Race three of the SAP 505 World Championship was a reminder that, while crunching the best data, and executing appropriate strategies, in sailing as in business you need to keep a weather eye out for what the legal team refers to as an Act of God.
The waters off Bridgetown, Barbados on Sunday were bright, turquoise in the shallows, then darkened almost-suddenly by a great, gray cloud that jiggered all the trend lines right out of their grooves. What didn't change is that, two days running, German teams topped the leaderboard in this very international event where 69 boats made the start. The German team at the top—that changed.
Claas Lehmann and crewman Leon Oehme, the new fleet leaders, pushed hard on first-day leaders Stefan Boehm and Gerald Roos in the early going of race three, then both lost out to the Aussie team of Sandy Higgins and Paul Marsh. Lehmann led going away in race four. But that cloud—
Sailboats race on an open course, not a narrow track, and the first leg is always directly upwind, a direction that no one can sail. That is why boats work their way 'up the staircase' to go upwind and in the process the sailors have to decide whether to favor the left hand side of the course or the right. It's an essential strategic decision.
Off Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown, the Worlds fleet has found that, almost always, the left side develops the better trends and produces the better outcomes. And that's where our heroes found themselves when the big black cloud came through and, as one wag had it, 'the gasping gang on the right was suddenly off life support and ready to boogie.' Or as Lehmann had it, 'Sometimes you can be too fixed in your ways. We stuck to the left and lost ten boats.'
It's not about being perfect, it's about how you recover, and with scores of 2-4-14-1, Lehmann and Oehne are the leaders of the moment, with five more races to be sailed.
Lehmann, a surgeon, is emerging from a long German winter and five months without sailing. Apparently it's like bicycling. You don't forget how. But, displaying his bandaged right hand, Dr. Lehmann was prepared to allow that, 'If your surgeon is a sailor, you don't want to schedule a procedure on Friday, because he's itching to go sailing. And you don't want to schedule for Monday, because he's been sailing.'
Racing continues through Friday, with a single race today at 1400 local time and a day off on Tuesday.