If any proof is needed that Ben Ainslie (GBR) is at the top of his game, then today was proof indeed. After dominating and winning both races in the brutal environment of the cold and windy Falmouth Bay, he now takes a 10 point lead over Ed Wright (GBR) and Andrew Mills (GBR) at the half way stage of the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Finn Gold Cup.
Tuesday was always going to be the big wind day in Falmouth and it didn't disappoint though it wasn't the epic day many were forecasting. However, with temperatures plummeting in the northerly winds, the 16-20 knot wind felt like a lot more. The sea remained relatively flat for the wind speed, with the wind coming off the land and making the racing tricky and very tactical with large shifts as the fleet approached the windward mark.
Most of the fleet favoured the left side on the first beat of race five, with the leaders crossing tacks several times before they rounded. Rafael Trujillo (ESP) rounded first from Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) and Ed Wright (GBR). Ben Ainslie (GBR) rounded in fifth but had moved up to second behind Høgh-Christensen at the downwind gate. The two traded tacks on the second beat, before Ainslie sailed further to the right and found a way through. Ainslie rounded the top mark clear ahead ahead while Piotr Kula (POL) had sailed a great second beat to move up to third.
The race ended with two fast and thrilling reaches down to the finish. Ainslie and Høgh-Christensen extended on the fleet by several hundred metres, while Kula capsized and lost ground. Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) took advantage of that and crossed in third.
The race committee was keen to get things moving fast as by now everyone was extremely cold. Høgh-Christensen was again in good form, rounding the top mark ahead of Mark Andrews (GBR) and Ainslie. Ainslie was impressively fast down the run sailing past his rivals to round the gate with a 50 metre advantage. From there he played the shifts on the left on the second upwind to lead down the reaches for a substantial win.
Høgh-Christensen had dropped back on the second upwind as it became a battle of perseverance in the tough conditions. Finally Tapio Nirkko (FIN) emerged into second with Andrew Mills (GBR) in third. Nothing much changed down the reaches and they finished in that order.
At the half way stage Ainslie has yet to put a foot wrong with nothing below third place in winds from 8 to 22 knots. He is already looking hard to beat. Ed Wright continues to be consistent enough to maintain second while Andrew Mills is able to discard his 21st from race five today to remain in third overall. However with the discard kicking in the points are getting closer. Høgh-Christensen is just one point behind Mills while the next four boats are all within six points of each other.
The race for Olympic selection is increasing its pace now for the six nations that will qualify here. Top performer so far is Piotr Kula who picked up a 12th and a fifth today to end up in seventh overall, ten places ahead of his main rival Rafal Szukiel (POL) who didn't have such a good day.
Other nations currently in qualifying positions are Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, China and Turkey. While Germany and Austria have lone sailors here, China, Czech Republic and Turkey have several here and those trials also need to be decided.
Despite his capsize in race five Kula still sailed a counting race. "I was in third place at the time, actually it was my mistake because I didn't see the gust coming and my boom just touched the water and I capsized. I lost quite a few positions but I gained them back in the next race because I finished fifth in the last one, I'm really really tired, but happy."
"It's been going really well so far, there's been three days of sailing and I've had four races in the top ten so this is really good. We've already had two trial regattas for the Olympics, in Majorca and Hyeres, and after Hyeres I was leading with one point over my colleague, Rafal, so far I'm keeping this so hopefully it will stay like this."
Second overall Ed Wright summed up his week so far, "I got a first on the first day, then slipped to second over the last couple of days. Ben's been sailing pretty well, and I've been struggling with the tactics on the last couple of days. I've been rounding the top mark always pretty good but then the second beat is not so great. But I'm pretty happy with the way I'm sailing. They are great conditions out there and I'm really enjoying being in Falmouth and racing against these guys; it's tough competition.
"Today it was pretty windy and upwind I was going pretty fast but I've only done a small amount of sailing this year and I just pretty much went into survival mode on the run. I slipped a little bit on the run actually but I did come out today with a fourth and a fifth and I'm really happy."
Hoegh-Christensen said, "The first race was quite tricky. I didn't get a good start but I managed to fight my way back and sail a very good first beat and got back up to second, rounded in second and passed Rafa down the run and I was first at the bottom, and then I was duking it out with Ben all the way up the beat and I did a small mistake and he passed me."
"In the second race I led around the windward mark by quite a bit and it was looking pretty good all the way round, then I got into a bit of a hole down the first run and Ben and Mark Andrews passed me and then on the second beat I couldn't hit a shift to save my life and I ended up rounding in tenth so it was a total catastrophe. I got back up to eighth. I think there's a good chance I could climb back up the leader board. I got a little closer to Ed and Mills so there's a good chance I can hopefully pass them tomorrow."
Another sailor having a great regatta is Tapio Nirkko, currently in seventh overall. "Today was a really brutal day, conditions were extremely tough, the temperature is quite low and it's quite gusty and windy today so it was challenging for everyone. In the first race I had some troubles in the first upwind, my tactics were quite bad and I was completely in the wrong corner but it was a good recovery and decent result. In the second race I started better and I got perfect lines right from the beginning. I was pretty much picking up places the whole race until the end so I'm quite happy with that. It's challenging and it's the same for everybody, but that's why we are here."
Mark Andrews has improved his position every race, ending up with a seventh and sixth today to sit in 11th overnight. "The regatta started off pretty bad for me but it seems to be getting better and better as each race goes on so that's good and hopefully I'll be somewhere near the top of the pile at the end of the week. Obviously Ben's got a good lead at the moment but I hope to be somewhere near the top five, and a chance of a medal would be good."
The final word today comes from regatta leader Ben Ainslie, "It was a great day and really awesome sailing but hard work. Tactically it was hard and physically it was harder but I had a good day. It was mainly about getting the shifts right but the left played well at the top of the beat. There were quite a lot of shifts out there so I was just trying to be on the right side of the big ones."
Top 10 after six races (one discard)
1 GBR 3 Ben Ainslie 7
2 GBR 11 Edward Wright 17
3 GBR 85 Andrew Mills 28
4 DEN 2 Jonas Høgh-Christensen 29
5 EST 2 Deniss Karpak 41
6 FIN 218 Tapio Nirkko 42
7 POL 17 Piotr Kula 44
8 CAN 41 Christopher Cook 47
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