by Dana Paxton
At the London 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition, despite a brief wait this morning for suitable wind conditions on Portland Harbour, day three was anything but boring. Race organizers consolidated all three events onto one race course and completed two races for each.
SKUD18 sailing on day 3
Jen French and JP Creignou collected two more solid finishes to maintain their third overall position in the SKUD-18 event (Two Person Keelboat), while Mark LeBlanc slipped slightly to seventh overall in the 2.4mR (One Person Keelboat). Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson are fourth in the Sonar (Three Person Keelboat). With six races completed in the 11-race series, competitors can now discard their worst finish.
Top performance of the day went to Jen French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and JP Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.), who added finishes of third and second in the SKUD-18 fleet (Two Person Keelboat). They have discarded a fifth (race 2) and now sit one point out of second place, behind the British team of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell. The leaders, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS), are one point ahead.
'Both of the races were highlights,' said French back at the dock after racing. 'First race there were a lot of boats over early and we ended up going back to restart. We decided to play it conservative. Knowing where we were positioned in the fleet, we went back and built ourselves back up and finished in fourth, but we actually ended in third because one of the boats (CAN) was over early. That proves to us that even though we were almost dead last around the windward mark, we were able to build ourselves back up.'
French explained that the team’s training for the Games emphasized boat speed and it is one of their strengths, especially when faced with an over-early start.
'We are happy with our boat speed and when we make mistakes like that we can rely on our boat speed to get us back up,' she said. 'In this light and shifty breeze it’s a big mistake and it could have cost us more. If it was heavier breeze we could have gone back and recovered better, but in this uncharacteristic light wind we had to make big gains. JP is probably better than me, but he stays calm where we’re in that position and need to get back.'
The light wind continued to shift throughout the second race. 'It was boat-end favored even with the current, but there was a big crowd at the boat our priorities changed to get a clean lane off the start,' she explained of the race’s start. 'Especially in light air this boat moves so slowly and it takes time to get it up to speed. We used that to our advantage and played around with top guys. That made it more exciting. We passed the Brits and played it out with the Australians. That’s what makes it fun. Between the Brits, Australians and Canadians they can all beat us. We aren’t letting our guard down and it’s going to make it interesting racing going forward.'
In the One Person Keelboat, Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) found the conditions challenging and he collected two race finishes of 13th and 17th to end day in seventh place overall in the 2.4mR fleet. In race 6, he finished the race in fifth place, but was called over early at the start. By not restarting the race (to clear the penalty), he was given points equal to the total number of boats, 17.
Matt Leblanc, 2.4mR - Paralympics London 2012
Day two’s results in the Three Person Keelboat changed overnight when a protest changed the fleet leaders and put Team USA into second overall. Today’s best race for Paul Callahan (Cape Coral, Fla./Newport R.I.), Tom Brown (Castine, Me.) and Bradley Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla.) was race five where they finished in second.
'We had a spectacular race in the first race right along with the Dutch,' said Callahan. We were really happy with that race. Tactically we were superb.'
Sonar action - Paralympics London 2012
The second race, race 6, didn’t go quite as well for them. 'We didn’t get a good start and that forced us to the side of the course we didn’t want to be on,' Callahan explained. 'We climbed our way through the pack and pretty much stayed in the middle. It’s pretty hard to break through top five if you’re on the wrong side of the course because everyone sails so well. We made one tactical mistake at the (final) top mark when we should have ducked Canada and we didn’t. That forced us out left and we wanted to be on the right. That’s where we lost a lot of boats. We thought we could cross them and we couldn’t. All this week there’s been a little extra breeze in the upper left corner and today there wasn’t. We should have been conservative and ducked them.'
They finished race 6 in eighth and are now in fourth overall in the fleet.
'We’re feeling really good,' said Callahan. 'We’re sailing at the top of the pack and unless we make an error our boat speed is good. We’ve been top five the whole regatta and anxious to getting started tomorrow.'
Racing on Sept. 4 is scheduled to begin at 11:00 BST with the Sonar fleet, then the SKUD-18 and 2.4mR races at 14:00.
US Olympic website