Following requests to trial a ‘first across the line’ race format, the Finn class carried out trials at two events early in 2017 – the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma and the European Championship in Marseille. Both were designed around a winner-takes-all final race where the first boat across the line was the winner. As expected, both events produced a lot of feedback, good and bad, and after the Europeans the Finn Class organised an online survey to assess the success or otherwise of the trials and gather further feedback.
The purpose of the trials was to investigate new formats to try and make sailing easier to understand for media and non-sailing spectators, and to try and add some extra excitement and thrill to engage more viewers. This was attempted through creating a final race format where the winners were the first across the line. The first three across the line in the final race won the medals.
Of course, this is widely contentious because it goes against all yacht racing tradition where the winner of a regatta has to perform consistently over a range of conditions over a long period and perhaps leads to the question: do we want sailing to be sport or entertainment?
There were a few differences between the two events. Palma was the more complicated system. After an eight race opening series the top two boats progressed to the final and the next three to the semi final, to be joined by the top five boats after a final full fleet race (the semi final qualifier). The top three in the semi final progressed to the final for a five-boat winner takes all race.
This was simplified in Marseille with a 10 race opening series followed by a semi final of seven boats, of which the top two would join the top three from the opening series in a winner takes all final.
On the water, the title in Palma came down to who made the final gybe in very windy conditions. The best sailor of the opening series and the leader up to the final mark, Alican Kaynar, slipped up on the final gybe, and let Max Salminen, one of the biggest critics of these trial formats, through to win the race and the event. Kaynar ended up with bronze. However he proved himself two weeks later in Hyeres by winning a traditional format event, which ended with a 10 boat medal race.
In Marseille, the overall winner, Jonathan Lobert, ended the opening series three points behind the best sailor of the week, Anders Pedersen. However, in the semi-final, fourth placed Ed Wright and ninth placed Ben Cornish qualified for the final and then took silver and bronze. This dropped Pedersen dropped to fourth overall, a result many sailors regarded as unfair after he had sailed the best week of his career, and would have won a medal under any other format.