Today, Grand Prix match race sailing and the traditions of sail both came alive under hot and stormy skies at Chicago's world-famous Navy Pier.
2013 Chicago Match Cup - Thousands of spectators
Thousands of spectators braved weather that varied from hot humid sun to pouring rain to come see the first stage of competition in the Chicago Match Cup, while a fleet of 14 majestic vessels of the Tall Ships Chicago 2013 arrived in a parade of sail to launch their four-day festival of sail starting tomorrow through Sunday.
As the only U.S. stop on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, 12 teams of the finest match race talent are assembled here for the start of a five-day fight for their share of the $100,000 prize money purse. And if Flight 1 is an indicator of things to come, there will be plenty of upsets in the coming days: three out of four of the leading teams on the Tour lost their opening matches to the qualifier and Wild Card teams.
In a light and fluky start to the Qualifying round, local sailor and skipper from the Chicago Match Race Center Don Wilson beat last year's regatta winner and reigning Alpari Tour World Champion, Ian Williams' GAC Pindar. Australian qualifier Jordan Reece and his Estate Master Sailing Team pounced on an error by Adam Minoprio's Team Alpari FX to sail into the lead on the second beat and win their opening match. And even after being six years away from the Tour, Gavin Brady and Team Vesper also managed to overtake their opponents, Bjorn Hansen and the eWork Sailing Team, who will expect better after winning last month's Tour event, Stena Match Cup Sweden.
Wilson was delighted to have beaten Williams, one of the hot favorites here in Chicago. 'Beating Ian Williams isn't easy, but we've got a really good team this year and expected to take our fair share of wins in this event. The key moment was in the start where we could get off the line at the favored end, with a little jump on him. And then Sally Barkow our tactician did a great job of extending from there. It's exciting for me to be here, racing against these guys, and starting with a win makes us feel good. But I think Ian has got a pretty thick skin. He's used to not winning all the time, so I doubt we've rattled him by taking that win.'
Williams smiled wryly at the loss. 'We always lose to the local guy,' he laughed, and was not that surprised to have lost to Wilson. 'He won the Grade II qualifier here against some of the best match racing teams, and I think he'll win plenty more this week. But we're only one race in, and it's a long regatta.'
The only Tour card holder to come through the first two flights unscathed was US Virgin Islander Taylor Canfield and USone, who snuck across the line after trailing the wild card from New Zealand, Will Tiller's Full Metal Jacket, for all but the final few boatlengths to the finish. 'We kept fighting,' said Canfield, 'and 100 yards to the finish we were able to roll him, threw two gybes in and managed to cross the finish ahead.'
America's Cup veteran Gavin Brady is one of the most experienced match racers here, yet he was scratching his head to work out when he last competed in an event on the Tour. 'I think it was Portugal 2007, so it's been a while, but I guess we've done enough in the past to remember a few things. It's great to get a wild card to sail here. Bjorn Hansen is one of the older guys on the circuit, and this morning we were having a laugh about two of the older teams having a crack at each other first, and I've always enjoyed racing against them.
'We won the start, did what I though was the right thing to do, percentage-wise, and they passed us. Then they did the right thing by sailing towards the next gust, but then we saw a gust that appeared out of nowhere, we gybed over to it and we were able to sail over to it, and we beat them by three or four minutes. We sailed over to them afterwards, and I said, 'I don't think any other team would have done any different.' It's a slugfest out there. You put the frustrating ones behind you and keep chugging away. We're having fun just being back in the game. We're the older team here, but there's still plenty of gas in the tank, and we'd love to be in the Tour again.'
In Flight II, the Tour card holders got their revenge, with Williams beating Brady and Hansen beating Wilson. Minoprio made amends from his Flight I defeat with a victory over Keith Swinton and Black Swan Racing. Canfield is currently the only sailor with two wins on the board after beating Johnie Berntsson and Stena Sailing Team.
With the light wind swinging around all sides of the compass, and then a huge rainstorm arriving at midday, principal race officer Peter 'Luigi' Reggio had a tough time getting matches in the day's short schedule, with only two flights completed today before the start of the Tall Ships Chicago parade of sail.
This unsettled weather still did not prevent local dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and WGN-TV anchor Micah Materre to take the stage to open both events, which are giving visitors to Chicago a unique chance to experience the full spectrum of what sailing has to offer: the charm of traditional wooden tall ships and the modern cut-and-thrust of world class match racing in Tom 28's. Both events are well on their way to reach their goal of attracting close to a million visitors to Chicago's largest tourist attraction, the historic Navy Pier.
Qualifying racing continues tomorrow at 9:00 AM with the knock-out stages due to commence on Friday.
Chicago Match Cup, Stage 4, Alpari World Match Racing Tour - Results Day 1
Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone 2-0
Jordan Reece (AUS) Estate Master Sailing Team 1-0
Adam Minoprio (NZL) Team Alpari FX 1-1
Don Wilson (USA) Chicago Match Race Center 1-1
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar 1-1
Gavin Brady (USA) Team Vesper 1-1
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) eWork Sailing Team 1-1
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing 0-0
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team 0-0
Will Tiller (NZL) Full Metal Jacket 0-1
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Stena Sailing Team 0-1
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing 0-1