Chicago Match Race Center Grade 2 Invitational kicked off with stadium sailing at Navy Pier and will continue until 14th August 2011.
Tiller Boat 6 v Hardesty Boat 1 - Chicago Match Race Center Grade 2 Invitational 2011
'We're pretty stoked that the Windy City is actually windy,' smiled New Zealander, Will Tiller. Tiller sits at the top of the rankings on the first day of the Invitational. Variable conditions this morning gave way to a southerly breeze of 15 knots with gusts up to 20. The windward mark was set a mere 50 feet from the pier providing a new element to the races and unique sight for the spectators on Navy Pier, the number one tourist destination in the Midwest. The beyond-perfect winds and gathering crowd were enough for the race committee to make a last minute decision to do 10 flights instead of the originally proposed nine.
Spectators on the Pier - Chicago Match Race Center Grade 2 Invitational 2011
Hundreds bore witness to Tiller's only loss of the day and the collision with Bill Hardesty (USA) that led up to it in Flight nine. The young Kiwi said he was caught by surprise when Hardesty made the late decision to dial down after Tiller maneuvered to duck him. 'I wouldn't call it late at all. We were responding to an error made by our opponent,' Hardesty corrected. Tiller reacted and made his move to prevent damage to the boats. The cringe was heard in stereo beginning with the race committee and moving to the crowd as the boats collided. One spectator in the stands asked, 'Are they supposed to hit like that?' to which Hardesty later replied, 'It's not common, but it's known to happen.'
One match in Flight 10 caused Principal Race Officer BilI Canfield to remark, 'It was one of the best match races I've ever seen.' Onlookers described the moment as heartbreaking as Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) forced Jordan Reece (AUS) to round up in the second downwind leg. Prior to that, Tunnicliffe was holding a penalty at the windward mark and trying to burn it in a luffing match. Anna was accelerating and decelerating her boat every other second. This windward mark maneuver had fans on their toes aching in anticipation. On the downwind, Reece's boat rounded-up with the spinnaker twisting around the forestay while Anna was able to address her penalty and accelerate for the win. Reece is feeling the pressure knowing that he is in a must-win situation for continuing to the second round-robin.
Even with the complex three-way tie that Reece, Mike Buckley (USA) and Don Wilson (USA) face tomorrow, the pressure seems to be taking a backseat to the novelty that is stadium sailing. 'How cool is this? How often do you have this many non-sailors coming out to watch sailing?' asked Buckley. In conversation, several of the teams would get distracted gazing off at the boat and people traffic that were there to watch them do what they do best.
Today was just the beginning. On an average summer weekend, Navy Pier has 90,000 visitors, but this weekend the pier also hosts the Taste of Tall Ships which in 2010 drew upward of 600,000 visitors. 'The coordination of this regatta with the tall ships was vital to the projected success of this event,' explained Chicago Match Race Center Program Director Tod Reynolds. 'Even halfway through the day, we were overwhelmed with the positive response from the public.'
Racing begins tomorrow at 9AM with a stationary front forecasted to move in and create tricky conditions for racers.
Southwest winds later leading to northwest winds of 10knots have racers and officials alike crossing their fingers.
Overseeing Authority Mary Anne Ward predicted, 'I know the racing will be exciting and close... possibly wet.'
A live broadcast of the event is online beginning at 8:45AM with a Morning Show and starting race coverage with the first start is available here.
Chicago Match Race Center website