Awesome is an overused word, but today it doesn't really come close to adequately describe the performance of Ben Ainslie (GBR) on day five of the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth.
In the toughest, roughest conditions that much of the fleet have sailed in for many years he took three race wins and is now within a whisker of his sixth Finn World title. Ed Wright (GBR) remains in second while Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) moves up to third.
The morning forecast was somewhat daunting as the fleet set out under the threat of 30 knot winds and big seas by the afternoon. Three races were scheduled to make up for those lost on Wednesday, and though 85 boats made the first start, by the third race there were only 53 boats left on the water. The wind rose from 15-16 knots for the first race of the day to 20-25 knots in the third, and the wave also built to reach 2-3 metres in height, providing for some stunning downwind sailing so even those who were having a bad day were also having a fantastic day.
Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) obviously liked the conditions and had his best day yet, rounding the first mark in race seven in the lead from Greg Douglas (CAN) and Mark Andrews (GBR). Tapio Nirkko (FIN) rounded in fifth and moved up on the downwind to round level with Postma, but at the opposite gate. Postma still led at the second upwind mark, while Ben Ainslie (GBR) had moved up to second. Then on the final run to the finish, there were lots of position changes. Ainslie stormed through to the lead to win the race from Ed Wright (GBR) and Daniel Birgmark (SWE).
The conditions worsened (or improved depending on your viewpoint) for the next race with big rolling waves coming down the course. Matts Coutts (NZL) was the clear leader at the top mark from Douglas and Andrews. Wright had moved to third at the gate and then took the lead up the beat to lead down the first reach. Ainslie had recovered from a poor first beat to third place, but was handed his second victory of the day on a plate when Wright capsized on the gybe and Douglas went wide. Ainslie slipped through the gap and screamed off to the finish. Douglas crossed in second with Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) in third. Wright righted his boat and crossed in 14th.
The final race of the day was an epic of big winds, big waves and downhill sleigh rides that needed nerves of steel. Ainslie now had the measure of the day and rounded the first mark with a nice lead which he extended on every leg to win by 200 metres at the finish. Wright was again in second for much of the race but slipped on the final reaches to fourth. Kljakovic Gaspic crossed in second with Zach Railey (USA) sailing his best race of the regatta into third to grab the final place in Friday's medal race.
Ainslie described the day, "It was a pretty big day, amazing conditions. There were massive waves. It was an amazing day's sailing for everyone I think. It is not often we race in conditions like that so it was great, I think there will be a lot of tired sailors but I think most people had a smile on their face most of the time."
"It has been a good week and this event is important but really the main focus this year is the Olympics coming up. It is good with that in mind but of course it is a great achievement to win a Finn Gold Cup. This fleet is very tight, there are a lot of good sailors so I've still got to keep pushing and making improvements. Obviously I am very happy with the way this week has gone."
Wright summed up his day, "Today was probably the craziest days sailing I've had for a long time. It was enormous waves, really windy and it built all day. It was really exciting probably my favourite day. I wasn't really sailing just trying to keep control, it was quite a nice feeling."
Kljakovic Gaspic said, "It was a lot of fun out there. To be honest it was great rounding the mark and watching the other guys capsize behind and get in trouble on the downwind, watching as you pass them by it was a good feeling to be fast but cautious. Today was quite a good day for me I had two really unlucky moments today, the first and third start a really big wave broke on my deck and flooded my boat with water, so about 30 seconds after the start my boat was totally sinking and I was trying to get it out as quick as possible."
For Douglas, this event forms his Olympic trials and had a great day to move up to 14th overall, while his main rival Chris Cook (CAN) unfortunately fell ill and didn't complete the last two races, to drop to 27th and now too far back to catch up.
Douglas said, "I saw the forecast this morning and put a little post on Facebook that I was going to teach the old boys how it's done today and the wind picked up, the waves got big, it was a really good one out there today. In the second race coming around the reach Ed capsized at the gybe and then Ben got inside me at the gybe, but getting passed by Ben Ainslie was not the worst."
In Friday's Medal Race Ainslie just has to finish cleanly to win a sixth Finn world title. Wright also has to just finish to win the silver. The real interest is the bronze, where technically any of the next six boats can take it out of the hand of Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN).
Following the medal race, the 11th and final race will be sailed for the rest. For some this is an important race as will determine the final places at the Olympics. Poland has already qualified. Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, China and Norway currently occupy the next six places, though some are dependent on National Authority requirements.
Results after nine races (1 discard)
1 GBR 3 Ben Ainslie 10
2 GBR 11 Edward Wright 30
3 DEN 2 Jonas Høgh-Christensen 64
4 CRO 524 Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic 72
5 FIN 218 Tapio Nirkko 72
6 POL 17 Piotr Kula 80
7 GBR 88 Mark Andrews 81
8 GBR 85 Andrew Mills 82
9 NED 842 Pieter-Jan Postma 85
10 USA 4 Zach Railey 93
Finn Gold Cup Website