Albeit without the current World Champion Ed Wright (GBR), the three Skandia Team GBR sailors present in Miami look set to repeat their performance at the first ISAF Sailing World Cup event at Sail Melbourne and are posied to make a clean sweep of the medals.
The early news of the day was that Ben Ainslie had managed to convert his DNE from race six into an RAF and was well and truly back in the hunt. Apparently Ainslie received a second yellow flag as he crossed the finish of race six. He was unaware of the need to retire but because he crossed the finish line and did not RAF, the jury gave him a DNE. Later the jury received his RAF and his score was corrected. He immediately moved back up to third overall going into Friday's races and was within just eight points of regatta leader Scott.
Racing started earlier today to try and catch up the schedule for most classes and the fleet was greeted by 10 to 15 knots, offshore, shifty and choppy, with unlimited pumping on all the runs except the last one of the day.
In race eight Ainslie, Scott, Brendan Casey (AUS) and Mills all got a bit of a jump on the fleet after the first run, and after a few place changes on the beat rounded relatively close and it was a downwind race between the four of them, all finishing pretty tight at the end. Regatta leader Giles Scott had returned to form to win from Mills and Ainslie.
Then in race nine, Mills found the front for the first time this week to take the win from Ainslie and Scott. Mills said, “Ben had the best first beat and I rounded about 10th, Giles about 12th. I came through to fourth by the bottom mark then a long left hand shift handed the lead perfectly to me on the second beat and I held the lead from there.”
And that was that for the opening series. GBR sailors had taken seven races out of the nine race series.
Fourth place Zach Railey (USA) faired better than on Thursday but with a 7-8 scoreline was disappointed with his performance and dropped to sixth overall with now just a minute chance of the bronze. He said, “I had trouble reading wind yesterday and today. Will have to re-evaluate what I am doing looking forward to the season, but we have made improvements overall which is good.”
“I think the top four sailors here have really been good about identifying the wind and coming back through the fleet when they needed to.”
The cut for the medal race is always a hard place to be, but scraping into his first SWC medal race is young Caleb Paine, the leading Junior at the 2010 Gold Cup. He ended up on equal points with Johan Tillander (SWE) – who had been top 10 all week – but one place ahead of the Swede in the final race was enough for Paine to go through on count back. Likewise, Thursday's race winner and last year's medal race winner Bryan Boyd (USA) had a poor final race and missed the cut by just four points. He said, “It was definitely good to be back in the boat after some time away, and even better to get back to the front end of the fleet. Yesterday definitely set up to my strengths. I had enough speed to punch out the front and from there it was a lot simpler to stay on the shifts.”
Since November the Finn class has adopted a lower wind limit for when unlimited downwind pumping can be signalled. The change from 12 to 10 knots before the race committee can fly the Oscar flag was widely accepted by the top sailors in the class, and as well as being more physical and fun on the water, it is hoped that it will make on the water judging easier. Brendan Casey commented on the new rule. “With the introduction of the lower limit pumping rule Giles Scott is currently the fastest on the water downwind with great pumping style and techniques.”
In Saturday's medal race Scott needs to be within four boats of Mills and Ainslie to claim the gold medal. Brendan Casey (AUS), meanwhile has to finish six boats ahead of Anslie or seven boats ahead of Mills to secure a medal. Mathematically Gasper Vincec (SLO) and Railey can take a medal, but they are long odds. And never write off Ainslie. He has turned around much worse situations than this and taken gold.
Mills summed up the situation, “Not sure what everybody's agenda will be tomorrow. Obviously the three of us are not that far clear of the others and Giles has no obvious person to take out with Ben and I effectively equal. I think it will probably depend on the wind conditions as the forecast is pretty bad.” For 'bad', read warm, sunny and very light winds.
The medal race for Finns starts at 12.20 local time.
Results after nine races:
1 GBR 41 Giles Scott 19
2 GBR 85 Andrew Mills 27
3 GBR 3 Ben Ainslie 28
4 AUS 1 Brendan Casey 38
5 SLO 5 Gasper Vincec 42
6 USA 4 Zach Railey 46
7 SLO 573 Vasilij Zbogar 59
8 ITA 146 Michele Paoletti 76
9 POL 7 Rafal Szukiel 87
10 USA 619 Caleb Paine 89
Full results at:http://www.ussailing.org/Rolex/2011/finn/finn.html
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Pics: Rolex/Daniel Forster