Shuffling the pack in the 49ers & Stars

 Forty-niners break every rule in the book when it comes to dinghy design. For starters, they sail standing up, (name me a sailing school where this is acceptable), they have see-through sails set on banana shaped masts, the crew trims the mainsheet, the kicker’s upside down and they set an unfeasibly large amount of sail downwind.

When it comes to their performance on the water they’re equally odd. In the last two minutes of the pre-start the fleet lines up in an orderly fashion along the line, the mylar wings stalled and the boats barely moving, as if on tickover. As the gun goes the entire fleet wheelies off the start line, like a fleet of speedway bikes, instant foaming wakes appearing where there was nothing before but appearing from their sterns like plumes of exhaust.

From there on the race is set at a breathtaking pace. Today’s races saw 16-18 knots true as the fleet smoked upwind at around 10 knots before doubling that on the downhill slide. As a spectator you can chase all you like, but the irony is that 49er racing is best watched at rest.

Today’s conditions were particularly tricky with the Meltemi blowing off the shore and the weather mark set close to the Olympic harbour breakwater. The result was a shifty and gusty breeze throughout the day, among the worst conditions for boats that trade huge fluctuations in boats speed for small changes in wind strength. Reading the gusts and predicting where the next finger of breeze would stream down was everything today.

In the first race the British pair Hiscocks and Draper demonstrated why they had been heavily tipped for this event as they scorched up the first beat, demonstrated a perfect spinnaker set and thundered away from the rest of the fleet in a race that was flawless and delivered a win.

But in typical 49er style the next two races saw two new winners, the Australian pair Chris Nicholson and Gary Boyd took the second race and the American’s Tim Wadlow and Pete Spaulding took the third, (Nicholson and Boyd were OCS in third race). The results may have re-shuffled the pack but the scrap for medal places started to take shape with the Spanish team of Iker Martinez and Xavier Fernandez leading, the Ukranians Rodion Luka and George Leonchuck second and the British pair third and securing bronze in the process.

But despite their guaranteed medalware, Draper made little attempt to disguise his disappointment.

“We were pretty upset when we came in. A gold medal is what we wanted,” he said. “On the positive side it is still possible to get one and it’s important not to dwell on today but to look forward to what we have to do on the day after tomorrow.”

The last race to be held on Thursday will be a three way fight for the medals, with both the British and the Ukranians having an opportunity, albeit slim, to ruin the Spaniards’ week.

Meanwhile on the Star course the abandoned race from yesterday was re-run today. Here there was also a bit of a shake up. World champion Fredrik Loof found his form at last and won the race, second place went to the French team and the Brit pairing were third while overall leader Torben Grael had a 5th.

With five races to go there’s a real points scrap in the top seven boats, six of which are separated by just 3 points leaving the competition wide open for these boats at just past the halfway stage.