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Pained expressions on Day 2 of the SSL Gold Cup 1/4 Finals in Gran Canaria

by Mark Jardine & Benedict Donovan / SSL Gold Cup 28 Nov 2023 10:09 PST 10 November - 3 December 2023

Light winds bring emotions to the fore on yachts. Situations can change in an instant, and the whole scenario can be understood just from looking at a sailor's face.

Anyone who has sailed in very light winds can relate to the frustration of hitting a wave, or when your wind is taken by an opponent.

On Tuesday in Gran Canaria the expressions on the sailors' faces said it all after a very delayed start as a feeble breeze briefly awakened from its slumber.

Fleet 4, Race 2

In little more than drifting conditions, the fleet was finally away at 13:25 local time, with the Italian and Spanish teams advanced on the Lithuanian team and the Swiss further back, tacking away early. Thankfully even in this lightest of winds the SSL 47s have the power to provide great racing.

The wind was incredibly patchy, and early leaders the Italian 'Gladiators' could only look on helplessly as the Spanish 'La Armada' simply sailed around them in their own private wind, which seemed reserved for the home team.

'La Armada' caught a new breeze first to round the top mark in the lead with the 'Gladiators' 35 seconds behind. The Swiss 'Helvetic Lakers' recovered something from their poor start to slide ahead of the Lithuanian 'Ambers', who then had issues with their spinnaker retrieval line on the hoist.

At the leeward gate the leaders split, with 'La Armada' choosing offshore while the 'Gladiators' headed inshore. The Spanish soon tacked onto starboard though, not wanting to give the Italians too much breathing space.

'La Armada' sailed the second upwind leg superbly in the patchy wind, while the 'Helvetic Lakers' pulled right onto the tail of the 'Gladiators' at the final windward mark. The 'Ambers', with nothing to lose, rolled the dice with a gybe set on the final downwind leg.

Italian tactician Vasco Vascotto, who had spent much of the race gesticulating, showed his frustration by hitting the deck as the 'Helvetic Lakers' slid past them on the final downwind leg, leading to a luffing duel between the two. Would their private battle bring the 'Ambers' back into the battle?

As the Spanish slid across the finish line first, a full half a kilometre ahead of the others, it was all playing out in excruciating slow motion for the other three. The 'Helvetic Lakers' continued to fiercely guard their lead over the 'Gladiators', while the 'Ambers' tried to sneak round the outside. In the end the Swiss held on for second, while Italy kept third from the Lithuanians.

Nico Rodríguez, the trimmer for 'La Armada', and an Olympic medallist in the 470, described their onboard priorities when the conditions are so tough:

"First of all, we need to look outside the boat to see what's the easiest and fastest way to get into pressure. And then to have really good communication about the boat handling and all the manoeuvres to get into speed and to be a fast boat.

"There are still a lot of things to improve, but I think that we have a really strong team with a balance between youth and experience on the boat."

Kilian Wagen, main trimmer for the 'Helvetic Lakers', savoured overtaking the 'Gladiators' on the final downwind leg to take second place:

"We knew that as soon as we got some pressure that we'd be able to battle them on the gybe, and that's exactly what we did. We had better speed on the exit of the gybe than them and it was nice to roll them. They then tried to put pressure on us, all the way to the end of the race, so we were very pleased to finish second."

Fleet 1, Race 2

The wind, if anything, was even lighter as the French executed a perfect committee boat start, while Malaysia and Denmark boxed out the British, leaving them having to tack twice just to cross the startline. Incredibly this was topped by Denmark, who completed three tacks before crossing the imaginary line to start the race.

Halfway up the first leg, France's 'Les Bleus' and Great Britain's 'Spitfires' were head to head, just a few metres separating them. Towards the windward mark, 'The Spitfires' split off to the left, allowing 'Les Bleus' to gain a 25 second lead at the mark, with 'Danish Dynamite' following only 3 seconds behind, and the Malaysian 'Monsoon' bringing up the rear.

At the windward mark the 'Spitfires' managed to avoid disaster as the spinnaker pole failed to deploy. Thanks to quick action from bowman Matt 'Catflap' Cornwell they kept position ahead of Denmark. Meanwhile, 'Les Bleus' broke away at the front of the fleet, gaining a comfortable 100 metre lead and rounding the leeward gate 48 seconds ahead of the 'Spitfires' in second.

On the second upwind, Denmark fell to the back of the fleet, while the slippery 'Spitfires' gradually closed the gap to 'Les Bleus', jumping from pocket to pocket of pressure to overtake them before the final windward mark. By this point, 'Les Bleus' had lost their momentum, rounding almost 2 minutes behind, although this was still 4 minutes better than the 'Monsoon' in third.

The French weren't done though, and closed to within 100 metres of the British leaders, with the gap ebbing and flowing continually. But the 'Spitfires' matched 'Les Bleus' move for move - textbook technique, holding station between the finish line and their opponent - to take the win ahead of 'Les Blues' with the Malaysian 'Monsoon' third.

Eventually a dejected drifting 'Danish Dynamite' crossed the finish line, but it was too little, too late, as they failed to make the 15 minute time limit.

British bowman Matt Cornwell explained how the spinnaker pole problem at the first windward mark could have defined their race:

"If the Danes had rolled us then everything could have been on, and obviously you saw where they were at the end. If you got some dirt then you really got spat out the back. The pole was jammed which put us in a tough position - I hung onto the tack line, but could only do it for so long as it had a bit of load on it - but we sorted the problem."

Matt was encouraged with how his teammates are performing:

"The guys did a very, very good job, especially with the boatspeed. We were quite lucky after that start, as obviously it was a terrible start, which we'll watch back later grimacing, but we caught a right hand shift which was a bit of fortune that went our way."

French captain Xavier Rohart detailed what it's like to compete on such a calm day:

"It might look like a slow race from the outside, but onboard it's very intense, because there's lots of emotions going on! You are leading, then you are almost lost, and nothing is under control. It's really a very difficult race, because the wind changes every 15-20 seconds.

"Everyone is talking, and lots of decisions have to be made. Trimming the boat, changing the direction, changing ideas about what the wind will be in 10 minutes or 15 minutes, and then trying to cover The Brits!"

Sadly no more racing was possible in the day, with what little breeze there was disappearing as the sun sank towards the horizon, so Fleets 2 and 3 remain on just one race complete. Will we have a windy Wednesday? Probably not, but a bit more than today would be nice.

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