49er Men - Softer is Harder
The breeze softened a little today, but that just meant the standard of the racing got harder on day 3 of the Europeans in Weymouth. Unlike the previous two days of high-wave action, there was little risk of pitchpoling in the 10 to 12 knot breezes out in Weymouth Bay. But that just put a greater emphasis on good starts, excellent straight-line speed, and catching the best of the subtle changes in the breeze.
Occasionally, getting a bad start and being spat out the back of the fleet was a good thing, as some boats were forced out to what would prove to be the favoured right-hand side of the course. So there were opportunities to make gains during a race.
Today was the day to make it out of the 96-boat qualifying fleet, which has been spread across three flights, and win a ticket into the 25-boat gold fleet. David and Lachy Gilmour won the last major 49er regatta last month in a light-airs Genoa, but in a predominantly windy Weymouth the Aussie brothers have managed just 37th. That's the measure of depth and talent in this international fleet, which is missing very few of the world's best.
While Pete Burling and Blair Tuke were unable to match the beautiful consistency of three-bullet Tuesday, solid scores of 9,5,2 keep the reigning Olympic Champions in top spot by a single point from the young Spaniards, Diego Botin and Iago Lopez who scored 1,9,4 in their group. "Today in the lighter winds was harder," said Lopez. "More tactics, which meant the small things mattered and you had to get them right." The Spanish come from the most northern, coldest corner of Spain, so they're not so bothered about the cold easterly winds, although they're still wearing all their winter sailing gear even in mid-May.
It's far too soon to suggest that it's turning into a two-horse race between the Kiwis and Spanish, although they have carved out a useful 10-point buffer back to the third placed Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn who strung together a 3,8,5 from the day. The New Zealanders are looking very solid, only once dropping outside the top 10 after 10 qualifying heats. Even in the lighter breeze, the Kiwis said it was the same focus for them today: "Just go fast out of the start, keep the speed on and get into the corner in good shape," said Dunning Beck. The downwinds are proving a lot of fun in the rolling waves, according to Gunn. "You can get a real surf on downwind, but it's pretty hard knowing if you're going to cross another boat on a port/starboard."
The points are all very tight from 3rd to 7th place, now held by James Peters and Fynn Sterritt whose 3,2,1 results were the best of any boat today. The Brits now sit one place and one point behind their rivals for Olympic selection, Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell. Every boat in the top 10 has won at least one race during qualifying, but now it's into gold fleet racing where the margins between success and failure really tighten up. A lead of a few points can vanish in a blink of the eye, and with the breeze set to soften further as the weekend draws closer, a different set of skills could come into play. This regatta is shaping up to become a true all-round test of 49er racing.