The Semi-Finals remained in the balance at the close of play today at Sopot Match Race, the third event on the 2014 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, with four time champion Ian Williams’ GAC Pindar team 0-2 down against Phil Robertson’s WAKA Racing, while defending champion Taylor Canfield’s USone team was even on 1-1 against France’s Mathieu Richard and his LunaJets crew.
A change of wind direction from the northeast to the north prior to the start of the Semi Finals brought with it a drop in pressure, the wind rarely more than five knots as the sea breeze attempted to fill in. But this allowed the race committee to set up a start area immediately off Sopot’s landmark Molo Pier with the teams using this obstacle to their tactical advantage in pre-starts.
Williams was particularly unlucky in the pre-start of his first Semi-Final match which coincided with a ferry docking on the pier. Robertson explained: 'I thought Ian was going to go inside me at the pre-start and take the lead - I was surprised he didn’t. And the ferry certainly made it a bit easier for us. But that happens – it’s match racing - the occasional strange thing goes on and you have to be able to adapt as quickly as possible.'
In their second race Robertson also got off the line faster, but admitted he got 'out of the groove' allowing Williams back into the match. However the GAC Pindar skipper attempted to gain the inside berth at the top mark. As Robertson explained: 'There was no room, so there was a good little crash – but that was all he could do there and hope we were in the wrong.' However the umpires saw it Robertson’s way and handed a red flag, immediate, penalty to Williams, ultimately handing the second Semi Final point to Robertson.
Winner of Qualifying, Taylor Canfield, had chosen Mathieu Richard as his Semi Final opponent. However it was the French skipper who got the initial point on the board, after a race with several lead changes that ultimately went his way when Canfield picked up a penalty. Their second race was similar, only in reverse with Canfield levelling the score.
However Richard’s fiercest race of the day occurred in his third Quarter Final match against Keith Swinton’s Team Alpari FX. In this Swinton was ahead, but on the first upwind leg had picked up a penalty for tacking too close. Going into the final downwind, Swinton attempted to slow down to offset the penalty, but as he explained: 'That didn’t really work out, because we hadn’t practiced that in these boats and it is a difficult manoeuvre at the best of times. We got a bit too slow and he got around us.' In the process Swinton picked up a second penalty for a port-starboard infringement and carried out a turn that left Team Alpari FX behind.
However staying ahead proved problematic for Richard as the spinnaker pole had broken on his boat. This allowed Swinton to roll them coming into the finish. However as Richard explained: 'We luffed him and he didn’t respond as he should and then he got a second penalty.' The second penalty then turned into a black flag disqualification when Swinton didn’t carry out the penalty immediately. 'We were in the wrong, but we were trying everything we could to stay in the race,' the Australian skipper admitted. 'It was very disappointing, because I felt we had the better of him that time.'
But coming ashore Swinton was fuming more because of the last Quarter Final race when he had made an error right at the end of the run, handing the Semi Final berth to Richard. 'I made a bad mistake gybing away when we didn’t need to which has proved pretty costly.'
Conversely Richard was all smiles: 'We had been two boatlengths behind all the way around, then we just rolled him at the finish: That was a very good feeling.'
Earlier in the day the Quarter Finals had seen Robertson eventually dispatch young Dane Nicolai Sehested, while Ian Williams had made an easier job of sending Karol Jablonski home, beating the Polish match racing legend 3-0.
'It was tough, but I expected that,' admitted Jablonski. 'I am very happy that we were able to push Ian and his team quite hard and all three were tight matches with close situations at the weather mark. Ian’s experience paid off in these situations. It was nice to race against him and my young team did an excellent job. I am very pleased with how we sailed.'
Jablonski was particularly unfortunate to lose the first race when he led Williams into the finish, only for the British skipper to accelerate past him on a wave in the very last metres. 'There were puffs and big waves and you couldn’t always tack when you wanted to because of that,' admitted Jablonski. 'We tried to do our best but we lost a little bit. I am very happy, no disappointment at all.'
The deciding Semi-Final races will be completed tomorrow, starting at 10:00 local time, before moving on to the Finals and Petite Finals. Stage 3 Sopot Match Race, Alpari World Match Racing Tour - Semi-Finals
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar vs Phil Robertson (NZL) Waka Racing 0-2
Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets vs Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone FX 1-1 Quarter-Finals Results
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar vs Karol Jab?o?ski (POL) Jablonski Sailing Team 3-0
Phil Robertson (NZL) Waka Racing vs Nicolai Sehested (DEN) Trefor Match Racing 3-2
Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets vs Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX 3-1 WMRT website