2014 Chicago Grand Slam - Top seeds survive as semi-finalists

Soh takes early lead in Quarter-Finals against Steele
Isao Toyama
2014 Chicago Grand Slam - It was a long but productive day of the Chicago Grand Slam, with a puffy and shifty westerly breeze holding on from start to finish and enough pressure to complete the Round Robin and Quarter-Final stages of the competition. After surviving the first two stages of this event the Final Four skippers ended up being the top seeds, however they did not get there without a fight.

In winning the Round Robin on a ten - one record, Taylor Canfield and Team USOne from the US Virgin Islands had the right to choose their opponents for the first-to-three point Quarter-Final stage. Surprisingly, Canfield did not choose either the seventh or eighth place team from the Round Robin, but chose instead the sixth place finisher Wataru Sakamoto. This was initially a choice he may have regretted, since the team from Japan defeated USOne in the first match.

Yet in the second through fourth matches Canfield came back strong, winning the next three to earn a place in tomorrow's Semi-Finals.

Similarly, Don Wilson's Chicago-based Team Convexity won their second match against second seed Pierre-Antoine Morvan's Vannes Agglo Sailing Team, but the French team won the next two matches to add on to their win in the first and take the series.

The next two pairs took the drama to the very end of their Quarter-final matches. Maximillian Soh's Team Red Dot was tied with his adversary, Chris Steele's 36 Below, in their points earned in the Round Robin, with Steele winning the tie break. Some superior boat handling and smart moves in the pre-start gave Singapore-based Soh the upper hand off the starts in the first two matches, which he turned into two victories, placing Steele in a do-or-die situation in the third match. Steele stepped up and managed to win this and the next, taking the series into a final showdown in Flight five.

In this match, things looked grim for Steele as Soh won yet another start being at the favored pin end, thereby taking the early lead around the course. But with the wind starting to falter and shift at the weather mark, Steele managed to close the gap in the last lap, take the lead on the right side, and then defend that lead with a dial-down just short of the mark. As Soh ducked and Steele tacked, Soh made contact and earned a penalty from the umpires. Soh now owned the right and led around the top mark.

So, with the narrowest of leads, Soh tried valiantly to shake off the Kiwis by setting penalty traps on the final run to the finish, but a clever gybe got Steele free and clear to take the win and the berth in the Semi's.

In the fourth pairing, the lowest seed Nathan Hollerbach from Detroit not only beat the odds to make it through to this stage from the Round Robin, but he led two - zero against one of the top seeds, Sam Gilmour's Neptune Racing team from Australia, going into the third match. In this and the next two, Gilmour's team stepped up their game to get back on top and earn two points of their own to even the score.

In the fifth and final showdown Hollerbach was hungry to get back in control, however it was Gilmour who controlled the final approach to the start, coming off the line with pace and forcing Hollerbach into an early and downspeed tack away from the favored left side.

It looked like it was all over for the only Americans left in the competition, until the final lap when a considerable gap was shortened down to a few lengths at the second top mark rounding and a slow spinnaker set by the Aussies allowed Hollerbach to make the jump and bring that gap down to only meters.

Hollerbach attacked with a gybe to take the Gilmour's wind but the Aussies barely managed to keep clear to get to the finish and take the match.

Tomorrow racing will resume for the final day of the Chicago Grand Slam with Semi-finalist pairings determined in the morning, racing to start at 0900 with Consolation Round racing for the fifth - eighth place positions in the standings, followed by Semi-FInals, Finals and Petit-Finals.