Fremantle, WA (4th March 2016) Day 3 of the World Match Racing Tour Fremantle, and every day the sailors are gaining more confidence competing in the strong Western Australian breeze. Today Danish skipper Nicolai Sehested used some unusual techniques to charge into the lead in two of his three races and close the gap on reigning Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams.
After a Pro-Am racing session this morning under typically bright, blue skies, the aim was to complete the fleet racing phase of the competition. The five teams in Group A raced in the lightest breezes of the regatta on day one, but today they raced in the strongest. Williams had dominated in the lighter winds, taking all three races in his first session. Today however he struggled, due partly to problems with his gennaker furling system which was causing the big headsail to unfurl at inopportune moments. “Some exciting moments,” said the British skipper who scored finishes of 5,3,3 in the five-boat group. “We had a lot of issues but I think we’ll be able to brush off today. It’s not much to do with tactics when it’s that strong, keeping the boat in good shape around the course is the main thing.”
Williams clings on to his lead in Group A, although two teams closed the gap to the leader, Sehested winning two races and local Perth sailor Steve Thomas winning the other. Thomas has a good pedigree in skiff racing, being a former 29er World Champion and an Olympic campaigner in the 49er. He is learning quickly in the M32 catamaran, whose lightweight 500kg construction makes it very fast to accelerate but also requires nerves of steel when the boats are converging on each other on the very confined race course in Bathers Bay The action takes place just metres from the Fremantle shore lined with spectators and sunbathers soaking up the Australian sunshine and the excitement of watching 20 of the world’s best teams working at their limits.
The strong wind gave the Pro-Am guests an incredible ride in the morning, and the strengthening breeze and rising waves made the afternoon session of fleet racing highly entertaining for the crowds, but a little too windy for the schedule to be completed today. The M32s have been hitting close to 25 knots boatspeed with one reef in the mainsail, and there is an option to depower further to two reefs. This might make the boat more manageable but it also means the gennaker can’t be used, and this is an option most of the sailors would prefer to avoid. “With two reefs the boat would be fine upwind,” said round-the-world sailor Yann Guichard from France. “But downwind could be boring, just sailing slowly in a straight line. It’s not what this type of racing should be about. These boats are fantastic, they are built for speed and we want to give the spectators something to enjoy.”
Watching the boats charging downwind this afternoon was heart-in-mouth stuff. Sehested was pulling involuntary ‘wheelies’ on his M32 with the familiar national boxing kangaroo logo, the logo that powered the winged-wonder Australia II to America’s Cup victory in 1983. Today Sehested was doing his own impression of a bouncing kangaroo down the bumpy race track; with both curved foils pushed fully down, the Danish M32 launched out of the water for a heart-stopping moment before crashing back into the water and charging forwards until the next wheelie. The leaping looked out of control, but somehow the young Dane managed to tame his kangaroo safely to the bottom of the course, while others decided to sail more conventionally with just one foil down – not as fast but much more stable.
Such are the kind of risk/reward scenarios that the M32 sailors face moment by moment in this high-octane, short-course racing. It’s all a far cry from the more sedate keelboat racing of past years. The sailing is both mentally and physically exhausting, and also very exhilarating.
Delays to the race schedule this afternoon forced the race committee to cancel the remaining qualifying race of Group A and select the the top four teams from each of the qualifying groups to advance to the final 16. From tomorrow, the competition begins again for the start of the knockout stages, the boat-on-boat match racing combat.
Group A Qualifiers
Ian Williams GBR (GAC Pindar)
Nicola Sehested DEN (Trefor Match Racing)
Steven Thomas AUS (Royal Perth YC)
Evan Walker AUS (KA Match, CYCA)
Group B Qualifiers
Taylor Canfield ISV (US One)
Mattias Rahm SWE (Rahm Racing)
Murray Jones AUS (Full Bants Racing)
Chris Steele NZL (36 Below Racing)
Group C Qualifiers
Phil Robertson NZL (Waka Racing)
Hans Wallen SWE (Wallen Racing)
Yann Guichard FR (Spindrift Racing)
Matt Jerwood AUS (Redline Racing)
Group D Qualifiers
Niklas Dackhammar SWE (Dackhammer Racing)
Keith Swinton AUS (Black Swan Racing)
Eric Monnin SUI (Albert Riele Swiss Team)
Brett Burvill AUS (Edge Racing Team NYC/JBSC)