Olympic hopefuls Jesse and Zander Kirkland have finished in 3rd place at the 49er North American Championships just south of line between Treasure Island and Angel Island in San Francisco.
Zander Kirkland said, “This is big deal for us and is a testament to the hard work we have been putting in the boat in the last 15 months since we went full-time in an effort to qualify for next summer's Olympics.”
Jesse Kirkland said, “The racing was tough out in the Bay, with big breeze on Day 1 and then ripping tide to manage on day 2, to create a multitude of conditions to test North America's best 49er sailors. The regatta was actually won by the Finnish team who finished 11th at last year's World Championships, who was here training with the North America contingent in preparation for the 2011 World Championships which are coming up in December in Freemantle, Australia.”
“The top American team was 2nd, who are smart and fast in the boat and then we were a few points after them after the 7 race series rounded up. We were excited to be near these guys and beat the top Canadian boats. The fleet was only 8 boats, but of a high quality - top Mexican team, top Finnish team, 2 top Americans, top 2/3 Canadian teams, and the top US Virgin Island team,” continued Zander Kirkland.
Jesse Kirkland went on to say, “Going into the event, we knew it would be windy and just wanted to keep the sailing as polished as possible. Basically, we wanted to test our boat handling, which we have been practicing for the past 3 weeks out on the notoriously windy San Francisco Bay. Ramon Olideen, the coach of the defending World Champions, was very helpful to us when we had him for 10 days earlier in the month. He adjusted subtle things with our technique, which make big differences on the consistency of our boat handling. It really awakened us to how helpful coaching is at this level and really got us excited to raise more money so we could get him again. There is pretty high correlation between our best result to date and the fact that we just had one of the best coaches in the world work with us for 10 days before the event.”
The final day dawned with the first rain of "the California wet season", as a weak cold front crossed the Bay Area, leaving the Fleet with uncharacteristically light winds on the race course - it did build to a moderate westerly as it cleared up. The Fleet sailed on a new race course to cater to the different wind, which had more current running through it. The racing was more tactical than the previous day's speed orientated theme and made for a well-rounded championship.
The Kirklands sailed well enough to consolidate on 3rd place for the event, but have plenty of room for improvement in the tactical and boat handling department. The biggest take-away from the final day, was finding a rig setting in those conditions where we had good speed with the top guys.
“Historically, we have had our biggest speed issues in those conditions of 7-11kts, and we adjusted a few things to get up to speed with our competition. It was nice to rely on our speed to get out of tricky situations and not feel like we were always losing distance to people around us when going in a straight line. Our setting in these conditions still needs some refinements, but we like the direction it is headed,” concluded Jesse Kirkland.