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Simon Mussell - 2015 Contender World Champion

British Contender World Champion after 17 years

Britain has gone without a home grown Contender World Champion for the past 17 years, this year however Simon Mussell of Highcliffe Sailing club saw off the best sailors from Australia, Germany , Italia and Denmark to bring home the crown.

In 2013 Simon narrowly missed out on the title at Lake Como when fierce rival Soren Dulong Andreasen held his nerve to win, a year later in Lake Macquarrie Australia a white wash by the Aussies and the emergence of a new Contender Champion in Mark Bulka gave no European a chance. 2015 at Medemblik would offer another chance to see if Mussell come finally take the prize.

In the build up to this event the signs were it would be an intriguing battle between 6-7 established and emerging Contender riders. Joint favourites must be Bulka, the current champion and Andreasen who had added the European crown to the 2013 title; Add to that Denmark’s Jesper Neilson, the champion of Kiel week, Former European Champion Christoph Homier of Germany and not forgetting 8 time World Champion Andrea Bonezzi who rarely goes this long without winning. With this sort of competition it was hard to see how Mussell would be able to impose himself on the racing but wins at warm up regattas at Lake Como and Travemunde made sure everyone kept an eye his form.2015-Contender-World-Championship-Medemblik-Netherlands-02-0282

The event began with the 140 boat fleet arriving ready to be measured in the pouring rain and driving 70mph winds to ensure all competitors were sailing a true Contender; accepting no substitutes. The glory of 2 days scrutinizing boats in this dreadful weather was a brief insight into (to a lesser extent) the week of racing to come, big winds for 4 days followed by 1 day of light stuff.

With split fleets the first 3 days would be qualifying for the final two days of Gold and Silver fleets, this meant that the top boys would only face each other in parts. In heat 1 Bulka and Mussell faced off but the match up was partly spoiled by Ben and Tim Holden who reached the windward mark in first and second. Bulka pulled through quickly and Mussell made 2nd on the last beat leaving Ben in third. In the other heat Andrea Bonezzi Lead from start to finish ahead a blisteringly quick Christoph Homier who had passed most of the fleet to get back to 2nd. The big names were showing well in the building breeze and race two would take place in nearing survival conditions. This time Homier continued to fly and posted first ahead of Bulka. In heat 2 Mussell broke right earlier than the pack and rounded first, a good 1st reach extended this lead but an attempt to play it safe and sit in down the next reach lead to a capsize, Soren Dulong Andreasen did not play it safe and two footed past Simon pumping on every wave as he did so.

With forecasts for day 2 expected to be the same and more as day 1 and the number of breakages and retirements mounting up, the race committee decided to play it safe and keep the racing to one early race. In actual fact the conditions were manageable until the last beat when it piped up to 30 knots, thankfully all the fleet needed to do was go home. In the racing Mark Bulka struck back at Homier to get 1st with improving Carl ‘Tag’ Tagoe resplendent in his shiny new boat (A new one every 28yrs whether he needs it or not) taking 3rd. In the other heat Andrea Bonezzi got another win ahead of Simon Mussell and Soren Andreasen.

Day 3 was exactly as expected; far too windy the committee called it dead early and let the fleet enjoy the local area or in most cases set to reinforcing all of the boat parts that had shaken to bits in the relentless conditions; and there would be more to come!

Missed races or not it was now time to split into Gold and silver fleets meaning that all top guns would be head to head, Mark Bulka leads from Homier, Bonezzi and Mussell but the rest of the usual names were all still in the hunt. Race 1 was held in 18 knots in a confused sea. Mussell started to stretch his legs leading from Mark Bulka at the top mark from Bonezzi and Andreasen, Mark chased hard all race and was able to close the gap to few boat lengths at the end but Mussell held on in a real boat on boat match. Soren Andreasen got past Bonezzi and closed up to the front two at the end which is testament to his skill as he gives away at least 10kg on the 3 big boys around him. Race 2 saw Mussell and Bulka explode out of the start out to the left, this left Bonezzi out to the right which paid big, Bonezzi made the mark with a 50yd lead, Bulka 2nd Mussell back in 5th. Mussell and Bulka worked hard down the reaches and run to reel in Bonezzi. The pair rounded the final leeward mark together and Mussell’s upwind speed forced Bulka to tack off and allow Mussell the freedom to hunt down Bonezzi. Bonezzi had the height but Mussell was fast enough to sail from underneath him; the only question, where would Bulka pop out? The answer was behind both Bonezzi and Mussell. The 3rd place for Bulka was his first outside the top 2 whereas Mussell with 2 bullets had manoeuvred into joint first with him.

These two sailors lead on 6 points with Bonezzi a further point behind, but with light wind forecast on the final day the lighter sailors; Andreasen, Homier and Neilson would have an opportunity to get back into it. Now Simon knows he is not the fastest light wind sailor, so is likely to score big but that goes for Mark and Andrea as well. Simon knew that with a 3rd as a discard Mark could not afford a worse than 3rd result, fine as long as there was only 1 race on day 5; if 2 races were run then they could both be out of the top ten let alone the top spot. Simon and Mark sniffed around each other at the pre-start a bit but eventually settled into spaces mid line, with 30 seconds to go Simon dropped down directly underneath Mark and pushed him head to wind as the gun went. The pair both were out the back of the race along with Bonezzi, which was consequently won by Karsten Kraus from Christoph Engel and Gary Langdown. This result gave Mussell a 1 point lead but also a big discard any repeat of this would see him and his rival drop out of contention.

A nervous wait began as the RO tried to set a course in a diminishing breeze. Eventually Mussell’s risk was proved to pay off as the Racing was called off for the day. He had won the World Championships.

Simon had been the fastest sailor around the course all week, able to pluck out some low scores even when things went against him, also sailing clever in conditions that did not suit. After 17 years of waiting Britain has a Contender World Champion; Stuart Jones who was the last holder in 1998 commented that it was ‘about bloody time’.

As for the rest of the fleet, the 150 boats managed to get through some high attrition days to make to the final sunny race and a glorious prize giving, with Andrea Bonezzi in Third and Mark Bulka in 2nd Mussell stood atop the podium and thanked the team of organisers at Medemblik for a predictably slick event.

Focus now turns to 2016; the Worlds will be in Santa Cruz, USA in April, whilst the Europeans will be on our own back door at Highcliffe sailing club on 3-9th of September. All UK Contender sailors should start planning their diary for the opportunity to sail against the best in Europe as well of course against local boy and new World Champ Si Mussell.

Full results etc on the event website here.

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