New Zealand extended to a commanding lead over Australia in the 2014 12' skiff Interdominions, after a race day packed with drama, incident and very tight racing.
Wellington's 'nuking' winds brought chaos and another lead change, as a third competitor puts one hand on one of dinghy sailing's most desirable trophies.
In an ironic twist for the team results, Aussie-expat now turned Kiwi, Glen Armstrong, rose to the head of the overall table, after taking the bullet in Race 4 ahead of Australia's Nick Press. After an hour of exhilarating heavy-weather racing, a photo finish was needed from the committee boat to separate their bows. Press is growing in confidence on the NZ waters, and has begun clawing his way back up the leaderboard after an uncharacteristic start.
With the forecasters calling 45 knot northerlies, the scent of fear was as apparent as last night's rum across the rigging area early this morning. All foresaw a painful day if the Race Officer could get the starts away.
Race 4 did get away, and Melanie Parkin, regatta organiser, summed it up with 'nuking winds and blistering rides'. It was an eventful race from top to bottom with Armstrong (NZ), Press (AU) and Vallings (NZ) taking rights to the podium.
The biggest drama of the day came after a high-speed downwind close quarters incident between 'Mad' Mike Rhodes's 'Liquid' and Billy Wright's 'W-Squared'. But it all went wrong for Wright. A big capsize saw crew Will go toe-to-toe with the side stays, and lose. He was rushed off the water to Wellington hospital with several breaks in his hand, and that's his regatta over.
Crowd favourite, Chris Reid's 'C-Tech Little Bus' pulled up lame, as conditions generated such load that his sidestay sliced up his carbon mast base. His day was over – not good for the Kiwi team results - but if anyone can fix it Reido can. A quality helmsman on the water, he is a carbon and rigging expert off the water, most recently undertaking the batten work for Emirates Team New Zealand's AC-72 wing sails.
A crowd-pleasing 'mine' was served up by Matt Stevens steering the borrowed Exonet hull. A sailor with impeccable credentials in keelboat classes, Stevens recently crewed AC-45 'Full Metal Jacket' campaign to second place in the Red Bull Youth America's Cup series, in behind the other Kiwi entry under the Emirates Team NZ banner. With picture perfect form, this incident easily won the day's Miner's award.
On the final lap, there was concern that the race might be called to an abrupt and tragic end. Within hail of the course's top mark, a rescue helicopter came to a hover and settled there. With a local fisherman still missing after an incident in Wellington harbour earlier in the week, comment went across the crowd that it may be a recovery operation. Eye witnesses report one person entering the water and two returning, however, no confirmed reports of the incident have been received by the harbour authorities so far this afternoon.
With fresh memories of Race 4, crews inched uncomfortably towards their vessels to face Race 5; but RO Brett Linton pulled the pin. White water turned to black water and the forceast gale rolled down Wellington harbour and out into Cook Straight. Brisbane local Ben Guymer noted, 'We've hardly used our fourth rig in Brisbane. Here, we haven't needed anything else. It's hairy stuff.'
Indifferent skiffing legend Alex 'Ginge' Vallings, however, saw it otherwise. He geared up and took the gale on, providing the day's most spectacular fly-by, sending it hard right past the club house under the noses of jealous peers.
There is a lay day Wednesday, before a southerly shift is due to bring a new twist to the regatta – strong, dense air and flat water for Thursday's three scheduled races. Perhaps the Australians, more familiar with flat, fast water than gales and fetch, can close the gap before regatta's finale at the end of the week.
Full results are available at www.skiff.org.nz. The 12‘ Skiff Interdominions have been held between New Zealand and Australian teams since 1956. This 54th regatta is being hosted by Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington, NZ from fourth to 11th January, 2014. Close, sheltered viewing of all the action is available each day at the yacht club. The Australian team is sponsored by Maersk and JJ Robertson & Sons Transport.
by Sven Pannell
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11:58 AM Tue 7 Jan 2014GMT
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