The 2015 Contender World Championships, held in Medemblik, the Netherlands, has just concluded, and due to the popularity of the class, it was yet another well-attended event, with over 140 Contender sailors coming from the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Canada, and the US to enjoy the first class venue on the Ijsselmeer. The good news was that thanks to some Dutch innovation and a giant dike, racing took place on a fresh water lake, so there was no need for boat and sailor salt rinse downs. The bad news was that with a water depth of only 15-20 feet, capsizes were risky; at best, a turtled boat meant coming in with a black topped sail, and at worst, coming in under tow with a mast that was shorter than what went out.
On the first day of measurement, the Netherlands got hit with the worst summer storm it had seen since storms started being recorded 100 years ago, and this, like every idea falling out of Donald Trump’s mouth, was a bad sign of things to come.
Day one of the Worlds was (no shocker) breezy, puffy, and shifty, and with the short, steep, and confused waves, it looked like quite a few people were trying to sail with their centerboards instead of their mains. With the wind hitting 25-30 knots for the second race, the lucky boats retired under their own power, while the unlucky ones discovered there is no Uber in Medemblik and had to accept a ride in with the volunteer safety boats. Day two opened with a gusty 20 knots, and with a front scheduled to pass and once again create towing conditions, the RC decided to pull up stakes after the first race. With gusts into the low 30s on day three, everyone supported the RC decision to cancel racing for the day, in particular the Germans who would have been looked to for bailouts after the inevitable carnage.
The gold and silver fleet split was made with only three races completed, and the finals on day four started in 18-25 knots. Once again, the rescue boats headed up parades of bare pole contenders, and showing that his disastrous results in the pre-worlds regatta were a fluke, baby-faced Brit Simon Mussell scored two bullets and put himself into first place heading into the fifth and final day of the Worlds. Unfortunately, for the last day, the wind made like a lion capping American dentist and vanished, and predictably, the big boys were slow and their scores in the one and only race of the day were their throwaways.
So in the end, it was the cherubic Mussell who emerged on top. Having almost won the Worlds in 2013 in Lake Como, Italy, and coming off the hot streak of winning a couple of big European regattas prior to the Worlds, his victory wasn’t a surprise but it also wasn’t easy, as he was competing with several former world champions, including Mark Bulka (AUS), Soren Dulong Andreason (DEN), and Andrea “I’ve-won-so-many-Worlds-I-deserve-a-book” Bonezzi (ITA), On the podium, Simon credited his victory to his feasting on Dutch stroopwaffles (which roughly translates to “diabetes cookies”), his parents, and gave a Jude Apatow approved bromantic shout out to his best friend Gary “Gaz” Langdown, another excellent British sailor.
Swiss sailor and boat builder Jacqueline Rufenacht, the Contender fleet’s answer to Ronda Rousey, unsurprisingly emerged as the top female, and even better, the remarkable woman who built her contenders and gave the men a good run for their money in the regatta stepped up to be the technical chair of the class, and great things are expected with her appointment.
The Dutch race organizers and the army of volunteers did an outstanding job of making everyone feel welcome and provided high quality racing. Next year, the Contender Worlds are back in North America, and the Santa Cruz Yacht Club has generously agreed to host the event. With its reliable big wind (especially in April) and big ocean swell, it will be yet another great event for this amazing dinghy class.
– Stephanie Mah