James Spithill’s Oracle team provides a lesson to the fleet in coming back from behind in the penultimate day
Once you’ve got used to the speeds that these boats travel at and the amount of spray they can kick up as their bows go down at the weather mark bear away, the next thing to strike you is how difficult it is for the worlds best sailors to haul themselves back after a bad start. Slipping back in the fleet is easy and takes just a few seconds, ask Dean Barker who after one cheeky little duck behind the stern of another boat went from first to fourth in less time than it has taken to write this sentence. From there it’s a long way back to the front and few make it.
But there is one team that seem to be able to extract themselves from the pack time after time. James Spithill and his crew appear to be masters of this at the moment. Today, while he won the second race by an embarrassing margin in the 30 minute race, it was the first fleet race of the day that was the mist impressive.
Getting to the first mark ahead is crucial and as we’ve seen time and again, just a few metres is often sufficient to keep a team’s nose ahead before converting it into a decent lead by the bottom of the run. Getting a penalty for jumping the gun is quite the opposite and yet after Spithill did just that he still managed to haul his way back into second by the end of the race.
His day had started well too when he beat Dean Barker in the semi finals of the match racing. Yet again he had come from behind to win. Tomorrow (Sunday) will see him go head to head with his boss, Russell Coutts.
Here’s a summary of today’s action.
MATCH RACING SEMI FINAL
Oracle Coutts vs Artemis White, Hutchinson
Coutts grabbed the upper hand in the pre-start match racing and held a slim advantage to the first mark where he was able to sail straight for the shore. Hutchinson was forced to gybe set at the mark and the gap between the two started to grow.
But as we’ve seen so many times during this event, the beat up along the shoreline can often mix things up. Coutts preferred the right and was protecting it as Hutchinson closed the gap and put pressure on Coutts.
By the windward mark Hutchinson had closed the gap, but being on your opponent’s tail is rarely enough at the start of the final downwind leg as Coutts demonstrated, winning the match and proceeding to Sunday’s final.
Oracle Spithill v ETNZ, Barker
Barker hit the leeward end of the start line at speed and got to hold his lane through to the shore. Spithill was forced to gybe away. By the bottom mark Barker had stretched out an 80m lead, a time difference of 9 seconds as the pair rounded opposite leeward marks.
Barker and his team sailed a perfect beat, working the shifts and defending their position as they worked themselves up to the windward marks. But at the top of the course the battle tightened up as Spithill took the lead in the last few boat lengths.
From there Spithill held the advantage to the finish to secure an all Oracle final tomorrow in the match racing.
FLEET RACE 1
Barker on ETNZ got to mark 1 first and gained the early advantage into the shore, but with the streaky gusts starting to roll in through the bay others were looking threatening out to sea.
At the bottom gate ETNZ led, Artemis White was second, Energy Team in third. The French turned out to be the boat to watch as they split from the leading pair and headed in towards the shore for the first beat.
Another scramble up to the windward gate saw Barker maintain the lead with Energy close on his tail. Behind them, Spithill had pulled himself up into third despite a penalty on the start line.
Coming into the bottom gate Spithill had closed the gap considerably and took the route to the shore while Barker headed out to sea. The needle match between these two was a familiar one, but as they fought with each other it was Energy Team that had worked the beat more effectively and rounded the final weather mark in the lead.
A slow tack by Barker then allowed Spithill through. From there nothing changed to the finish other than the margin by which the French team won.
FLEET RACE 2
Fired up Yann Guichard’s Energy Team nailed the second start and hit the first mark in the lead. But in a change to what had become the norm for the first downwind leg the lead boat was overtaken, this time by Spithill.
With clear air and a leeward gate traffic jam behind him, Spithill and his crew smoked off the front of the fleet to stretch out a lead of several hundred metres, the largest we’ve seen all week.
By the final mark the closest competitions was Nathan Outteridge’s Team Korea who rounded the final windward mark more than a minute behind.