to the Olympics. An eighth was good enough though, and perhaps some compensation for an otherwise indifferent week.

On the first day of racing Høgh-Christensen was seen giving his boat a ‘pep talk’ between races. It took a while for the boat to respond, but on Thursday it turned the tables and and bit back, giving the Dane four stitches in his head, and leaving a visible dent in the boom.

This regatta also attracted sailors from across the generations. There was a 60 year age difference between the youngest and the oldest, with a strong youth element in the fleet. One of the new Finn sailors that captured the hearts of many there was 14 year old Jack Arnell from the UK. He is perhaps the youngest sailor ever to compete in a Finn Gold Cup, and despite his young age he towers over most of the fleet and sails with a maturity beyond his years. His achievement was duly recognised at the prizegiving when he was presented by Ainslie with a framed photo of himself that had been signed by all the sailors. That was a moment he will remember for the rest of his life.

The championship ended with a non-event as the medal race was abandoned with no wind. The class has invested in 10 stern mounts with GoPro cameras, and had hoped to release extensive footage of the top Finn sailors in action in the medal race, but that will have to wait until later. Next year the class goes to Tallinn in Estonia for the Finn Gold Cup.

The Olympic flame arrived in the UK the day the championship ended and the following morning the first Torchbearer was none other than Ben Ainslie. He rejoined the flame in Falmouth later in the day, where the Finn sailors were the official backdrop to the passing of the flame. – Robert Deaves