by Laura Muma
In the Grade 2 Chicago Match Cup Qualifier, confronting a Small Craft Advisory, waves over six feet and winds 20-25 knots, Chicagoan Don Wilson and his team of Sally Barkow, Sam Rogers, Stephanie Roble, and sister Jennifer Wilson today claimed the win. In an exciting first-to-three point Final, Wilson and team defeated the world's sixth ranked Will Tiller and his Aon Full Metal Jacket Racing team from New Zealand, in four matches.
2013 Grade 2 Chicago Match Cup Qualifier
'In these conditions, your advantage often comes down to your crew work, and my team was just incredible today,' said Wilson. 'And to have my hometown deliver such incredible conditions was a double treat.'
The eight teams qualifying for today's quarter finals put on a fabulous display of match race sailing skill off the seawall north of Belmont Harbor. Spectators ashore were treated to some impressive seamanship from these teams as the huge waves and wind often decided their fate.
Wilson built momentum throughout the weekend, taking second in Friday's Round Robin allowing him to have a break during yesterday's repechage round. This morning he shut out another Chicago Match Race Center local member, Steve Lowery, in the first-to-two point Quarter-Final knockout series.
Both Will Tiller and Sam Gilmour quickly dispatched their quarter final opponents, while the final series in the round between Jordan Reece and Nathan Hollerbach, turned out to be some of the most exciting matches. These races featured aggressive pre-starts, numerous penalty flags, a red flag protest from Reece, and multiple lead changes that took three full matches to decide. In the end, the 138th-ranked Hollerbach upset the 15th-ranked Aussie team to move forward into the semi-finals.
Frequent teammates Hollerbach and Wilson have no secrets from each other and each pulled out all their tricks for the three-race semi-final series. In the first match, Wilson stole the win from Hollerbach by just one second at the finish line, with Nate coming back to win the second after Wilson was over the start early and hit the windward mark. But in the third and deciding match on the first windward layline, a massive wave tore Hollerbach's kite out of its bag and into the water, giving Wilson the lead, the match, and the Finals berth.
The other semi-final round featured a great Kiwi-Aussie rivalry with Tiller in two races over 19-year-old Gilmour. 'Will and his team are so polished, but we are thrilled to have gone so far in this event and learned so much,' said Gilmour.
In the first Finals match, Tiller took and held a big lead on Wilson to take the first point. But from there it was downhill: an equipment problem in Match 2 resulted in a black flag from the umpires to end the match and award the point to Wilson to tie the series. In Match three, Wilson took the favored leeward end at the start, forcing Tiller away early and into a trailing position he could never overcome despite a last-minute port-starboard altercation at the finish, giving Wilson a 2-1 lead in the series.
In the fourth and final match, Tiller caught a penalty almost immediately in the dial up. Wilson's tactician, Sally Barkow, played to her strengths, sailing a conservative race and ensuring Tiller never gained the 20 seconds he'd need to clear his penalty. Tiller led up the final beat, spinning into a lightning speed penalty turn as he rounded the mark. Wilson dug deep on the inside and surged ahead on a massive wave, passing Tiller and holding his lead through the finish line.
Wilson's win gives him valuable ISAF Grade 2 points to climb the world Open ranking list. As Wilson is already an invited competitor to August's Chicago Match Cup, runner-up Tiller will receive the invitation and compete at the prestigious Grade 1 match race.
Sydney's Jordan Reece was surprised to learn he also received an invitation to the AWMRT Chicago Match Cup; the young racer finished in fifth place this weekend, but his great performance here in 2012 earned him the final spot in the August event. At last year's Chicago Match Cup, Reece was not only the only qualifying skipper to date to get past the Quarter Finals at a AWMRT event, but also the youngest ever to get to an AWMRT Final.
The Chicago Match Cup will be held over August 6-11th at Navy Pier, and is the only US stop on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour.
Chicago Match Race website