Nacra 17 Europeans - La Grande Motte back in Olympic classes arena

2014 Nacra 17 European Championship - Day 1
Antoine Beysens
Nacra 17 European Championship - La Grande Motte, a purpose built resort 20 minutes east of Montpellier, has a strong past and recent tradition in competitive sailing, but the Nacra 17 Europeans finds the town stepping back into the Olympic classes arena after a break of more than ten years. The strong association with multihulls has been key to La Grande Motte winning the right to host this, the second European championship since it was appointed the Olympic catamaran class for mixed sex crew.

La Grande Motte has been a training base for the French sailing team’s Nacra 17 for nearly two years working under coach Franck Citeau. But more recently it was also the training base for the Swiss C Class Hydros programme which was helmed to second place in the Little America’s Cup by Nacra 17 world champion Billy Besson. Through last winter the GC32 catamarans were based here for training, development and testing.

In the past La Grande Motte was a venue for the Tornado European Championships when it was a highly competitive Olympic class, as well as the Med Games, two 470 Spring Cup regattas, Laser Europa Cups and five Trophée Clairefontaine regattas- the prestigious champion of champion event in matched 28 foot.

The Nacra 17 European Championships are hosted by the Yacht Club Grande Motte but with help from the CEM, the associated Centre d’Entrainement Mediterranée. The CEM runs training programmes for the Figaro and Mini 650 classes. Among the prominent sailors who have sailed with the CEM Figaro programmes are Vendée Globe winner Francois Gabart – who took his formative steps in the class here with local ace, 2002 race winner Kito de Pavant – Paul Meilhat – winner of the Transat AG2R this year, Christopher Pratt, Xavier Macaire and Sam Goodchild.

La Grande Motte, the club and the CEM, are keen to continue with their focus and specialisation on multihull and flying multihull events and programmes in the future.

Billy Besson and Marie Riou - 2014 Aquece Rio
ISAF ©

Speaking today as measurement and registration continued, Jean-Marc Goldstein, President of the Yacht Club of La Grande Motte said: 'It is very satisfying for the Yacht Club Grande Motte to be hosting a major event for an Olympic Class after quite a long absence of these kind of events for quite a long time. And to be hosting a mixed class is especially good. We will have a nice opening ceremony tonight, a tradition of the event with 28 nations present. We will be doing all we can to make sure everyone here has a good regatta and enjoys being here and will want to come back when the opportunity arrives.'

Seventy three teams representing 28 different nations will compete over the coming week, Monday to Saturday.

The Netherlands’ Mandy Mulder, 2008 Olympic silver medal winning helm in the Yngling, and Coen de Koning are the current European Champions, but a sailing accident to Mulder has compromised their training programme. Her recovery from torn neck ligaments required her to miss most of the winter training. The duo only returned at Hyeres in April where they sailed selected races and at Holland’s Delta Lloyd regatta.

Mulder explained: ' We have been through a rough time. I crashed my A Cat and injured my neck. I had torn ligaments in my neck. And so I have not sailed through the winter and have only been building up these last few months. We have only sailed a few races and Delta Lloyd was the first regatta back. In Hyeres we just did a couple of races a day. And so here we are just looking forwards to racing again. I am feeling quite good, not as good as last year, coming back now.

2014 Nacra 17 European Championship - Day 1, Billy Besson and Marie Riou
Antoine Beysens

The whole fleet improved and we have stood still. So we are not quite up to our game. We thought this might be too much here, but we felt we wanted to race against the best in the world and so we came here. We might not be able to win but we want win in Santander and so we came here. This is our first sail here at the venue today.'

The Nacra 17 fleet is perhaps the most competitive and dynamic of the Olympic classes in terms of the mix of very high calibre sailors it has attracted from diverse Olympic and sailing backgrounds. And the fleet is evolving fast, as might be expected since it was only announced in May 2012 that this is to be the mixed multihull class for Rio 2016. It has been a magnet to young and established multihull sailors, to sailors from the high performance skiff classes, from 470 and Laser and from the Star. One of the very few who have stepped from the traditional keelboat to the catamaran is Portugal’s three times Olympian Afonso Domingos, the only European helm to win the Star Bacardi Cup on Biscayne Bay, Miami. And he has not found the transition easy:

Afonso Domingos (POR) 'We are sailing we are not training enough but we are enjoying it, it's a nice change. It’s a really big change it’s really nice and fun during the trainings but during the race its different. Maybe too much difference! We need to train more to get more used to these boats. So it’s a question of training I think. You look at the big, competitive classes there are now and I could do this or go back to the 49er. And I really like the idea of doing four Olympics in three different classes.'