There was an air of expectancy out on Course A for the first race of the Tornado catamarans at the Qingdao Olympic regatta. There had been considerable speculation in the days before over the controversial gennaker that had been developed in three separate camps but only chosen by one as the tool with which to win a gold medal.
One can only surmise what is going through the minds of Johnny Lovell and Charlie Ogletree after their first race. For a few, to them glorious, minutes their gamble appeared to have paid off and dreams appeared realised, but it was soon to turn to a bowl of custard.
After a long delay for the wind to settle, during which the boats went back ashore, racing began after a second, short postponement when the wind had veered through 35 degrees.
Lovell and Ogletree, with their Stars & Stripes emblazoned upwind gennaker, made a perfectly timed pin end start and in the lighter breeze appeared to be almost twice as fast as the standard-rigged boats.
It could have been all over for the other 14 competitors in this race and for the gold medal at the final Olympic regatta for this class. Then the wind piped up a couple of knots and the Americans were overpowered upwind and forced to drop the national banner and sail with the same rig as everyone else. A slight shift had also helped others to go ahead and so that by the time they rounded the first mark, Lovell and Ogletree were fourth.
From there it was all downhill – literally. The smaller gennaker was now a handicap and they dropped to ninth by the end of the first run. Worse happened on the next two rounds so that by the finish, the American pair was last but one.
While Lovell and Ogletree will hope that they can discard this race from their scoreline, they must be hoping for a return of the usual Qingdao weather. The official wind speed today was given at nine knots except at the windward mark the first time when it was eight. Bearing in mind the Qingdao Official Wind Speed Factor that generally gives a 40% higher figure that that on the water, there must be something wrong with the performance predictions for the upwind gennaker.
Both Mitch Booth, the originator, and Lovell are on record as saying the crossover point would be 11 knots upwind, and that in a strong breeze there would be little disadvantage downwind. It is unlikely that the winds will blow strong enough in Fushan Bay for the superiority of the small gennaker downwind, but nine knots appears to be too much for it upwind. No doubt there will be a day when the Americans will be laughing, but not right now.
Glenn Ashby, who designed the Australian gennakers that were trialled, put the final word on the day: 'Spinnakers 1, Code Zeros 0.'
The man who started this controversial exercise, Mitch Booth, said: 'It looked a bit iffy just after the start, but the breeze kicked in and it became the strongest we have sailed in here.'
Of Booth, well known as the master of mind games, the veteran Australian coach, Mike Fletcher, said: 'Mitch, you have surpassed yourself. This is your finest scam ever.'