Gran Canaria served up a stunner on Wednesday, with sunshine and a steady 9-12 knots of breeze. Absolutely perfect conditions for the teams to sail the powerful SSL 47 yachts to the maximum.
The second day of the 1/8 Finals was about consolidating leads for some and making up for poor first races for others. Here’s how it played out…
Fleet 4, Race 2
The Slovenian ‘KRPANI1860’ team executed a perfect pin end start, and proceeded to control the first upwind leg. By minimising their manoeuvres, they found their groove in the difficult sea state, rounding a full minute ahead of the Portuguese ‘Navigators’ with France’s ‘Bleus’ and the Swedish ‘Vikings’ rounding a further minute back.
The ‘Navigators’ continued their aggressive tactic of tacking on top of their opponents, which slowed down Sweden and France, but will make them no friends on the race track. They haven’t been penalised yet for this, and, as they say, all’s fair in love and war.
Portugal sailed a superb downwind leg to close right up to Slovenia, but ‘KRPANI1860’ held their nerve upwind to hold the ‘Navigators’ at bay.
The final downwind leg provided the closest finish yet in the SSL Gold Cup. After a tense gybing battle, the Portuguese ‘Navigators’ were the heroes of the sea* crossing the finish line just one second ahead of Slovenia’s ‘KRPANI1860’. France and Sweden finished third and fourth respectively, a fair distance behind.
* the opening line of Portugal’s National Anthem is ‘Heróis do mar, nobre povo’
Portugal’s tactician Paulo Manso said after the race:
“In the end we did well and the team managed to do great work on board. Our boat is sailing with nice speed, which makes the tactics easier!”
Sailing in a fleet of only four boats, Paulo talked about the ‘Navigators’ upwind tactics:
“I think it is a safe move tacking in front of the boats, trying to slow them a bit.”
Slovenia’s captain and onboard tactician Vasco Žbogar is focused on minimising his team’s mistakes for the next two races:
“At this stage, the small things make a difference because all the teams are so good. You pay for every small mistake. There’s no more playing around like at the beginning. Now it’s getting tough.”
Fleet 1, Race 2
As the beautiful conditions continued, Malaysia and Hungary battled it out at the front on the first upwind leg, with newcomers USA and Argentina lagging 400 metres behind.
After a processional downwind leg, a slow leeward gate rounding handed the Hungarian ‘Shamans’ the lead, punching ahead of Malaysia’s ‘Monsoon’, but the Malaysians weren’t done, and ground back into the lead upwind by the finest of margins.
‘The Monsoon’ chose to tack to leeward of ‘The Shamans’, trying to force them into a pair of tacks before the windward mark, but the Hungarian team hung in there to take the inside lane at the windward mark.
The final downwind was tension personified, with the Argentinian ‘Condores’ coming right back into the battle, but a gybe offshore by ‘The Monsoon’ proved to be the winning move, crossing the line 15 seconds ahead of the ‘Condores’, with windward mark leaders ‘The Shamans’ a further 16 second back. Team USA’s ‘Golden Eagles’ have failed to soar so far, and are going to need a strong performance in the final two races to progress.
Malaysian tactician Nur Shazrin binti Mohamad Latif described the dramatic final downwind leg:
“I decided to go for the pressure, and avoided going inshore due to the wind shifts. We took a high mode at full speed, playing with the waves and the team working as one. The waves here are difficult to surf, so we need to move around the boat to keep the boatspeed. When we gybed across I was thinking ‘are we going to make it?’ as I saw Argentina coming in. We kept at full speed and passed everyone, so I was really happy!”
Fleet 2, Race 2
With the fleet arriving early at the pin end, both the Tahitian ‘Black Pearls’ and Polish ‘Sea Wolves’ were over the line, having to restart, leaving the hugely impressive Lithuanian ‘Ambers’ to lead from the Brazilian ‘Storm’. On the first downwind leg the ‘Ambers’ maintained their lead over the ‘Storm’, with the ‘Black Pearls’ taking the offshore side of the run to overtake the ‘Sea Wolves’.
Brazil were forced to go from attack to defence as Tahiti came right back into the race upwind, with the ‘Black Pearls’ tacking on the bow of the ‘Brazilian Storm’, forcing them to tack away.
With the ‘Ambers’ sailing off to a massive lead at the windward mark, the duel between the ‘Black Pearls’ and ‘Brazilian Storm’ brought the ‘Sea Wolves’ right back into the game, setting things up for a superb final downwind contest between the three teams.
There was disaster for Tahiti early on downwind when trouble with the spinnaker led to a failed gybe, dropping them to the back of the fleet. Brazil chose an offshore route, while Poland went inshore. Who would come out ahead?
The Lithuanian ‘Ambers’ sailed to victory by a huge margin. Meanwhile, the Polish ‘Sea Wolves’ and Brazilian ‘Storm’ battle went down to the wire with the teams separated by a couple of metres. Neither team was sure who had crossed ahead, and we all had to wait until the Race Committee confirmed Brazil took second place by a whisker. Tahiti, who were so impressive in the earlier rounds, have struggled so far in this strong group.
Lithuanian Captain Rokas Milevicius was full of praise for his crew:
“The keyword is team. We had a good start and controlled the right side – it’s easy to stay ahead when one side is favoured. We had a goal to protect the right, saw the dogfight at the start, decided to stay out of it and executed our plan perfectly.”
On leading in what on paper is one of the hottest groups, Rokas added:
“The group is strong, but there’s nothing we can do about it. These things are not in our control, so all we can do is sail our best, work as a team and try to win those races to collect as many points as we can.”
André Fonseca, main trimmer for Brazil, described the confusing moment they crossed the finish line with Poland:
“We thought that we were third! We had to wait more than a minute to see the result. But now we have two second places, we’re really happy. We’re going to do our homework tonight and come back even stronger tomorrow.”
Fleet 3, Race 2
Chile’s ‘Finis Terrae Sailors’ were off to a strong start, closely followed by the South African ‘Team Ubuntu’. Switzerland’s ‘Helvetic Lakers’ took a gamble on the right side of the course, which ultimately didn’t pay off, rounding the first windward mark at the back of the fleet, almost 2 minutes after Chile in the lead.
Two uneventful legs downwind and then back upwind saw positions stay the same. The main action was at the front, with Chile and South Africa battling for the lead, while a separate tussle 200 metres back between Norway and Switzerland took place for third.
On the final stretch, South Africa pulled off a daring tactical gybe to cut in front of Chile, and there was nothing the ‘Finis Terrae Sailors’ could do to claw it back.
South Africa’s Michaela Robinson was happy about her team’s start to the 1/8 Finals:
“It’s very positive. The team is just getting better and better, and we’re starting to learn the boat even more – that’s what’s given us the upper hand over the teams that have just flown in. Time on the water, and especially time on the boat, makes a huge difference and the team knows each other’s tells now and we know how to work together.”
It’s not just teamwork that counts, it’s also changing modes in the difficult seas being encountered as Michaela explained:
“Now that we’ve spent so much time on the boat, we’re not having to worry about what our job is, and can spend more time on the settings and the modes. We’re managing to switch between modes pretty well, not perfect yet, but it’s definitely improving.”
So Malaysia’s winning move in Fleet 1 saw them shoot up to second on the leaderboard, Lithuania and Portugal remain undefeated in Fleets 2 and 4, while Argentina and South Africa are looking strong in Fleets 1 and 3. It’s all set for an enthralling third day of the 1/8 Finals in Gran Canaria!
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