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Tensions Mount on Day 3 of the 1/8 Finals SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

by Mark Jardine & Benedict Donovan / SSL Gold Cup 23 Nov 2023 09:56 PST 10 November - 3 December 2023

Another day in glorious Gran Canaria, with more sunshine, more warmth and a beautiful 10 to 13 knot breeze for the powerful SSL 47 yachts to devour.

Day 3 is arguably the most important of each round, setting the tone for the double points race and defining the leaderboard. A bad race today ramps up the pressure, a good race keeps the team calm. It was all on...

Today also saw the launch of the SSL Gold Cup Official Virtual Collection Album. The Panini Digital Collections app allows you to find and collect your favourite sailing superstars. More details here...

Fleet 3, Race 3

The Swiss 'Helvetic Lakers' came out of the blocks fast to open up a 100 metre lead with Norway's 'Norstream' and South Africa's 'Team Ubuntu' flanking them upwind, while Chile's 'Finis Terrae Sailors' took the early offshore option, heading to the right.

The 'Lakers' rounded the top mark first, but a slow spinnaker hoist let the 'Finis Terrae Sailors' take the lead. 'Team Ubuntu' and 'Norstream' followed a 100 metres behind.

Swiss Captain Erin Monnin demonstrated his extensive match racing experience, fooling Chile with a fake gybe, but it failed to slow the 'Finis Terrae Sailors' on their downwind charge. Eric Monnin, captain and helm of the Swiss team, described the moment:

"It was announced as a fake gybe, but it wasn't intended to be one. A lot of the crew match races with me so we can stop the manoeuvre whenever we need to. Chile went aggressively into the gybe, it wasn't our goal to go into a match race with them. It was a good opportunity for us to get clear, but unfortunately it wasn't the right choice wind wise."

Once again, Chilean tactician Benjamin Grez chose the offshore option on the second upwind leg while the rest of the fleet stayed inshore. Chile then used fleet management tactics, matching Switzerland tack for tack, which brought South Africa back into the fight for second.

As Chile built their lead, 'Team Ubuntu' rounded the final windward mark right on the tail of the 'Helvetic Lakers', but a twist on the spinnaker dropped them back a boat length, giving the Swiss a smidgeon of breathing room. But the South Africans kept the pressure on, ratcheting up the tension on the Swiss yacht.

The 'Finis Terrae Sailors' cruised to victory, while the 'Helvetic Lakers' just held off 'Team Ubuntu' for second, while 'Norstream' had to settle for the single point in last.

Chilean Trimmer Rodrigo Robles was pleased to relieve the tension with a win after starting the 1/8 Finals poorly:

"It was a very good race for us. Everything was very clear, everything was perfect with the manoeuvres and our tactician made the right calls. Our start wasn't the best, but we saw more pressure in the middle of the race course, and took the lead."

Swiss captain Eric Monnin says it can be tough to manage the pressure of the short, sharp races:

"The thing is that you jump in the boat and then you immediately go into racing. So it is a difficult balance to find, not to be over-tense but also not too relaxed."

Fleet 4, Race 3

The Portuguese 'Navigators' lined up for the start too early, ending up having to do a huge duck, followed by a tack onto port. However, when they went back the Individual Recall flag stayed up, meaning another team was over the line, which spelled disaster for them as they didn't go back to restart. It soon emerged that it was 'Les Bleus' who were over the line, with the French team being informed at the windward mark. Sadly this means pas du pont for Team France in this race.

Slovenia's 'KRPANI1860' team sailed a beautiful first upwind leg to lead at the windward mark, followed 12 seconds later by the 'Navigators', who recovered well from their poor start, with the Swedish 'Vikings' close behind as 'Les Bleus' left the race course.

The Slovenian team rounded the leeward mark half a minute ahead of the Swedish 'Vikings' closely followed by Portugal's 'Navigators.

The 'KRPANI1860' team cruised away in the sparkling conditions, with the grinders having to work hard on the spinnaker trim on the final downwind leg, while the 'Navigators' regained second from the 'Vikings'.

Slovenian grinder Miha Truden enjoyed flexing his muscles in the increased breeze:

"I found it easier than the previous days, where we sailed in low wind. I think we are sailing better and better. Grinding doesn't just depend on the wind strength, but also the boat handling, and we didn't have any problems today. Grinding is my job, I train every day, and I'm enjoying it."

Sweden's grinder Anders Gustafsson, who is also a champion sprint canoeist, shared insights on the crossover skills between the two sports:

"Keeping calm, being professional, having good focus. And obviously there's a lot of physical similarities to grinding and paddling, that translates really well."

He also speculated on tomorrow's result:

"With the double points tomorrow, everyone can still make it to the next round. Well, maybe if the French have a penalty kick in overtime they can make it."

Fleet 1, Race 3

With the wind now at around 12 knots, some intense hiking was needed from the teams up the first leg. Argentina took the early lead off the startline, but soon lost it to Malaysia after picking the inshore route. The Malaysians and Americans took the offshore side, and it paid off for them, with the 'Monsoon' rounding the windward mark first, followed by 'The Golden Eagles' 22 seconds behind.

For the next two legs, Malaysia did a fantastic job keeping themselves between the next marks and the rest of the fleet, at one point extending their lead to almost 200 metres. Nearing the second windward mark, the Hungarian 'Shamans' cut in from the offshore side to take second from the US 'Golden Eagles'.

Early on in the final downwind leg, it was catastrophe for the Malaysian 'Monsoon' with the spinnaker dropping in the water, agonisingly pushing them from a 40-second lead to the back of the fleet, with the Hungarian 'Shamans' narrowly taking the lead ahead of the USA's 'Golden Eagles'.

In an extraordinary finish the 'Golden Eagles' rolled over the 'Shamans' to take the win, with the Argentinian 'Condores' swooping in on starboard to split the two and take second. Just 4 seconds separated the top three boats, with the 'Monsoon' staging an incredible comeback after their spinnaker disaster, but it was too little too late, finishing 13 seconds adrift.

USA's Trimmer CJ Perez explained how the team has progressed during their first three days in the SSL 47 yachts:

"We're super happy with the result. The team is all-new and none of us sailed the boat before, so I think a result like this we can be really proud of. We're getting better each day, each leg that we do, and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. We almost had to get this win today to really stay in it, but it's all to play for and it could go either way."

Hungarian helm Robert Bakoczy reflected on that frenzied final stretch:

"If the finish line was a bit closer maybe it would have been a different result!"

Now tied second with USA on the leaderboard, Robert is determined to steer the 'Shamans' to glory on double points day:

"It will be a very exciting race tomorrow, so for sure we will be very concentrated and fighting like an animal."

Fleet 2, Race 3

After a perfect start, Tahiti, Lithuania and Poland had an all-out drag race on starboard upwind as Brazil rolled the dice, tacking on to port and heading miles offshore.

By the first mark, Lithuania had emerged as leader of the pack, as has been the case this entire round. Robert Scheidt's Brazil team powered down the run, but Poland's 'Sea Wolves' and the Tahitian 'Black Pearls' made a gain at the leeward gate, taking the right hand buoy while 'Brazilian Storm' went left.

The 'Black Pearls' and the 'Sea Wolves' engaged in a superb tacking battle, with Tahiti forcing the Polish to tack into some nasty waves, stopping the boat dead. The teams were hiking to the max, using every ounce of strength to try and gain the slightest advantage.

The formidable 'Ambers' team - who have now won an incredible 8 of their 10 races - cruised to another majestic win, leaving the runner-up spot fiercely contested by Tahiti and Poland.

Asked if it's getting boring coming first every time, Lithuanian pit Kristoforas Akromas replied:

"Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, it feels like Groundhog Day! But seriously, when we get in the boat and the race is on, every day is a new day. There are no similar races. It was the windiest day we've had so far, so it was a bit more physical, it needed more focus and more power."

After progressing this far in the competition, they don't seem to be feeling the pressure:

"I believe we came here as underdogs. I like the way we've approached every race so far - a single day each time, piece by piece. So I hope we can just keep this approach."

The final downwind leg had huge implications for the leaderboard going into the final day, with Tahiti needing a second place to stay in realistic contention, and the 'Black Pearls' gave it their all.

In yet another photo finish for second, the 'Black Pearls' just held the 'Sea Wolves' at bay, with 'Brazilian Storm' inches back. Just 6 seconds separated the 3 teams.

Tahiti's tactician Teiki Hacheche knew the importance of today's race:

"We really needed this one and now we're back in the game. Tomorrow is golden day with double points, so anything can happen. We're going to have a good rest and be in good shape for tomorrow."

We are beautifully poised ahead of Friday's Double Points races, with most teams showing form over the first three days. A remarkable 9 of the 16 teams have won a race in the 1/8 Finals so far, and Brazil - with its Olympic medal laden team - isn't one of them!

Anything could happen on Fantastic Friday!

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