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2017 SAP 5O5 World Championship - Tough fight for podium

by Bill Wagner on 29 Sep 2017
2017 SAP 5O5 World Championship - Day 4 Bill Wagner
Organizers of the 2017 SAP 5O5 World Championship said from the outset that versatility would prove crucial to winning. That is because Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay figured to deliver a wide range of wind conditions over the course of a week.

Mike Holt and Carl Smit proved to be the best all-around team, which was a surprise even to them. Holt and Smit clinched the championship with one race to spare thanks to a dominant performance on the fourth day of the competition.

Heavy breeze came to the Chesapeake on Thursday and the Holt-Smit tandem sailed superbly – posting an impressive score line of three – one - three. They were able to throw out a 15th absorbed in Race 3 and mathematically secured the title as a result.

“It’s amazing, just amazing. We didn’t really know for sure until we came ashore. We kept running the numbers and thinking we won, but we weren’t positive until we actually looked at the scoreboard,” Holt said. “It’s fantastic, especially here in Annapolis. This is not a venue at which we thought we could possibly win.”

This is the second SAP 5O5 World Championship for Holt and Smit, who captured their first together in 2015 off Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They have developed a reputation as heavy air specialists who did not perform well in light to moderate conditions.

“It does make us proud, because we’ve always been considered heavy air sailors. To come here to Annapolis and be able to win a world championship held in a range of conditions is just brilliant,” said Holt, a Santa Cruz, California resident who owns a software integration firm.

Holt-Smit placed second in Race 1 in moderate wind (10-11 knots) on Sunday then won Race 2 in relatively lighter air (7-10 knots) on Tuesday. Holt was asked why the IO Integration team fared better in those types of conditions.

“I lost a bunch of weight,” Holt said. “Carl was supposed to, but he failed on that mission so I did it all by myself. Actually, today Carl’s weight was good. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about it today.”

Smit mentioned that he and Holt have worked to improve their performance in light to moderate air, traveling to Europe to compete against 505 teams that are strong in those conditions.

“We knew this was going to be a really tough venue because light air is generally not our favorite. That being said, we knew we had to get better in the light stuff to have any chance here,” said Smit, a member of co-host Eastport Yacht Club. “We felt good going into today because we put some decent results on the board in the lighter conditions. It was tough sailing today as well because there were still some big shifts, some big puffs. We’re just so psyched to win this championship. It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment.”

This is the third SAP 5O5 World Championship for Holt, who won in 2014 with Rob Woelfel as crew. Considering the caliber of competition in Annapolis, the British native never imagined clinching the regatta with one day of sailing remaining.

“That’s just crazy, completely crazy. Our goal going into the week was to simply have a chance on the final day,” Holt said. “Those last days are always scary, so to avoid having to worry about the last day is just fantastic.”

All the heavy air specialists were thrilled to wake up on Thursday morning and hear the forecast for 15-20 knot winds. That proved accurate, although significant shifts and large holes tested the 87-boat fleet.

Defending world champions Mike Martin and Adam Lowry had their best day of the regatta with results of two – six - one. Martin and Lowry showed off their heavy air chops with tremendous boat speed and almost flawless maneuvers.

“Super tough, super tricky conditions because there was sort of two breezes, one coming out of the river and one coming down the bay,” Martin said. “It was up and down, back and forth – just really challenging. So we’re pretty happy with our finishes today.”

Martin and Lowry, who list Mill Valley, California as home port and are St. Francis Yacht Club members, used a perfect gybe set while rounding the first windward mark to take the lead in the opening race on Thursday. They led until the seventh and final leg, but fell into a hole and were passed by the German team comprised of Kai Bertallot and Jan Reifferscheidt.

“On the final run, the Germans gybed before us, caught a big puff and carried down,” Martin said. “We were going well and suddenly the wind dropped out on us.”

Martin and Lowry would not be denied in Race 7 – getting a great start and stretching out on every leg in winning by 150 meters.

“Adam did a really good job of looking for pressure. We started left because we thought there was pressure there and picked up a nice lefty,” Martin said. “We stayed in pressure the whole time and that seemed to work.”

Three terrific results jumped Martin-Lowry up to fifth in the overall standings. They struggled in the light stuff on Tuesday, suffering back-to-back results of 21 and 25.

“It’s always fun sailing in breeze,” Martin said. “It would just be nice to do well in all conditions. If we had sailed better on the lighter days we’d be in better position overall right now. A lot of stuff happened today. We’ll look at our scores and figure out our plan for tomorrow.”

Bertallot and Reifferscheidt, residents of Kiel, Germany, had a tremendous day on the water – tying Holt and Smit with seven points on the day. As previously mentioned, they passed Martin and Lowery on the final downwind leg to win Race 5 then passed Holt and Smit to place second in Race 7.

To be able to pass two world champions on the same day was pretty cool for us. Just very, very exciting,” said Bertallot, the driver.

This is the third SAP 5O5 World Championship for the Germans, who finished 25th in Kiel (2014) and 24th in Weymouth, England (2016). They currently sit in seventh place and are hoping a good result in the eighth and final race on Friday will maintain or improve that position.

“Top 10 would be a really big jump for us,” Bertallot said. “We are a bit heavier than many of the other crews so today was our type of conditions. We had very good speed both upwind and downwind and sort of figured out the shifty winds. Sometimes we were lucky to pick up some favorable shifts.”

Andy Smith and Roger Gilbert led the regatta going into Thursday’s action and were still right there after posting a fifth and a third to start off. However, a 15th in Race 7 proved costly and forced the British team to keep the 10th it took in Race 1.

“I think we just have to keep sailing the way we have been and hope for the best,” Smith said when asked about securing runner-up status.

Principal race officer Sandy Grosvenor will hold just one race on Friday and there figures to be further shuffling of the standings since a second throw-out will come into play with the completion of an eighth race.

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