Noppakao overcomes setback to put on strong showing at 29er Worlds


Young Thai sailing sensation Noppakao Poonpat may not have earned a medal at the 29er World Championships in Travemuende in northern Germany last weekend, but she proved she is a talent to be watched in international sailing circles.

Noppakao, now 17, stunned the world when she won the IODA Optimist World Championships in Malaysia in 2010.  Last weekend, all eyes were on her as well she finished the qualification rounds of this year’s 29er Worlds in first place, one point ahead of 2012 ISAF Youth Sailing World champions Carlos Robles and Florian Trittel of Spain.  Robles and Trittel have extensive experience on the water together whereas Noppakao entered the regatta with only two hours training with Australian crew Steven Thomas and limited experience in the 29er skiff, making her performance even more impressive.

Noppakao Poonpat and Steven Thomas are seen in action at the 29er World Championships in Travemuende, northern Germany. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft) Noppakao Poonpat and Steven Thomas are seen in action at the 29er World Championships in Travemuende, northern Germany. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft)

Unfortunately, in the first race of the finals, a disqualification set the Thai team back to 13th position.  Disheartened but not defeated, the duo fought back, with two firsts and a second in following races offset with mixed results in higher winds.  This allowed Robles and Trittel to slip into first position due to their more consistent results in the final races.  Poonpat and Thomas finished 4th overall, just one point behind Argentina’s Mateo Majdalani and Klaus Lange.  In second place were France’s Lucas Rual and Kevin Fischer.

In an interview with race organizers, the new 29er world champions admitted they were surprised with Noppakao’s strong performance.

“When the wind was weak, she made the most of her weight advantage, but when there were stronger winds, she had some difficulties,” said Trittel.

Don and Dylan Whitcraft placed 4th place in the 29er Silver Fleet. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft)Don and Dylan Whitcraft placed 4th place in the 29er Silver Fleet. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft)

As organizers noted, competition among the top ten was intense, one mistake enough to reconfigure results in the last few days.

While Noppakao’s natural talent on the water has played a role in her performance, team leader Malee Whitcraft says weather helped too.

“The light wind and warm weather in Germany helped her concentrate after she suffered from the cold, strong wind and rain which affected her performance in the ISAF Youth Worlds in Dublin at the beginning of July where she came 12th in the 420 class.”

Thai brothers Don, 17, and Dylan Whitcraft, 15, meanwhile failed by one point to make the gold fleet at the 29er Worlds but finished in 4th place in the Silver Fleet.  Impressive, given the two boys have no competition in Thailand and there were a total of 217 boats from 24 countries competing in this year’s 29er Worlds.

Thai team hampered by ‘miserable’ weather conditions in Ireland

At the ISAF Worlds in Dublin, Ireland, the Thai team was expected to be in medal contention, but conditions proved difficult for the warm-blooded boys and girls with strong winds, cold rain and temperatures of 11-18 degrees.

The Thailand Team at the ISAF Youth Worlds. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft)The Thailand Team at the ISAF Youth Worlds. (Photo/Malee Whitcraft)

Noppakao sailed with Panida Suksomporn, 17, in the 420 class, to which she is also new.  They achieved some great results with first and second finishes but consistency was lacking.

Laser Radial national champion Kamolwan Chanyim, 16, had the best result, finishing in 7th position out of 42 sailors after some tough battles on the water for 4th place, which she achieved at the same regatta in 2010.

Female windsurfer Siripon Kaewduang-Ngam, 17, who holds a silver medal from the 2011 regatta in Croatia, finished in 8th place out of 23 sailors.  She is still recovering from an injury from the Asian Games and had to readjust to sailing the RS:X after months of training on the Techno board which is quite different.

Sailing in the Boy’s Laser Radial, Supakon Pongwichean, 17, who holds a silver from his second place finish in the Laser 4.7 World Championships in Pattaya in 2010, was unfortunately disqualified from one race and unable to overcome the penalty because of the cold weather.  He finished 37th out of 58 sailors.

In the Boy’s Two Person Dinghy, the 420, Sittisart Ponpun, 17, and crew Peerapol Wisaka, 17, finished in 23rd in a fleet of 30.  In the Open Skiff class, the 29er, the Whitcraft brothers finished 21st out of 24.

Accompanying them as coaches were former Dart 18 world champion, Gareth Owen of the UK, who is now based in Pattaya, Thailand, and windsurfing’s Deshopol Phuangukoolnont, with Malee Whitcraft as Team Leader.

The prestigious championship is open only to sailors 19 and under, and is viewed in the international sailing community as a showcase for future sailing stars.  Among past winners are America Cup skippers Chris Dickson and Russell Coutts of New Zealand as well as Olympic medalists Ben Ainslie of Great Britain and Robert Scheidt of Brazil.

Thailand earned its first medal at the event in Turkey in 2010 when then 17 year old Keerati Bualong won the silver in the Laser Radial class.  He has since become the first Thai to qualify for the Olympics under current qualification rules in the one man dinghy class, the Laser Standard, with racing starting on Monday, July 30.