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SSL: Stars come out for the Star Sailors League Finals in Nassau: Cayard (USA), Percy (GBR), Scheidt

NASSAU, Bahamas (#1142) – Leave it to the Star Class to give sailing one of the most star-studded regattas in memory. The venerable class may have gotten an undeserved boot from the Olympics, but it's just as strong as ever, arguably stronger, as evidenced by the 25 teams entered in the Star Sailors League Finals starting Tuesday at the Nassau Yacht Club in the Bahamas.

There are Olympic medalists, world champions, former America's Cup participants, Volvo Ocean Race winners and even a U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame member.

The list of skippers is a veritable who's who, not only of the Star class, but of the sport: Hall of Famer and VOR winner Paul Cayard (USA), double Olympic gold medalists Iain Percy (GBR) and Robert Scheidt (BRA), Olympic gold medalist Freddy Loof (SWE), as well as Francesco Bruni (ITA), Augie Diaz (USA) and George Szabo (USA).

After four days of qualification rounds, the competition goes into the knockout stages on Saturday. Single races decide who survives and who is heading for the dock. The last four teams will contest a final race, with the first to finish earning most of the $200,000 purse.

Fans can enjoy live streaming with expert commentary by AC vet Peter Lester (NZL), the latest in high-tech camera technology and Virtual Eye 3D Graphics.

Leading the way is Scheidt, who is one of just three sailors to have won five Olympic sailing medals, alongside Ben Ainslie (GBR) and fellow Brazilian Torben Grael. Scheidt has been involved in the Star Sailors League since its inception shortly after the London 2012 Olympic Games, winning the first-ever Star Sailors League Finals in 2013.

“We are really excited to be here,” said Scheidt, who is looking to make up for last year's heartbreaking, photo-finish loss to Paul Goodison (GBR). “We did the South American Championship three weeks ago to try to prepare a little bit and we showed up here three days before the regatta.”

Scheidt took the South Americans gold on countback from fellow Star Sailors League Finals competitor Lars Grael (BRA). Scheidt sailed that regatta with Arthur Lopes (BRA), who is sailing in Nassau this week with Paul Cayard while Scheidt has Henry Boening (BRA) back as his crew.

“The level is amazing now,” Scheidt said. “It is getting stronger every year. There is so much talent here. It is getting really tough to do well in this event. You have to really be on top of things and sail well to beat these guys. It is really exciting.”

This year's lineup includes five of the current reigning Olympic classes world champions, all crowned at this summer’s Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. And, for the first time, the generation after them is also represented in Guido Gallinaro (ITA), the 17-year-old Laser Radial Youth World and European champion.

“It is great, because this format gives the chance to the young guys to come up and may be make it to the final,” Scheidt said. “They can learn through the first few days and get faster during the week. It is great to see guys like Sime Fantela here and Guido – the young talent. The Star Sailors League gives a chance for these guys to learn the boat and to get better as Star sailors. And they are all really excited about it. They all want to come back next year.”

While winning a world title in an Olympic class gets sailors a ticket to the Star Sailors League Finals, so does coming top 10 in the rolling Star Sailors League ranking. Scheidt comes in second place, albeit more than 1,000 points behind Italian Diego Negri. “It is a very democratic format, because Star sailors can qualify through their ranking, so that also encourages people to race Stars more,” Scheidt said.

The unique knockout format requires a marginally different approach. “With this different format the goal is to get through to the top 10 and qualify for the Final, so you have to avoid the big mistakes, like OCS and protests, or to try to make it to the Final and turn it on the last day. It is a bit different because you don’t have to peak early in the regatta, winning races early on. The goal is to avoid the big mistakes early on. You just have to be consistent and be in the top 10. If you win the Series it is a bonus, as you make it directly into the Final race.”

For this year’s Star Sailors League, Scheidt is sailing his London 2012 boat. Was that lucky? “I would say so. We won the Worlds twice with it and got an Olympic medal at the Games in 2012 with it. It is great to sail the boat again after six years.”

Robert Scheidt skippering his Star boat in prep for the Star Sailors League Final in Nassau that begins Tuesday.

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