Ireland's Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove are holding a top ten place as the 49er European Championships enters its grand finale on Monday with an Paris 2024 place at stake.
Sunday's racing proved exceptionally difficult as the fading sea breeze created obstacles across the course that few crews managed to completely escape.
Dickson and Waddilove served up a fourth place in the opening race of the day and while their starting technique again served them well, 14th and 15th places followed and they slipped from sixth place overnight to eighth.
At the same time, Italians Simone Ferrarse and Leonardo Chiste with a better day moved up from eleventh to ninth place and trail the Irish boat by three points.
"That was a tough day; it was hard to get the strategy right,' said Dickson after racing ended. "Considering the conditions and Gold fleet, we're pretty happy with it."
Just one nation place for Paris 2024 is being decided at this regatta with Belgium and Germany also possibly able to mount a challenge on the final day. But with the sea breeze only filling in by midday at the earliest, the schedule may yet be curtailed.
"It's all to play for and super-exciting. The boys have sailed a great series, the Italians have sailed a great series and it's all down to the last day," said James O'Callaghan, Irish Sailing's Performance Director. "Sport is being true to form."
Much depends on the weather and whether the full schedule can be sailed on Monday. Two further fleet races are due before deciding the final top ten boats to compete in the high-scoring medal race final.
Irish crew move up to sixth in Gold fleet racing at 49er European Championships
Ireland's Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove shot up the leaderboard at the 49er European Championships as the Paris 2024 hopefuls improved from 13th to sixth place overnight. The jump in the standings was thanks to careful starting technique that led them to score tenth and second places for the day.
Crucially, in the hunt for the single nation European qualification place for the Paris 2024 Olympics, the Dublin crew now lead the potential qualifiers by a ten-point margin. Their lead is still vulnerable to shock and there are six races possibly remaining in the schedule before Monday afternoon's medal race.
However, after a four hour delay to racing due to no wind today plus similar forecasts for Sunday and Monday, any racing will be a bonus that every team will need to improve or consolidate their standings.
Dickson (Howth YC) and Waddilove (Skerries SC) came within one nation place of securing a berth in the Men's skiff event for the Paris 2024 Olympic regatta in Marseilles next August when they competed at the Sailing World Championships in The Hague in August.
But their starting technique proved to be an Achilles Heel despite several notable race results and they have spent the time since improving this and their light wind boatspeed.
"Gold fleet racing gets a bit tighter and a bit tougher so to come away with two top ten results is pretty ideal," commented Seán Waddilove. "We had two fantastic starts today with a big lane below us which meant we had plenty of options."
Ireland's second crew in the competition, now in the Silver fleet had no racing due to the weather. Séafra Guilfoyle with Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork YC) are hoping that Sunday's conditions will allow the Silver and Bronze fleets an opportunity to continue their competition.
Irish crew break through to reach Gold fleet at 49er European Championships
In another day of rain and very light winds in the qualification round of the 49er European Championships (Vilamoura, Portugal Thursday 9th November 2023) Paris 2024 hopefuls Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove delivered their best day and are through to the Gold fleet for the final round.
Three days and up to nine races remain in the series that will decide the medal race on Monday - and the crucial single nation European qualification place for the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Dickson (Howth YC) and Waddilove (Skerries SC) improved from 18th overall to 13th thanks to third and fourth places for the day while their discard took care of an 18th. The points are still very tight with any outcome possible in the tricky conditions.
Ireland's second crew in the competition also had their best day so far but ultimately Séafra Guilfoyle with Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork YC) were unable to break into Gold fleet despite jumping from 60th to 38th place thanks to three solid results for the day including a fifth place.
"We worked a lot on our light wind speed and starting particularly in the lead up to this regatta and we can definitely see the benefits of that in the racing over the last few days," commented Seán Waddilove after coming ashore in near darkness. "Our task (for the next couple of days) is pretty straight-forward: keep doing what we've been doing and if we continue on this trajectory we should do pretty well."
The change to the finals round has seen the number of countries in the hunt halve to five nations with Belgium currently out front with just a nine point gap to the Irish crew.
"A few things went our way with shifts today so I'm pretty happy," said Robert Dickson. "We're getting good starts and I think we just have to go with our gut and what we see on the water: sometimes it works - sometimes it doesn't."
It's a point echoed by Irish Sailing's 49er coach Matt McGovern, himself a double-Olympian: "It's just one of those ones where you just want to keep yourself out of trouble and get off that start line and not get caught up in the group."
Meanwhile, Cork's Guilfoyle and Durcan were pleased with their best day of the regatta so far in spite of not qualifying for Gold fleet.
"We're pretty pleased as we sailed a bit more of what we know we can do," Durcan said after racing. "we gave ourselves chances rather than coming from behind all the time."
Although more light winds are expected off Vilamoura for the coming days, if the current trend continues at least six races should be possible before deciding the top ten boats for the medal race final on Monday afternoon.
Make or break day ahead for Irish crews at 49er European Championships
With one day remaining of qualifiers at the 49er Europeans, Paris 2024 hopefuls Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove must deliver a strong set of results to stay inside the criteria for Gold fleet as the event reaches the halfway stage.
The Dublin pair discarded a 16th place from the opening race of day two and went on to score and eleventh and a ninth for the day that saw the light breeze progressively drop away to near calm conditions.
Dickson (Howth YC) and Waddilove (Skerries SC) are listed at 18th overall but tied on points with two other boats. At least two races are scheduled for Friday to complete the qualification round and decide the top 25 boats for the finals.
Few of the top boats have escaped the tricky conditions as the 14 point spread from first place to 18th highlights. But the spread from 18th to 26th is even tighter at just three points so just one weighty result could tip any of the top boats out of Gold fleet contention.
"We're pretty happy with our starts - two good and one bad one - but our starting is going well (but) it's more about trying to spot the shifts," commented Robert Dickson after coming ashore. "Whatever we get we get - we can't really control the conditions."
Although conditions improved from the middle of the day onwards when the other Nacra and 49erFX classes took over the racing area, the forecast for the remaining four days of the regatta appear certain to deliver more of the same light winds.
"Today was marginal conditions - again with barely enough wind to get races off but we still managed to get three races in," said Dickson. "The rest of the week is going to be like this so we just have to learn every day and keep getting better. The key for this week is to be consistent and we've been doing that so far."
The other Irish crew competing at the championship found the conditions more challenging. Séafra Guilfoyle and Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork YC) discarded a 19th but went on to score 15th and 19th places which drops them to 59th overall and facing a uphill battle to win a place in the Gold fleet.
Strong opening race for Irish boat chasing Olympic qualification in Portugal
Despite light and fickle wind conditions off the Algarve coast today Paris 2024 hopefuls Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove delivered a strong start to the 49er European Championships.
The Dublin pair made a clean start to the single short race, reaching the first turning mark in seventh place before carefully working up to a third place finish.
Race management teams then struggled to set a course in the dying breeze as the sun started to set and attention switches to day two of the qualification round when better wind is forecast.
"We can't complain - it was a light tricky day," said Seán Waddilove (Skerries Sailing Club). "To come away unscathed is pretty good."
It was a point echoed by the second Irish boat competing at the event that saw both crews in the same fleet. Séafra Guilfoyle and Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork YC) had a 12th place and are relishing the prospect of better conditions on Thursday.
"It was very light, very easy to have a bad one so we're reasonably happy," commented Johnny Durcan. "There's a bit more breeze (forecast) tomorrow and today was pretty close to being a drifter so hopefully four races in ten knots."
The 91-strong 49er skiff class are divided into three fleets for the qualification round of nine races. The top 25 boats go through to the Gold fleet for the final round while the top ten boats from there will contest a medal race decider on Monday 13th.
Olympic qualification opportunity in Portugal for Irish Sailors
One nation place for the Paris 2024 Olympics in the Men's Skiff event will be decided this week at the 49er European Championship in Portugal (Villamoura, November 8th to 13th) where two Irish crews will be in action.
Robert Dickson (Howth Yacht Club) and Sean Waddilove (Skerries Sailing Club) missed qualification by one place at the Sailing World Championships earlier in the summer and will now be aiming to close out the year on a high.
In spite of several notable results in the World Championships two months ago, critical starting-line errors ultimately cost them qualification for Ireland at the first opportunity.
The pair had overcome some early season medical issues and were clearly on form for most of the world championship where ten nations qualified for Paris 2024.
"There were a lot of positives from The Hague including clear, world-class boatspeed," commented James O'Callaghan, Performance Director with Irish Sailing. "Their Achilles heel was the start where striking a balance between risk and reward was needed."
Ireland's second boat in Vilamoura will be the Crosshaven pairing of Seafra Guilfoyle with Johnny Durcan (Royal Cork Yacht Club). The Cork duo will be seeking a top 20 result overall in the 90-strong event to meet Sport Ireland carding scheme criteria and regain a place on the Irish team.
The 49er European Championship is the final major regatta of 2023 for Ireland's performance sailors. Eve McMahon will be in action early in January 2024 when seven places for her Women's Single-handed dinghy event will be decided at the ILCA6 World Championship in Argentina.
McMahon rounded off her 2023 season last month by winning Gold at the U21 World Championship in her event as she continues her upwards trajectory from a stellar youth career.