A thrilling five-flight match opens the King Edward VII Gold Cup in Bermuda

The first day of the Championship Round at the King Edward VII Gold Cup, the third stage of the Swedish Match Tour 2004-’05 took place yesterday in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Klaartje Zuiderbaan of the Netherlands, winner of the Cicada International Women’s Match Racing Championship last weekend, pulled off an inconceivable upset with a 3-1 defeat American Dennis Conner, the No. 8 seed and the four-time America’s Cup winner.

Anthony Kotoun of the US Virgin Islands, who advanced to the championship round with a 5-2 record, narrowly pulled off an equally stunning upset against reigning Swedish Match Tour champion and event defending champion Peter Gilmour of Australia. Kotoun stretched to a 2-0 lead before succumbing to Gilmour, the No. 3 seed, 3-2.

Another qualifier, Scott Dickson of Long Beach defeated Björn Hansen of Sweden. Dickson lost the first match, but then rallied for three straight to knock out No. 6 seed Hansen.

The tricky wind conditions were the key factor in giving the qualifiers a chance for victory, if not the upset. The breeze blew generally from the south-west, but oscillated through a huge arc. The wind was also light, in the 4- to 7-knot range.

Zuiderbaan said that her victory over Conner was easily the biggest win of the 32-year-old’s career. “We were more tense than we were over the weekend, but we knew what we had to do. We were still nervous. I think we won most of the starts.”

The one race Zuiderbaan didn’t win was the second, when they were penalised for a port-starboard incident in the pre-start. But Conner still gave props to the women’s team.

“The conditions were difficult today, but all in all we got beat fair and square,” said the 62-year-old San Diegan, who is the world No. 1-ranked skipper in the Etchells class.

Kotoun, who leaned on fellow St Thomas resident Peter Holmberg for some advice about racing on Hamilton Harbour, sailed loose and free to take a 2-0 lead against Gilmour.

“We won every start with an advantage, but he was sailing so well and so loose,” said Gilmour. “He passed us on the right side in the first race and on the left side in the second race. It got to the point where I said to the guys, ‘Let’s win just one race.'”

Kotoun, though, lost his composure a bit in the Race 4 pre-start. Leading 2-1, Kotoun tried turning up his aggression in the 4-minute sequence, but it backfired. Kotoun was penalised for altering course as the right-of-way boat in a port-starboard situation. Moments later, the umpires missed a call that likely would’ve gone against Gilmour when his bow hit Kotoun’s transom.

“We were in a knife fight with the best guy in the world,” said Kotoun, “but we came out bruised and cut.

“I think he lost his composure in that pre-start,” said Gilmour. “He doesn’t have the experience to get back the poise to sail loose, and that was the difference.”

Dickson, who won his qualifying group with a 6-1 record, also noted the light and shifty conditions as being problematic. “It was incredibly tough for all the teams, it put a premium on the starts,” Dickson said.

Up 2-1 and in the fourth pre-start, Hansen got the better of the start. He led back at the committee boat end, with Dickson about 7 seconds behind. Dickson worked the right side of the beat to close up to Hansen’s transom at the windward mark, and then found his passing lane.

While the other five matches sailed were each decided by a 3-0 score, they were hardly one-sided. There were 10 individual recalls, numerous lead swaps and at least eight come-from-behind wins.

Skippers advancing with 3-0 records include No. 1 seed Ed Baird of the US over Chris Larson of the US, No. 2 seed Mathieu Richard of France over Cameron Dunn of New Zealand, No. 4 seed Spithill of Australia over Cameron Appleton of New Zealand, No. 5 seed Staffan Lindberg of Finland over college student Brian Angel of the US, and No. 7 seed Russell Coutts of New Zealand over Jenny Axhede of Sweden, runner-up in the women’s regatta.

Racing in the Championship Round resumes on Friday with quarter-final action. Baird races Zuiderbaan, Lindberg faces Spithill, Gilmour squaring off against Dickson and Coutts sailing Richard.