By Bevan Eakins of the Western Australian
Ask Roao Rodrigues if he is famous and with a quite smile he’ll say: “Not in Portugal, but in Madeira, yes.”
Ask somebody in the world of windsurfing about the self-effacing athlete and you’ll get a completely different answer.
“He’s a rock star of the sport. When he talks others listen,” says Rory Ramsden, a veteran windsurfing official and international judge since 1992.
A world champion in 1995 with the best Olympic result of sixth at Athens in 2004, Rodrigues has won 22 regattas around the world and is primarily using the ISAF world sailing championships off Fremantle to qualify for his sixth Games in London next year.
But for all his prowess on the Olympic class RS:X, Rodrigues has become even more famous for a windsurfing feat that nobody else has accomplished and is recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest non-stop ocean crossing.
In the middle of the northern hemisphere summer this year, he sailed from his home island of Madeira across the open north Atlantic Ocean to the island of Selvagem Grande.
He made the 160nm crossing, that’s a few clicks over 300km, not only to celebrate his 40th birthday last month but to also recognise the same anniversary of Parque Natural da Madeira, Portugal’s oldest national park.
The park admininisters the uninhabited, except for wardens, Selvagem Grande, the smaller Selvagem Pequena and the tiny Ilhéu de Fora. Selvagem translates as “wild” and the islands are gem of biodiversity, mentioned more times in Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species then the Galapagos Islands, according to Rodrigues.
“I wanted to call world-wide attention to these small islands,” Rodrigues says of a trip that was three months in the planning after he was approached by the Portuguese authorities to celebrate the park’s birthday.
It wasn’t easy. After more than 10 hours on just the one tack, his arms and legs ached and his back was completely destroyed for some months.
“After 2½ hours I wanted to quit but we took it mile by mile, step by step,” he says of the marathon sail.
Born on Madeira, which has a population of around 250,000 people, he was a natural sailor from the age of nine.
“When you’re surrounded by water, it is obvious to sail,” he says. His father imported the first sailboards and he was hooked from the beginning as the family raced around the islands.
“It’s been a passion since the first day. When I first started gliding I thought ‘oh my God, this is it’,” says the man who also has a mechanical engineering degree from the 80-year-old Technical University of Lisbon.
“It’s the only sport where I could find the obstacles and get over them. In all the other sports I tried, I couldn’t go any further.”
So how much further can Rodrigues go in a body which is starting to age?
“At my first Olympics in 1992 I just wanted to get it over. I’ve been to four more since,” he laughs. “I’d love to win a medal in Fremantle but the first aim is to qualify for the Olympics. This is my life and as long as I can keep the pace I will keep going.”
Rory Ramsden, for one, has no doubts he will be in London next year and says: “When the chips are counted, Joao is usually there.”
Today did not look promising. Not promising at all. Bright sunshine maybe but the wind was absent. The AP duly went up at 1200hrs and the guys were held on the beach for 30 minutes. Then the fun and games began
The yellow group went out for the first start of the day. One general recall, they got into race 5. The wind was still not co-operating. Up and down. Left and right. Until after 37 minutes with what were once the fleet leaders buried in the pack, the win gods threw a curve ball and shifted 100 degrees plus.
The Race Committee had no choice. The ISAF Race Management Guidelines state clearly that the PRO can shorten or lengthen a leg but he cannot shorten a course. All that effort had to be consigned to the dustbin. The Race was abandoned.The fleet was sent ashore to recover their sense of humour and take a break
The blue fleet had more luck. Their only race of the day went off without a hitch. Dorian van Rijsselberghe [NED] recovered his equilibrium and took the gun. Piotr Myszka [POL] kept the pressure up by posting a 2nd whilst his compatriot, Przemyslaw Miarcyzinski bombed to 12th. Shahar Zubari [ISR] finally made an appearance in the top 3. And, Zac Plavsic [CAN] put in this worst race of the championship so far to drop out of the top 10.
The one young gun still confounding the sceptics is Eliot Carney who is rattling off mid top 10 finishes as if he had been at this game at this level for years… which he hasn’t. Good on ya Carnage 🙂
Now back to the Yellow fleet, who were finally recalled to the starting zone at going on 1600hrs. Nimrod Mashiah [ISR] was one athlete who was heaving a sigh of relief when the first race of the day was blown off. He was deep in the pack and dreading every moment of it. In the re-run, he finished 4th but now shares top spot overall with Dorian with a massive 6 points off 5 races.
No-one in front of him could do any damage to the top group but Tom Ashley [NZL] put in a stinker – 12th – and dropped to 5th, the place previously occupied by Toni Wilhelm [GER] who has now descended to 7th after posting a 19th.
There are now 6 points covering places 5 to 11 with a queue of people waiting to take the Otis in to the top 10 if any one puts a foot wrong again. 8 of them are carrying a discard they would rather forget leaving Nimrod Mashiah [ISR] and Piotr Myszka [POL] in s strong position going into the gold fleet racing starting tomorrow.
That covers the drama at the business end of the fleet, so lets look at who made the cut and who has been consigned to the silver fleet
Santiago Grillo [COL] is the last man in with David Mier y Teran just one point ahead. These two will be fighting tooth and nail for the last Olympic qualification place. There are 30 countries in the gold fleet including Great Britain who have a place at the Games by right as the host country.
28 nations will qualify here in Perth at the ISAF Sailing World Championships so although these guys are a long way off the medal places competition will be intense right through to the last man standing.
The 17 nations left in the silver fleet will get their chance to qualify at the 2012 RS:X World Windsurfing Championships in Cadiz, Spain in March where the winners will get to share a US $45,000 prize pot.
Overnight 36mm of rain had deluged Perth in just 30 minutes but the low pressure was still hanging around this morning. We woke to total cloud cover and the same wind direction that had delivered solid gold racing on day 1.
Now, the men racing in the RS:X World Windsurfing Championships were scheduled to race on the centre course starting at 1230hrs. The Blue fleet went out first with the start boat close up against the northern breakwater.
Dorian van Rijsselberghe [NED] strode into the lead which had extended to 2 minutes on his second visit to the top mark. The race win was in the bag. He just had to complete the course to post his first bullet of the day. Unfortunately he had not paid enough attention to the course signals on the stern of the start boat… He presented himself at the finish line one lap early and then had to play a desperate game of catch up finally finishing 16th
He made up for it in the second by firing in a bullet but the beneficiary of his dumb mistake in the first was Zac Plavsic who made history and climbed a personal Everest too by pouncing on Dorian’s mistake and taking the gun. A Canadian athlete has never before won a race at an Olympic class windsurfing world championships.
Asked what he thought of the centre course today Zac said “It’s like playing snakes and ladders. In that board game finding a ladder can move you right up. The reverse is true of the snakes. I just managed to find more ladders than snakes today”
Well done Zac for proving the sceptics wrong for the second day. The other guy who is has had the best 2 days sailing in his life is Eliot Carney. He popped in a 3 and a 6 today and now is 6th overall.
On coming ashore he said “I’m tired but really happy… Just trying to keep a lid on my emotions… These have been the best 2 days racing I have ever had” He’s come good just as Nick Dempsey has gone off the boil. He is loathing the conditions in Perth. The weed in the water being a big bug bear. Not to mention the empty spectator stands and the compromises that he is being forced to make to the altar of media friendliness when the official coverage seems almost bereft of windsurfing action.
Equal second are the Polish pair, Piotr Myszka and Przemislaw Miarczynski. This ding dong battle is not going to stop any time soon. Unlike what was billed to be a needle match between the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, Shahar Zubari and his team mate from Israel, Nimrod Mashiah.
This one finished before it began. Nimrod sits on top of the leaderboard with a mere six points whilst Shahar is buried in 19th place with forty three. He is spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding which race to discard but he favours the 16th place that he scored in race 2 at the moment.
Tom Ashley [NZL] is putting a nice series together. Placing 2nd and 3rd today, he’s back to his imperious self in 4th place overall while JP is paying the price for the wound in his left foot. The one inflicted by that mean little fish the Cobbler. He just could not apply the necessary pressure to do better than a 6th and a 10th today
We’re moving to the business end of the qualification round tomorrow with the points close enough to put 7 sailors in with a chance of making the cut. As for the number of countries going to qualify, on our current calculations the silver fleet will be fighting over the 3 remaining places not already taken by those in the gold fleet.