by Rich Roberts
Globaltech Formula 18 World Championship 2012 fourth day started horribly for France's Olivier Backes and crew Matthieu Vandame — literally — but ended with them holding a firm grip on their second title in three years with only three races remaining.
Formula 18 World Championship 2012
Actually, for them, maybe only two.
With a solid lead over a flock of competitors in the mid-40s in net points, they need only to post decent results in Saturday's first two races and cash in their second discard by sitting out the last one of the event hosted by Alamitos Bay Yacht Club.
Not bad after taking a black flag disqualification for jumping the start line in Friday's first race, won by Australia's Rod Waterhouse, who with crew Chris Way is in 27th place. But then the men from Marseille finished the day with a first and third among 60 boats in the Gold fleet.
The official 61st place became their second throwout, following their previous worst finish of sixth on opening day Tuesday - a result they can probably now afford to count by passing on the last race Saturday.
'If we sail two good races we can head for home,' Backes said, smiling. 'It's a comfortable position.'
Oscar Zeekant/Karel Begemann and Mischa Heemserk/Bastiaan Tentij of The Netherlands were next in net points with 44 and 45, respectively, followed by first-day leaders Billy Besson/Jeremie Laguarrigeu of Switzerland at 47 and Gunnar Larsen/Gerhard van Geest at 49---the third Dutch team in the top five.
Defending champion Darren Bundock and crew Jeroen can Leeuwen are sixth at 58 after two strong days in mid-week slipped into finishes of ninth, 28th and eighth Friday.
'Not a good day for us,' Bundock said. 'We thought there was going to be more pressure on the left, so we started at the pin [left end of the line] and the boat was going really fast. But it was a bad decision.'
With a wind-killing high-pressure heat wave settling over Southern California, the 118 boats in Gold and Silver fleets virtually drifted the two miles out to the start line in about 3 knots of wind. But soon the familiar southwesterly sea breeze arrived to ruffle the glassy seas, building to 7 knots for the first race and as strong as 15 later until dropping back to 7 by day's end.
Principal race officer Mark Townsend, playing the 1.5-nautical mile deep trapezoid course like a chess board with frequent course changes, said, 'We got the most we could get out of the breeze today.'
Backes said he didn't know they had blown the start in the first race until he crossed the finish line.
'We were in a group of boats and couldn't really see the line,' he said.
Waterhouse was ecstatic about his win. His next best finish was a ninth on Wednesday, so the victory Friday made his week.
'We're not a very quick boat,' he said. 'The young guys usually get us. We're very pleased.'
Waterhouse, 55, has had more success as an ocean racer, although he is a current Hobie Cat catamaran Masters champion. Ray normally races on a Farr 40 monohull.
'We got together for this event,' Waterhouse said.
Taylor Reiss, 19, and Matthew Whitehead, 17, of Florida are the top USA team in 12th place, followed closely by Michael Easton and Tripp Burd.
The last day of racing starts at noon, conditions permitting.
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Alamitos Bay Yacht Club website
F18 International Class Association website