The revamped vanUden-TU Delft-Van Oord Sailing Team embarked on its fifth Tour campaign Easter weekend in the French port of La Trinité-sur-Mer. The technical university students took part in the classic Spi Ouest competition, which attracts some 500 boats every year. This ‘exhibition race’ signalled the official start of the season for the Dutch sailors, who participated in the Mumm-30 class and ended in thirteenth place in a strong field. The starting shot for the thirtieth Tour de France à la Voile will be fired in Dunkirk at the end of June. The competition consists of a series of short-track and long-distance races along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. The vanUden-TU Delft-Van Oord Sailing Team is determined to appear on the winner’s podium in the student category.
'Spi Ouest was a good initial practice race for us', said Skipper Suzanne Leinders (23, majoring in Applied Physics). 'We had a chance to test our mettle against the other 17 Mumm-30 teams. We occasionally made good time, but we had some problems with our starts and boat handling. So we know what to focus on in our training.’ Spi Ouest will go down in history as a cold and turbulent race. The trouble began when fishermen protesting against the high price of diesel blockaded the port of La Trinité-sur-Mer. After much negotiation, the blockade was lifted on the second day of the race and the eager sailors were able to push off. A fierce race followed in gusts of up to 35 knots. The Dutch Mumm team put up a good fight and captured eleventh place.
The team kept up the excellent work on Sunday and competed in three races. Leinders and her crew achieved a score of 11-7-15. ‘We started well in the second race and that gave us much better control,’ said Leinders. ‘It confirmed that we’re headed in the right direction. Now we just have to fine-tune our technique so that we can place in the top ten.’ After six races, the vanUden-TU Delft-Van Oord Sailing Team ended in thirteenth place in the general Mumm-30 category.
Revamped team trains with Heiner
After the first three campaigns, a fresh crop of students took over the Delft Challenge Team in 2007. The debut team placed sixth in the student class last year (and 24th overall) under the leadership of skippers Suzanne Leinders and Michiel van der Meulen. Four of the previous team members will continue this season and the remaining spots have almost all been filled. ‘We spent a week with Team Heiner this winter,’ says Leinders. ‘It was a chance to try out candidates as part of our selection process. Roy Heiner also gave us an afternoon’s training.’ The revamped vanUden-TU Delft-Van Oord Sailing Team now has a ten-person crew, including Nicolas Heiner and navigator Jasper van den Munckhof. The team is also working hard on its meteorological skills. ‘We’ve had numerous sessions with an instructor at the nautical college. We’ve also been in touch with Peter Thans and plan to visit him and solo sailor Lucas Schröder.’
The team is still seeking three new members, however. 'Initially, we wanted to keep the number of crew members down. But now that the Atlantic route has become so challenging, we think we’d better boost the team.' The Atlantic route consists of five stages, three of which are around 180 nautical miles long. The boats are then transported by lorry to the Mediterranean, where the emphasis is on inshore races. The fleet will end in Hyéres in the weekend of 22-24 July.
The ambitious student crew is busy preparing for the 2008 Tour de France à la Voile. In April they will appear at the start of the vanUden Reco Stellendam Regatta and shortly thereafter compete in the ABN AMRO North Sea Regatta offshore races. ‘After that we’ll take part in the inshore races in Scheveningen. Deauville Week will be our final test before the Tour. Our aim is to be among the top three student teams in France.’
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