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Bermuda Gold Cup plans Semifinals and Final on Saturday

by Royal Bermuda Yacht Club 6 Oct 2023 10:15 PDT 2-7 October 2023
Johnie Berntsson (right) leads Nick Egnot-Johnson on a run of their quarterfinal match under dark skies on Hamilton Harbour © Ian Roman / WMRT

The 71st Bermuda Gold has been paused for two days due to the passage of Tropical Storm Philippe, but tomorrow's Semifinal Round should reignite the pyrotechnics on Hamilton Harbour with two matches featuring well-known, if not bitter rivals.

The semifinal pairings haven't been officially announced yet, that will happen at tomorrow morning's skippers' briefing, but it's a safe bet that Johnie Berntsson's (SWE) Berntsson Racing Team will choose to race Harry Price's (AUS) Down Under Racing. Berntsson has earned the right to choose his opponent based on his undefeated record.

That would force a matchup between Taylor Canfield's (USA) Stars+Stripes Team USA against Ian Williams' (GBR) Chinaone.Ningbo crew in a renewal of hostilities from the 2020 Final where Canfield suffocated Williams in a contentious, penalty-marred four-race series.

The conditions tomorrow stand to be "fruity" with a southwesterly wind of 15 to 25 knots forecast. A skippers' briefing is planned for 0900 ADT, with the first attention signal planned for 1000 ADT. The winners will be the first to score 3 points.

"It's fascinating to have the 2020 Final as one of this year's semifinals," said Principal Race Officer David Campbell-James. "That was a full-on match, especially when they hit the commentary boat, and it'll keep the umpires on their toes. In the other match, Johnie was punchy in the quarterfinals, and I think on the basis of match racing tactics he will be hard for Harry to beat."

The Canfield-Williams match should set the harbour ablaze as Williams will be not only looking to avenge the loss in 2020 but also stop Canfield's mastery. Canfield beat Williams 3-1 in the 2013 quarterfinals, 2-1 in the 2014 Petite Final, and 3-1 in the 2020 Final.

The Final three years ago was a penalty-marred affair that Canfield dominated. The turning point was the pre-start of Race 2, when Canfield spun Williams into the commentary boat. Damage was done to the bows of each boat as well as the port side of the commentary boat. Williams, already penalized for an earlier incident, received a second penalty and later was assessed a scoring penalty of.75 points, which put him down 2-(-.75) after two races. Williams won Race 3 but then lost Race 4 and the series.

"Obviously we've raced Taylor a lot over the last 10 years," said Williams. "If we can keep the umpires out of the game, we'll have a good shot."

"We're happy to race anyone," said Canfield. "We've had some great matches here against Ian, there are very few times he's beaten us. We're confident, a bunch of old boys ready to take it on."

The Berntsson-Price match would be a renewal of the semifinals in 2019, where Berntsson extinguished the upstart's debut run with a 3-0 victory. Berntsson has been unbeatable this week, winning all 11 of his races. He should've sailed only 10 races, but a scoring penalty in Race 3 of the quarterfinals for causing damage in a collision resulted in an additional race to score the 3 points required for advancement.

"It's always a pleasure being in the semifinals," said Berntsson. "We were on the ropes a bit in the quarterfinals, we had some tight racing. I'm happy to have this team that is doing everything right and solving all the problems that I get them into."

"We just need to win the races," said Price. "We're in a better position with the way we're starting and handling the boat. More experience certainly helps. There's no reason why we can't do it and at least have some good matches. Hopefully we'll come out on top with the damage deposit intact and everyone smiling."

The championship trophy for the Bermuda Gold Cup, the King Edward VII Gold Cup, dates to 1907 and is the oldest match racing trophy in the world for a competition involving one-design yachts. It is one of the most coveted championships in match racing. New Zealander Russell Coutts, who's won the America's Cup five times as a skipper or Chief Executive Officer, is the all-time winner with seven championships between 1990 and 2004. The regatta has been run in its current format, as a ladder-style tournament on the confines of Hamilton Harbour, since 1985.

Berntsson, Canfield and Williams are three of the most experienced skippers at the Bermuda Gold Cup, having raced the regatta a combined 33 times. The 46-year-old Williams leads the group with 13 appearances. Berntsson, 52, has 12 appearances and the 34-year-old Canfield eight.

Canfield, the regatta's reigning champion, has won the title three times (2012, '18, '20). Berntsson (2008, '14) and Williams (2006, '19) have two titles apiece.

Price, 28 years old, is the newcomer to the group and has advanced to the semifinals for the second time in two appearances. He placed third overall in 2019, when he won the Jordy Walker Trophy for the best performance by a newcomer. Canfield won the Jordy Walker Trophy in 2012, the first year it was awarded, to coincide with his first title.

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