Australia v France in Womens Match Race finals

TEAM WILD OATS CHARDONNAY - Nicky Soutter, Skipper - Harken Women’s International Match Race 2008
The world’s number one woman match racer, Claire Leroy (FRA) and Australia’s twelfth ranked Nicky Souter will face off tomorrow in the finals of the Harken Women’s Match Racing Regatta.

Semi finals action this afternoon produced thrilling wins for Souter, who elected to sail against the Danish number two, Lotte Melgaard Pedersen, in the major semi final, and Leroy and Katie Spithill (AUS), who fought tooth and nail in the minor semi final.

In the final race of the Leroy v Spithill semi, one of the most exciting of the regatta so far, Spithill was penalised in the pre-start but still managed to start in front and was leading on the final run to the finish when her penalty was offset during a fierce gybing duel when Leroy was herself penalised. During a luffing incident, Spithill was penalised again, handing Leroy the 2-1 win and the coveted finals spot.

Conditions were steadier today with a light 7 knot northerly welcoming competitors before the breeze began to clock right as the temperature rose, forcing the race committee to shift the course further out in the Harbour to take advantage of the gradient sea breeze which built to 18 knots this afternoon.

At the end of the second and final round robin, Spithill, Souter and Leroy were tied on 15 points with Souter and Leroy still to complete the re-sail left over from late yesterday.

Souter claimed victory over Leroy by a mere eight seconds in the re-sail thanks to some brilliant crew work and superb tactics. Souter’s trimmer Kylie McKillop was back racing today with no signs of a left over headache although she did have to endure some taunting from her crew, with 'duck' yelled loudly every time the Elliott 6 was gybed.

'We are really looking forward to tomorrow, it’s great to be up with the world’s best,' said Souter this afternoon.

Regarding tomorrow’s lighter forecast, Souter is circumspect, 'we get what we are given'.

In the sail-off for the minor placings, racing was just as intense with the first black flag of the series going against Jess Smyth from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron as she and Germany’s Silke Hahlbrock tussled for fifth place. With an early penalty to Smyth, the two rounded the top mark followed by a poor spinnaker set on each boat. Hahlbrock twice luffed Smyth who failed to respond in time and as a result Smyth was black flagged and disqualified.

Souter and her crew of Kylie McKillop, Lilly Taylor and Rayshele Martin have now secured their berth at the ISAF Women’s Match Racing World Championship to be sailed from the RNZYS from 1-6 April. The one remaining entry to the World’s was thrown up in the air for two the Aussie skippers, Souter and the CYCA’s Samantha Boyd to catch. Yesterday, day two of the four-day regatta, Souter took a high flying mark over the top of Boyd to snatch it cleanly away.

Boyd’s 2-1 victory in today’s sail off against the world number four ranked Christelle Philippe (FRA) restored her team’s confidence, the CYCA skipper this afternoon commenting, 'The team has really lifted, bring on the next regatta!'

The best of five finals will kick off tomorrow at midday in the Rushcutters Bay vicinity and the host club is hoping a large spectator fleet will fill the front stalls for the unique opportunity to see this standard of America’s Cup style international match racing, the likes of which is rarely seen in Sydney.

For results go to www.cyca.com.au/editorial.asp?key=1550

For images go to www.afrancolini.com/index.cfm?PageID=4
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