Just seven seconds separated rival super maxis Alfa Romeo and Wild Oats at the finish of a windy race at Rolex Trophy Ratings Series today

Just seven seconds separated the rival Super Maxis at the finish of a windy, wavy race 4 in the Rolex Trophy Ratings Series today. Alfa Romeo just closed out arch rival Wild Oats XI to take the win at the end of a thrilling match race around the windward/leeward course. Both yachts charged across the finish line at 24 knots – in 22 knots of breeze.

Still recovering from illness, Neville Crichton again had to pass over the wheel of his Reichel/Pugh 98-footer to one of his afterguard, and today it was tactician Michael Coxon’s turn to steer Alfa Romeo. Yesterday’s temporary helmsman, the British America’s Cup sailor Adrian Stead, was today calling tactics for Coxon. Stead said Wild Oats was improving by the day, and again he acknowledged his rival’s superior starting strategy.

“Wild Oats made an awesome start to the second race,” said Stead, “and they also chose the right jib for the first beat. We’d gone for a No 4 but they chose a No 3 and it was the right choice because the wind dropped a little lighter than we’d expected.” This handed a minute advantage to Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats team by the first turning mark. “The thing is in these boats, a minute’s advantage can vanish with one tiny mistake,” Stead commented.

True enough, a messy gennaker drop at the leeward gate saw Wild Oats give away nearly all of that one-minute advantage. By the next windward mark Alfa Romeo had squeezed past her rival to take a two-boatlength lead down the final run. But Wild Oats weren’t out of it yet, and they surged back towards the new leader. Even in the wind and the waves, Coxon and the Alfa crew applied some match racing tactics in a fierce defence of their lead, and carried Wild Oats past the final layline to the finish before executing their gybe. “We were coming into the line fully pressed,” said Stead, “and Wild Oats even more so because they had to gybe a little bit further. We crossed the line at 24 knots.”

Despite throwing the boats around like dinghies at times, Stead insists they are treating these Super Maxis with huge respect. “These are awesome beasts. Even under mainsail alone we were travelling around at 15 knots before the start.” Stead and his team mates were reminded of their reliance on external power when the engine packed up before the morning race. This left them without electronics and hydraulics and they had to sit out the race while the crew set about getting it back up and running.

With no Super Maxi playmate for the first race, Wild Oats helmsman Mark Richards decided to practise his pre-start match racing on conventional-keeled Maxi Konica Minolta. Gavin Brady, Konica’s helmsman and no mean match racing talent himself, was surprised at Wild Oats’ aggression. “I guess they see us as a threat, but I don’t really know why they did it. They just ended up forcing us off the right way up the course, and they sort of stuffed it up for themselves.”

While the split into separate Divisions for the canting-keeled and fixed-keel boats meant that Konica and Wild Oats are not actually competing directly with each other, the IRC handicap calculations reveal that Konica beat Wild Oats by 42 seconds around the track on corrected time. The Kiwi Maxi also beat her smaller rivals in Division 1, beating second-placed Yendys by a minute on handicap. However, a spectacularly exploding spinnaker in the afternoon race relegated Konica to 4th place, and almost 10 minutes behind handicap winner Richard Cawse’s 60-footer, Vanguard.

In Division 2, Leslie Green’s Swan 45 Ginger managed to break the string of victories notched up by Ray Roberts’s DK46 Quantum Racing. Aided by the skill and experience of round-the-world-race veteran Gordon Maguire, Green drove his Swan 45 to finish almost a minute ahead of Quantum on corrected time in the fourth race.

Now at the halfway stage of the regatta, two more races are scheduled outside Sydney Heads tomorrow, with the regatta due to conclude on Sunday.


Provisional placings after four races, Division 0

1. Wild Oats XI (Bob Oatley), 3-2-1-2, 8 pts

2. Alfa Romeo (Neville Crichton) 1-1-6-1, 9 pts

3. Loki, (Stephen Ainsworth) 2-3-2-3, 10 pts

Provisional placings after four races, Division 1

1. Yendys (Geoff Ross) 1-2-2-2, 7 pts

2. Vanguard (Richard Cawse) 2-3-3-1, 9 pts

3. Konica Minolta (Stewart Thwaites) 5-1-1-4, 11 pts

Provisional placings after four races, Division 2

1. Quantum Racing (Ray Roberts) 1-1-1-2, 5 pts

2. Ginger (Leslie Green) 2-2-2-1, 7 pts

3. Wedgetail (Bill Wild) 5-3-3-3, 14 pts