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Tense & Tactical Opener to the SSL Gold Cup 1/4 Finals

by Mark Jardine & Benedict Donovan / SSL Gold Cup 27 Nov 2023 11:59 PST 10 November - 3 December 2023

After the breathless and heart-stopping moments we saw on Fantastic Friday, the start of the SSL Gold Cup 1/4 Finals in Gran Canaria was a far less frenetic light wind affair.

Light airs led to lackadaisical sailing at times, with poor starts being especially punishing, as there were few ways back in the disturbed air. The winners were on their A-Game from the get-go, while the losers will be having a long, hard look at what happened in their debriefs.

Fleet 1, Race 1

After a short delay for an Easterly breeze to come in, the 1/4 Finals started in cagey fashion, with the teams lining up early on starboard, but the quality of this fleet was on show with Great Britain, Malaysia and France crossing the line perfectly at the start gun. Denmark however were squeezed out at the committee boat end by the British 'Spitfires'.

Upwind the 'Spitfires' slowly but surely asserted themselves, with some tight racing against the French 'Bleus' and the Malaysian 'Monsoon', timing their approach to the windward mark to perfection to take an 18 second lead over 'Les Bleus' with 'The Monsoon' a further 15 seconds back, and Denmark unable to get back in the pack after their poor start.

As 'The Spitfires' built their lead to over a minute downwind, 'The Monsoon' managed to sneak past 'Les Bleus' into second, while the 'Danish Dynamite's' fuse fizzled out over 3 minutes behind.

The race was processional from this point, with 'The Spitfires' winning by 58 seconds ahead of 'The Monsoon', who continued to extend their 2+ minute lead on 'Les Bleus' gained on the second upwind leg, with 'Dynamite' last.

Nic Asher, Tactician for Great Britain was pleased with the start to their SSL Gold Cup campaign:

"You look at the other teams, all the other good sailors that are here, so it's a little worry when you see them out on the water. We've got a good team, a mix of experience in the boats and some good talent as well. A good first outing and we're looking forward to the next one."

On the spread of the fleet Nic added:

"I've watched some of the racing on Youtube, and it has been close. Today there were some quite big shifts and holes, so I'm not surprised the fleet spread out. It was pretty tricky."

Denmark's Frederik Korsgaard said the team wasn't prepared for such unreliable conditions today: "We were actually pretty satisfied with the boat handling and the boat speed, but the conditions were tricky. When Great Britain tacked on top of us, we were forced out again and then we just fell behind."

But Frederik says they'll be ready for tomorrow:

"We'll have a good debriefing. We know what to do, what to take with us, and what to leave behind."

Fleet 2, Race 1

A lethargic start by all except the Hungarian 'Shamans', who used the advantage to surge ahead of the fleet in the first leg, rounding the windward mark a full 101 seconds ahead of Chile in second.

Chile's 'Finis Terrae Sailors' - in their thirteenth race of the competition - threw a tight tack on The Netherlands soon after the start, from which new arrivals 'The Dutch Lions' never recovered. Meanwhile, Germany's 'Unbreakables' were the only team to pick the left side of the course, a gamble which didn't pay off for them, dropping to the back of the fleet.

For the second leg, it was a procession as the teams maintained their positions, a minute separating each of them as they rounded the leeward mark.

There was no competition for Hungary today, but as the wind dropped off in the final leg, it was a tense finish with the back three teams looking for any pressure they could get to take second place. After rounding gate 3 in last place, #1 SSL Ranked Nation 'The Dutch Lions' chose the inshore side and bounced back to secure second.

Hungarian helm Robert Bakoczy was happy to get off to a clean start in the 1/4 Finals:

"It was very tricky conditions out there, and we realised there was a drop in the wind pressure, so we were close to the startline. With a left shift as well so it was a very good start for us and meant we could control the whole fleet."

Bart Lambriex, tactician for 'The Dutch Lions', reckons they need to up their starting game for the next races:

"We really struggled off the start line. We didn't quite have the approach right, so that was a bit of a mistake on my end I think! I think it would have been pretty good if we were on our own, but we got some dirty air, and you have to approach the start differently when there are other teams."

Fleet 3, Race 1

The 'Brazilian Storm' were off to a good start, leading the fleet albeit by a small margin. 'The Guardians' from New Zealand kept up the pressure, with the two teams neck-and-neck towards the windward mark. However, the patchy conditions dropped Brazil from their lead to third place and 200 metres behind New Zealand and Portugal in only a matter of seconds. Team Australia, having picked the right side of the course, languished at the back for the first leg, rounding the mark more than 3 minutes after leaders New Zealand.

The Portuguese 'Navigators' took the lead during the downwind leg, but with the pressure dropping it was a true game of snakes and ladders. The Australian 'Boxing Kangaroos' seized their opportunity to slip past Brazil and New Zealand into second place by the leeward gate, with 'The Guardians' falling from first to last.

The Australian 'Roos' and Portugal's 'Navigators' battled it out for the lead over the final lap, with gains and losses as they fell in and out of the zephyrs of pressure. The final few hundred metres to the finish line was so tense, with the wind falling to a whisper, but the Australians took it out to the port lay line, and by avoiding manoeuvres kept the boatspeed up to finish 28 seconds ahead of Portugal. Brazil were nearly 2 minutes behind the leader, but held off New Zealand to finish third.

Olympic gold medalist Will Ryan was pleased with how the team gelled and getting a win on the board:

"The goal of the day was to maximise the time in the boat, so we certainly did that! We started off well, made quite a few little mistakes early on trying to settle in, learn the venue and the boat, since it's the first time we've sailed together. It's really nice and we've got a great bunch of guys enjoying it together, and I think that shows, as we got our stuff together and slowly crept forwards in time for the point that mattered."

On the final run to the finish, Will explained the early lay line call:

"Speed is always your friend. I kept on telling the lads that it's just a big 470 and fortunately we managed to drift across the finish line quicker than the other guys."

Chris Main, tactician for the Kiwi 'Guardians', says lessons were learned:

"It was incredibly shifty. You could say we were unlucky but you know, you're the master of your own destiny, and we probably should have gybed off and accepted that we'd lost a boat but we kept going and lost three."

On their last place position, Chris takes a pragmatic view:

"I think it's good, you know we showed we can get to the top mark first, and if you can do that a couple times then you'll be okay."

Fleet 4, Race 1

After a long wait for the breeze, Fleet 4 had a sunset race in a few knots of patchy breeze. For the home nation, the anticipation was huge, as it was the Spanish 'La Armada' debut at the SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria.

In a picture-perfect start, albeit in slow motion, the fleet was finally away. The early leaders were the Italian 'Gladiators' and Lithuanian 'Ambers', crossing tacks upwind like a pair of jousters. The pair rounded the windward mark in close order with the 'Gladiators' just ahead, followed by the Swiss 'Helvetic Lakers' and Spain's 'La Armada' over a minute behind.

Down the second leg, Italy and Lithuania continued to lock heads in a gybing battle, with the 'Ambers' managing to coast past the 'Gladiators' towards the leeward mark.

In a rare error, 'The Ambers' were left with the genoa on the wrong side while executing a kiwi drop at the leeward mark, handing the initiative back to 'The Gladiators', with 'La Armada' closing the gap to the leading pair.

On the second upwind leg the Lithuanians went right, while the Italians chose left and the Spanish decided to go hard left towards the shore. Were the home team relying on some local knowledge?

'The Gladiators', with 27-time World Champion Vasco Vascotto calling the shots like an orchestra conductor, pulled out a huge lead at the windward mark, but crucially the local knowledge on 'La Armada' had paid off, with the Spanish rounding second, ahead of 'The Ambers' and finally 'The Helvetic Lakers'.

There were no mistakes for the Italian 'Gladiators' on the final downwind leg to the finish, with the Spanish 'La Armada' team sealing their comeback to second, and the Swiss 'Helvetic Lakers' snatching third on the finish line from Rokas Milevicius and the Lithuanian 'Ambers', who will be rueing their choice at the leeward gate.

Italian tactician Vasco Vascotto described how tricky the racing was:

"It was very hard work. You tried to figure out where the next puff of wind would come from. Trying to connect one to the other is very difficult and you need to start praying that something will happen on your side. Luckily we sailed well and I think the guys on board did a fantastic job, Michele (Ivaldi) drove the boat very fast, and for me it was easier, but not easy!"

Nano Negrín, main trimmer on the Spanish boat, gave a breakdown of how they steadily regained their footing in the race:

"The first upwind was a bit of a disaster for us in last place. The next leg we improved, we managed to go past the gate second. Then the second upwind, we chose the left side and managed to cut the distance from the Italian team, but in the end we were a bit short."

Sailing in Gran Canaria hasn't been what Nano expected:

"I'm from Lanzarote, I'm a Canarian. But it's also true that these conditions in Gran Canaria are not normal. Normally there's a lot more wind!"

All in all, a mixed bag on day 1 of the 1/4 Finals.

We were given masterclasses in sailing from new arrivals the British 'Spitfires' and Italian 'Gladiators', and we saw the Australian 'Boxing Kangaroos' bounce back off the floor to score a knockout victory.

This was counterbalanced with sub-par performances from the Kiwi 'Guardians' and the Dutch 'Lions', while the Lithuanian 'Ambers' confidence will be dented after a single mistake cost them their impressive winning streak.

However, we still have three more days of racing this round and, as we've seen in the SSL Gold Cup, anything can happen!

Follow us LIVE each day as we present you with all the latest SSL Gold Cup news from on and off the water:

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