The first big deluge struck the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia on Thursday, but Taylor Canfield shrugged off the hard rain to come through as top Qualifier in the concluding event of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour.
It wasn't a perfect day for the talented 24-year-old from the US Virgin Islands however, as he lost a critical match to arch rival Ian Williams. The four-time World Champion from Great Britain managed to win a penalty against Canfield's USone team in a luffing match on the first beat of their race, and the GAC Pindar crew went on to secure victory in the light and fluky conditions.
If Williams could go on to win his remaining matches, he would topple Canfield from the top of the Qualifying leaderboard and get first pick of his opponent in the Knockout Rounds. But then the defending World Champion fell to Bjorn Hansen, and the opportunity was lost. Canfield was confirmed as winner of Qualifying, even with two of the 17 flights still to be completed tomorrow.
Through the tropical downpours, wildly shifting wind direction and ever-changing currents, the race committee, led by PRO David Tallis, have been tested to their limits, as have the sailors. Canfield's consistency in such unpredictable conditions has been impressive. "We're pleased to be the top boat out of Qualifying," he said, "and pleased to get the pick going into the Quarter Finals. But I think anyone that we do pick is going to be a tough match. The guys have been sailing the boat incredibly so far this week and I'm confident that we can pretty much take anyone at this point."
Beyond the Monsoon Cup, the top performing teams have their eye on the bigger prize, becoming champion of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour. Topping the series leaderboard, Canfield knows he has a target on his back and that he's dodged a potential bullet by winning Qualifying. "There's a bit of pressure off, knowing that most likely some of the other guys would pick us in the Quarters if they had won Qualifying. This takes some pressure off knowing that we can race whoever we want - and hopefully we can take 'em down."
Williams was ruing a missed opportunity after losing to Hansen, although he still sits second on the leaderboard with scores of 7 wins, 3 losses, and one match remaining against Pierre-Antoine Morvan. "Taylor winning Qualifying gives him the pick, which I guess is a pity for us, because our fate is not in our hands now. If Taylor doesn't pick us and wins his Quarter and Semi-Final, he'll be the world champion. But he's still got to win those, and it's tough here, with a lot of good competitors. We're in the quarters, and we'll keep fighting to the end."
In beating Williams, Bjorn Hansen gave Canfield victory in Qualifying, but the Swedish skipper had no regrets. "We needed that point to proceed to the Quarter Finals," said the eWork Sailing Team boss. "We never thought about anything other than winning our match against Williams, and we're very happy with that race. We're more critical of ourselves that we didn't beat Taylor after being one penalty up on him. If we had won that race, we would have looked very good for winning Qualifying."
The teams in the middle of the pack are in a mad scramble for one of the last spots in the top 8. Even fourth-placed Adam Minoprio and Team Alpari FX aren't fully clear of the melée, although the New Zealand skipper was happy to have come back from a slow start to the regatta. "There's a whole load of teams tied on 5 points, with the pressure on Keith Swinton and Pierre-Antoine Morvan."
Francesco Bruni is also under some pressure after struggling with his starts today. "We are one of many teams on five points," said the Luna Rossa skipper. "It's not tragic because we have one race left against Mathieu Richard. If we win, we are in, and if we lose, we have a slim chance. I wish we had done a better job overall, but we have seen this situation many times before. I just have to find my rhythm at the start, that has been our problem so far, I just need to find the feeling with the boat."
Someone needs to break the rhythm on Canfield's boat, as USone are looking very sure-footed in very unstable conditions. Kiwi tactician Rod Dawson says the move through to the knockout rounds won't affect their approach. "We won't change our style of sailing, we've got a winning formula, we're sailing confidently. We're not going to change what we're doing." And although they lost to Williams today, Dawson remains unfazed by the four-time champion. "We're confident against Ian, we've got no worries in that area, we smacked him in the last regatta when he picked us in the knockouts."
Tomorrow the final two flights of Qualifying will conclude before the top eight go through to compete in the Quarter-Finals.
Qualifying Results After 15 flights
Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone - 9-2
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar - 7-3
Mathieu Richard (FRA) GEFCO Match Racing Team - 6-3
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) eWork Sailing Team - 6-4
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing - 6-4
Adam Minoprio (NZL) Team Alpari FX - 5-5
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Luna Rossa - 5-5
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing - 5-5
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team - 5-5
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Stena Sailing Team - 4-7
David Gilmour (AUS) Team Gilmour - 2-8
Jeremy Koo (MAS) Team KFC - MYA/KRT - 0-9
Quarter-Finals & Semi-Finals - Fri - 29 November - 1000hrs - 1700hrs (GMT+8)
DIRECT LINK - https://new.livestream.com/WorldMRT/mc2013-qf-sf