Thrilling finale to the Bitter End Yacht Club Pro Am Regatta - Sarah Norbury reports

Incredible, amazing, exciting, were the words uttered by spectators and officials as the final race in the Bitter End Yacht Club Pro Am regatta came to a breathtaking finish on Friday. Ken Read snatched victory from Anna Tunnicliffe by a matter of inches in the fifth match race of the day which they entered with two wins apiece in the best-of-five series.

Tunnicliffe replaced Paul Cayard in the final after he left the British Virgin Islands early to race in the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Nice. She proved a worthy opponent for Read. Neck and neck at the start, sailing IC24 keelboats with five amateur crew apiece, they thrilled spectators with sparring tactics. On the second beat Read eked out some distance when he didn’t tack over to stick with his opponent, instead staying out on the left taking advantage of a lift. He was first to round two’s windward mark. But he had to do a 360 on that leg to the finish for a penalty incurred when his jib brushed Tunnicliffe’s transom on the first windward mark rounding. He looked as if he had time to do the turn and keep ahead but as he rounded in a lull, Tunnicliffe got a puff. Now he didn’t have enough separation to do a turn and keep ahead. He needed to force Tunnicliffe to foul him to cancel out his own penalty.

“Now folks” said Read to his crew of three amateurs, “we’re going to make it ugly”. He put the brakes on his boat, pulling the main to the centreline and letting the jib flap. “One in ten times, it works”, said Read afterwards. What followed was the part of the race that most thrilled the spectators – a frantic dance, the two boats twisting and turning in a battle of wits and skill, climaxing with Tunnicliffe committing the foul.  “She played it really well”, said Read, “but we did it a little more aggressively. We got her on a flip flop move.  It’s a move she won’t fall for ever again.”

The two ran down to the finish line still neck and neck, Read calling “no overlap! Room! Room!” As he crossed just ahead, cheering and clapping drowning out the final hooter, an elated Read jumped into the water.

Afterwards this multiple J/24 world champion, America’s Cup veteran and now Volvo race skipper was full of praise for Tunnicliffe, the 26-year-old Olympic gold medallist in the Laser Radial class whose next goal is win gold for the USA in the Womens Match Racing at the 2012 Games. “She’s a major-league talent, if she’s been training in match racing for less than a year, by next year she’ll kick my ass! I haven’t match-raced since the 2005 Congressional Cup. My feeling after winning was relief.”

Tunnicliffe returned the compliment, “Ken is a fabulous sailor, one I look up to. To race against him, and stay so close, is awesome.”

For more news and results from the Bitter End Yacht Club Pro Am Regatta visit