Day 1 of Act 9 provided some explosive action on the opening day of fleet racing in Trapani
Had the squall arrived a minute or so earlier at the second weather mark rounding of the first race, there could have been wholesale carnage at the weather mark. With boats arriving on opposite tacks and with little to separate them, the risk of spinning out would have been extremely high as each of the port tackers tried to slot into impossibly small gaps in the starboard hand traffic.
As it turned out, the jump in the true breeze from 16 knots to 26 happened at the offset mark which acted as a filter for the fleet as abruptly as if someone had opened a door at the top of the course. Such a sudden change in the wind strength had left the crews with far bigger and more fragile kites that they would have chosen to set had they known what conditions lay in store around the corner.
For Mascalzone Latino and Luna Rossa, the run to the finish cost them each a pair of spinnakers, while the third Italian team 39 blew their kite halyard while they tried to grind the sail to the top.
By the bottom of the leg many of the teams were hitting peaks in excess of 19 knots in 29 knots of true wind and were sailing dangerously close to their limits.
“It was all on and we figured that so long as we kept going fast we’d be OK,” said Peter Isler aboard BMW Oracle who won the first race. “We weren’t in full safety mode, we still hadn’t pulled the rig fully back. Luckily we had hoisted the kite in around 18 knots, but if you set a kite in 27 knots and you’re doing 10, it just sets and blows.”
At the other end of the fleet and at the beginning of the race, the Swedish Victory Challenge set a blistering pace up the first beat to round the weather mark first but then went on to trawl their kite during the hoist. The fluffed manoeuvre put the handbrake on hard leaving those who weren’t trying to get the kite back on board and off the wings of the keel left to watch the entire fleet sail past them. First to last in little longer than it has taken to read this paragraph.
Yet amid the dramas, one team, was impressing everyone with both their boat handling and their performance within the fleet. Team Shosholoza were sailing out of their skins and held a well deserved fifth place in both of today’s races to leave them in fourth overall.
Sailing manager and mainsheet traveller trimmer Paul Standbridge was clearly proud of the team’s performance but was quick to put the success into perspective.
“I was expecting to be sixth overall in the regatta, so one needs a good day in case we have a bad day,” he said.
A statement that would have seemed ridiculous earlier this summer, but not today. The South Africans have improved beyond the expectations of many during this season and while they’re not likely to be in the fight among the big four next season, those further down the league can no longer treat the team as easy pickings.
According to Brad Butterworth, getting into the top four is part of the key to success in the fleet racing.
“I think anytime you can score fourth or above you’ve got a good chance of being in position to win it on the last day and that’s about all you can ask,” he said.
But whether teams were delighted with their result or relieved at not having broken too much gear, Swedish skipper Magnus Holmberg had possibly the worst day of the event so far. At the weather mark in the second race, Holmberg found himself mid fleet and trying to slot into another string of starboard tack boats lining up for the weather mark. A gap appeared between 39 and the Spanish boat, but the sequence of events that took place over the next few minutes spat the Swedes out of the back of the fleet once again.
“I made a really quick tack,” he said describing his attempt to slot into line. “But we came out with low speed, bad air and under the lay line. We ended up having to tack, got rolled by the Spanish, hit the mark, came out on port and infringed Mascalzone Latino. Within a minute we had received two penalties.”
Not a great way to comeback after a miserable first way and not the best way to impress ex GBR Challenge boss Peter Harrison who was riding on the stern as 18th man.
But a great way to entertain the many spectators that crowded around the course.
A punchy start from the weather.
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