Rio Olympic sailors: yes, it’s safe to go in the water


RIO DE JANEIRO: Olympic sailors gave Rio’s notoriously polluted waters a thumbs up after the first day of races in stiff winds Monday.

Despite worries over the massive presence of bacteria from raw sewage and the danger of collisions between boats and floating debris, most sailors praised the setting and challenging course.

“This is like perfect conditions. You can’t get better than this,” said the United States’ Pedro Pascal, who windsurfed in one of the opening events, along with Laser class dinghies.

“It’s beautiful, as you can see,” he said, looking back over the beach at the Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay.
Sailors said the dramatic landscape and cities enclosing the bay make tactical decisions out on the water hugely challenging. And they like that.

“I think it’s the best place to sail in the world in a technical sense,” said Denmark’s Anette Viborg, who is competing in the Nacra 17 catamaran with Allan Norregaard.

“It’s very difficult. The wind changes a lot because of the mountains,” she said after pulling the boat out from a training session.

US Finn class sailor Caleb Paine, who was also out training Monday, called the water “very nice.”
If floating garbage is a risk for slowing down boats, then so is seaweed, he said. “Every place has a little twist to it.”

About half of the sewage from greater Rio pours untreated into Guanabara. So do mountains of trash dumped into rivers that feed the bay.

To stop the garbage from ruining races the authorities have placed nets across the rivers and deployed a fleet of garbage-collecting boats called “eco-barcos” to try and scoop up whatever escapes. One of the green boats could be seen patrolling near the races Monday.

Italian windsurfer Mattia Camboni said after taking part in the first races that the water quality has improved over the months he has been coming to train in Rio.

But the danger’s there  even on the race course Monday.

“I saw the French guy just in front of me in the last race and he caught something,” Camboni said.