Sailing events don’t come any bigger than Kieler Woche, Germany’s legendary regatta which this year plays host to host more than 4,000 sailors from 60 nations, competing in more than 1,900 sailing boats.
However, day one of the regatta was dogged by bad weather after the heavens opened over the numerous race courses and played havoc with the breeze. Then again, the inaugural event of the brand new Women’s Sailing Champions League opened well, with the international teams completing three heats in the identically matched fleet of J/70 keelboats.
Top of the pile at the end of Saturday are two Danish crews, Hellerup Sejlklub skippered by Trine Abrahamsen who scored three bullets, followed by the Royal Danish Yacht Club skippered by former Olympic representative Henriette Koch who notched up an almost perfect score of 2,1,1 in their heats.
In the 60-boat Contender fleet, two-time German Champion Volker Niediek bounced back from a bad start to take the race win after climbing through the fleet. “It was not good at the start. I was wearing new gloves which were a bit slippery and I let the mainsheet slip out of my hand.” This dumped Niediek in the water but once he’d recovered his composure he used the massively changing breeze to his favour. He had a hunch about the right hand side of the beat paying and when it did, he climbed to 4th place by the windward mark. He then rode the front of a rain squall to surf into the lead and, even when the wind turned 180 degrees inside out, Niediek did just enough to cling on for the race win. “It went really well for me, even though the conditions were really difficult.”
The single-trapeze boat continues to attract big numbers, even if the design by America’s Cup legend Ben Lexcen is now more than 50 years old. “It’s a nice boat to sail,” said Niediek, “it can be handled without much effort, and has a bit more horsepower than other dinghy classes. The trapezing is challenging, but not as much as other skiffs and we have all ages represented, from youth sailors to the over seventies.”
In the Hobie 16 fleet, Jens Goritz and Kerstin Wichardt won the only race of the day and came ashore with mixed feelings, both wanting to race more yet also frustrated by the wildly unpredictable conditions on the water. “I’m not sure why we were sent ashore. I thought you could sail,” said Goritz said, although his crew added: “We were quite happy that we no longer had to go through those wind shifts.”
Race director Dirk Ramhorst described the impossible task for the race committee to find sailable wind conditions between the weather fronts that passed over Northern Germany today. “One of the fronts caught us out. There was also a bit of thunder and rain, although with no real risk to the competitors. We then sent the competitors ashore before the second front struck, and when it arrived it was actually quite fierce.” Ramhorst says the plan is to catch up with the schedule in the coming days.
There are many regattas within the regatta of Kieler Woche, such as the Women’s Sailing Champions League already mentioned. Kiel also serves as the start of the Nord Stream Race, a 1,000 mile stage-race held in identical ClubSwan 50 racer-cruisers which will be racing towards St Petersburg in Russia over the coming weeks. Kieler Woche is also proud to host the World Championships for the Laser Radial Men, and the Eurosaf European Para Sailing Championship.
Kieler Woche, which takes place from 16 to 24 June, divides into two halves. The first half which began today is all about the international classes and is mostly about keen amateur sailors competing against each other. Then from Wednesday onwards is the turn for the Olympic competitors to do battle with each other. The entry lists are chock full with some of the greatest young sailors in the world, particularly so this year because many Olympic aspirants are using Kiel as their final warm-up regatta before the big event of the season, the World Sailing Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, five weeks from now. Competitors have come from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and the USA to race on the Olympic waters of Munich 1972 as they build up towards the Tokyo 2020 Games two years from now.