Chris Steele from the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and his team of Walker Banks on Main, Hamish Hardy on jib and Tim Siemers on bow have prevailed in blustery conditions today to win the ISAF Grade Two Chicago Match Cup Qualifier. In a come-from-behind effort, Steele defeated Australia's David Chapman two - one in a fiery series of matches that were shortened to a first-to-two point series due to strong wind and high wave conditions on Lake Michigan.
'This was a tough series, and I credit my team for pulling us through some critical matches yesterday and then again today to take this win,' said Steele. 'The racing here was great, and I'm really looking forward to coming back to compete at the Tour event in September.'
Racing in 15-20 knots and lumpy seas, Steele's road to victory started with being down two - zero to CMRC's Don Wilson in the Semi-Final, and then coming back to win the next three to go to the Final to meet Australia's David Chapman, who won three - zero over Steve Lowery.
Then the wind picked up to gusts to over 30 knots with seas building even higher, so CMRC race managers decided to put up the Z flag to indicate that spinnaker use would not be allowed. The lack of these sails did nothing to minimize the action, as the TOM 28's could easily surf downwind in the huge waves and create and break overlaps quickly and change the tactical game in an instant. The waves were high enough to even scare off the CMRC's signature houseboat regatta center, which left the race area and headed for safety into nearby Belmont Harbor.
The Finals started well for Chapman, who scoring first blood and put Steele under pressure to win the second match and stay alive for the series. Steele and team did exactly this, setting the stage for a dramatic final showdown.
In this last match, Chapman took what looked to be a commanding lead, which on the first downwind leg looked safe at 10 lengths. But then Steele surfed a wave into the bottom gate, acquired right of way, and when Chapman did not yield and came out in front, the match umpires gave him a red flag penalty, requiring an immediate penalty turn. This allowed Steele to take the lead and sail to victory.
And in the one-match sudden death Petit Final, Wilson defeated Lowery to take third place overall.
Steele's only other appearance at CMRC was at last August's Grade 2 Grand Slam event, where he finished second in a field of 12 teams from 6 nations. This event featured a slightly smaller field - ten teams from four nations - but with valuable Grade 2 winning points Steele should make a significant advance up from his current position of 22nd on the ISAF Open World Match Race Ranking list. Chicago Match Cup Qualifier final results:
1. Chris Steele (NZL)
2. David Chapman (AUS)
3. Don Wilson (USA)
4. Steve Lowery (USA)
5. Stefan Lindberg (FIN)
6. Scott Dickson (NZL)
7. David Storrs (USA)
8. Chris Poole (USA)
9. Tyler Rice (ISV)
10. David Niemann (USA)