Ben Ainslie narrowly leads Emilios Papathanasiou after the first day of the Finn Gold Cup in Moscow

The 2005 Finn Gold Cup got underway in Moscow today with two challenging races sailed in near perfect conditions. A complete change in weather overnight saw a healthy and relatively steady 8-14 knots breeze from the south-east. After two races, defending champion Ben Ainslie (GBR) narrowly leads Emilios Papathanasiou (GRE).

With the wind aligned along the main axis of Prestovskoe Lake, the race committee on each of the two courses could set long legs. Both fleets sailed three windward/leeward loops for each race with the maximum wind strength coming half way through the first set of races. At the second windward mark in the first race, the wind had increased in excess of 12 knots, just enough to allow free pumping on both courses and the Finn sailors had great fun. However, the flag remained in its bag for the afternoon race.

Green flight

Course 2 is furthest from the day marina and saw the steadiest winds of the day. It also saw the first showdown between two of the main favourites for this event. 2001 European Champion Emilios Papathasaniou (GRE) led race one from start to finish. Starting at the pin end he was never headed throughout the race. Ben Ainslie (GBR) rounded the first mark in 5th place and gradually worked his way up to second by the finish.

The second race again saw Ainslie playing catch up. Josh Beaver (AUS) rounded the first mark in the lead followed by Soren Holm (DEN) and Ainslie. At the bottom mark Thomas Laursen (DEN) had taken the lead, which he held until 100 metres from the final upwind mark, when Ainslie moved in front to lead to the finish.

Yellow course

Course 1 is set just a short sail from the day marina and the windward mark was set just below the dam at the south-east end of the lake. Both right and left paid at times, and the sailing proved challenging for some. The first race saw Peter-Jan Postma (NED), an ex Laser sailor in his first Gold Cup leading round the first mark followed by Gasper Vincec (SLO) and Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN). Postma led until the second windward mark when the O flag was raised. Vincec took the lead on the free pumping run and led into the finish followed by Daniel Birgmark (SWE) and Hogh-Christensen.

Race two was sailed in slightly less wind, with a large shift out of the start favouring those at the committee boat end. Edward Wright (GBR) led Dan Slater (NZL) and Tim Carver (GBR) into the top mark. These three battled down the run with Carver just (probably) ahead at the leeward gate. However, on the next beat Slater and Wright gained some distance and fought all the way to the finish. Birgmark just pipped Carver on the third beat to take third.

With today’s forecast of very little wind, the sunny, windy conditions were a surprise to many, but a welcome one nevertheless. The day was challenging not because of the expected fluky conditions, but because of tired legs and arms after a hard day’s sailing. The racing was tight in places, with the corners of the beats well up on dry land, but finding the right shifts and the better pressure paid big dividends. The race committees did an excellent job today timing the races to perfection. With a suggested duration of 75 minutes, the first boat on the green course finished after 74 minutes in race 1 and then 75 minutes in race 2.

While most of the fleet are using the supplied equipment, some sailors have opted to bring their own rig. All underwent the same rigorous measurement procedure and it will be interesting to see how many supplied rigs feature high up in the results.

There are 10 Russian entries in this year’s Gold Cup, the most ever seen and an international championship. In fact the number of entries from Eastern European countries is very high indeed with Bulgaria and Lithuainia fielding entrants in addition to the usual countries such as Belarus, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Estonia.

The forecast for the week includes more wind for tomorrow for Race three which is scheduled to start at midday.