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A Swell Start to the SSL Gold Cup Final Series in Gran Canaria

by Mark Jardine & Benedict Donovan / SSL Gold Cup 10 Nov 2023 11:57 PST 10 November - 3 December 2023

Gran Canaria delivered on the first day of the SSL Gold Cup 1/32 Finals, with sparkling seas, a lovely swell left over from the strong winds, and breeze hovering between 6 and 10 knots, providing ideal conditions for top class racing.

The conditions on the course provided plenty of tactical options, with more wind pressure offshore, counterbalanced by lifts on port on the left. Calm heads were needed on board the challenging SSL47 yachts to seize the opportunities on the two-lap windward / leeward course, especially considering it was the first time teams were back in the one-design boats since 2022.

The full Day 1 schedule of four races was completed, with one race for each of the four fleets.

Fleet 1 Race 1

Teval Plichart's 'Black Pearls' from Tahiti had the perfect start to the event, starting well and then hooking into a great left windshift on the first beat, which gave them a 100m lead which they never relinquished.

Tactician onboard is Teiki Hacheche, who was 8th in the 2007 Optimist World Championship, and understandably over the moon to win the historic first race of the SSL Gold Cup Final Series:

"It was a great day. It was pretty light wind, but we picked the right side of the course. I talked to the local sailors and they told me it's better to go left, so that's what I did today."

On the conditions Teiki added:

"Here in Gran Canaria we have the swell like at home, so it's better for us as we're used to sailing in these conditions. Downwind is maybe our main thing, and we did pretty well surfing down the waves."

The same couldn't be said for the 'Paracas Warriors' from Peru, who had gear failure as the race started, meaning they were unable to continue. Captain Stefano Peschiera was understandably disappointed, but there are options for the team to redress the situation:

"Our runner broke at the start. You can put a lot of load on those lines, it was six knots of wind and we were not even at our max yet. We're trying to appeal to the fair play of the competition and see if we can get an average of our next scores, because I think we deserved that. We had a really nice start and it broke five seconds right before the start, so that's a little disappointing but I think we can definitely get redress and we should, because that's what fair play would be in the competition."

Second in the race were SSL Team Slovenia, Captained by Vasco Žbogar:

"Obviously we're aiming to win each race, but it's the first day and the team hasn't been together for a long time and we're still a bit rusty. It was great sailing and we enjoyed it. Very challenging with the wind up and down, and big waves. We are not used to this. Where we sail in the Adriatic it's very flat and we don't have these big waves. It definitely made a difference because we did a few extra tacks in the first upwind leg and in these kind of big waves the tacks were very slow. We definitely felt we lost a few metres there."

Fleet 2 Race 1

Fleet 2's first race started promptly after Fleet 1 got back off the water, and was an absolute cracker. With just 100m between the teams for the majority of the race, it was all to play for, but it was Chile who finally came out on top.

Going into the race, the Portuguese "Navigators" were feeling good about their chances, with Captain João Rodrigues declaring beforehand: "We're very, very confident. We think that the weather is going to be perfect for us, for the beginning."

Chile and Portugal jostled for position for much of the race. Benjamin Grez, tactician for Chile, described the moment they stole the lead from the Portuguese:

"We actually wanted to jibe a little bit earlier than Portugal, but they surprised us with an early jibe, so we jibed with them. Then we managed to push the Estonia team to the side, which allowed us to have a clear lane. This gave us the chance to give Portugal a bad drop of the kite, and then we managed to sail the shifts and put ourselves in a solid position during the last leg."

In the words of Portuguese tactician Afonso Domingos: "It was not a proper drop. It was a really bad drop."

Plenty of lessons were learned on the racecourse. Ne´lido Manso, Captain of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" commented: "We haven't sailed this boat for about a year. So right now, we're doing training and racing at the same time!"

Grez shared the same sentiment:

"We weren't able to see the race before ours, so we went out without knowing much about the course. We just lifted our heads and looked outside at what was happening in the moment. None of us have been sailing here before, but at the same time the sea state was very familiar for us for where we're used to sailing."

After their victory, the Chilean 'Finis Terrae Sailors' are looking ahead to the next races with cautious optimism:

"Our group is quite strong. The four of us, we have a very good level, and the races could be for anyone. Our team is working well together so far, but for sure it's something that's not going to be easy."

Fleet 3 Race 1

For Antigua & Barbuda it was a dream return to the SSL47s, as Skipper Jules Mitchell describes:

"It was super cool getting back into it as we haven't sailed the boats for 16 months, so it was quite interesting to see how everyone would perform. Those 16 months did absolutely nothing to our performance. We are definitely taking a very conservative approach because there's a lot of racing to do, it's a marathon not a sprint.

"We're really enjoying the swell. It's super nice to actually be driving the boat through the big waves and then surfing downwind, which I think is the strength of ours, and we're just having a good time. Back home in Antigua we get a lot of trade winds, so it's quite similar with the swell and the consistent breeze."

The Ukrainian team have understandably had a lack of practice, but remain determined as Trimmer Ihor Matviieno explained:

"Coming back to the water is quite difficult because our team, we don't have the chance to practice because our country is not in a good situation. Today's first five minutes is not enough, but we have tried, and then during the race we have some mistakes. We'll try tomorrow to get better results."

The Bermuda 'Privateers' trawled their spinnaker on the final downwind leg when the halyard wasn't locked off fully. While the mistake cost them in the race, they were unfortunate not to catch any Vieja, one of the most appreciated and emblematic fish of the Canary Islands, when they hoisted the sail from the water.

Fleet 4 Race 1

This race had it all! Oman's 'Lions of the Sea' were penalised on the start after mistiming their approach to the line, the Czech Republic team had a man overboard incident and place changes throughout. Team South Africa though led for the majority of the race to take the win.

By far the closest race of the day, by the end of Leg 3 there were only 20 metres separating South Africa and Lithuania, closely followed by Oman, then the Czech Republic.

Despite the man overboard incident, where crewmember Michaela Mertlova went over the side during a manoeuvre, the Czech Republic Team Captain Ondra staged a remarkable comeback. After trailing at the back of the fleet, 'The Czechs!' impressively fought their way up to second place by the time they crossed the finish line.

A recurring theme from today's athletes was the hands-on training needed aboard the SSL47s during the first day of racing. Tactician for South African 'Team Ubuntu' Mark Sadler commented:

"Most people don't know that the teams have barely spent any time in the boat. The last time we saw an SSL 47 was more than a year ago in Switzerland, so to get straight into a race was full on."

Michaela Robinson, who ran the pit for the South Africans and came 1st in the 2020 Cape-to-Rio race, agreed that a pre-regatta Practice Day was sorely missed:

"The five minutes before the race was the first time we got to do any practice. Considering this is the first time most of us have sailed together, the team dynamics were really good. It was quite messy for us, but we managed to get around the course and end up first."

There is no doubt all the teams are on a steep learning curve, on both teamwork and the local conditions, but with the quality of sailors participating they will come out re-energised for day two of the 1/32 Finals. Today's winners will have to bring their A game to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

First up on Saturday will be Fleet 2 with a 10.30 local time start, followed by Fleets 3, 4 and 1.

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