At sunrise yesterday, gusty offshore winds billowed down the hillsides of Sotavento and out across the smooth turquoise waters of the Atlantic.
The flat seas set the stage perfectly for what promised to be an epic battle in the opening rounds of the final PWA Super X contest of 2004.
Unfortunately, by the time the course was set for the 10.30 start, the wind had become incredibly gusty and had begun to shift repeatedly. Within half an hour, the wind had swung onshore and had dropped to an almost unnoticeable breeze. The event was back in a holding pattern.
At around midday, once again the breeze turned offshore and began to increase. A provisional start time was set and the course was tweaked to suit the new wind direction. As if to deliberately torment the competitors, the wind became very light, then started to shift erratically, just before the heats could begin.
This pattern of shifts, gusts and decreases continued throughout the afternoon until finally at around 16.30 it settled back into a more stable offshore direction and began to increase. Fifteen minutes later, the glassy holes in the course area had been smashed into small chop and occasional whitecaps and it was game on for a 17.15 start.
Wave guru Scott MCKERCHER'S (Starboard) Super X debut was short lived, going over early on his very first start and taking the first seat on the premature bench at this event. John SKYE (F2, Arrows) was also a surprise first round knockout as he failed to advance through his opening heat despite having led with great velocity, all the way to the second mark. Ricardo CAMPELLO (JP, Neil Pryde) luckily clawed his way back to a qualifying third after completely crashing his second duck gybe.
Into the semis and the only unfamiliar face was that of Tonky FRANS (F2, Starboard) competing in his first Super X event this year. Kevin PRITCHARD (Starboard, Gaastra) went down hard in semi final 1 and Peter VOLWATER (Arrows) surprisingly failed to qualify for the final despite his exceptional speed over the course. Robby SWIFT (JP, Neil Pryde) however was an entirely different story, dominating the heat all the way from start to finish and showing not only great speed, but also smooth control on the billiard table waters.
The second semi final saw Campello finally come unstuck falling again on his second duck gybe, this time unable to recover. Nik BAKER also failed to fulfill early promise, narrowly missing out on a place in the final, but it was the phenomenal precision freestyle of Douglas "Cheo" DIAZ (Fanatic, North), that gave him the heat win ahead of Matt PRITCHARD (Gaastra) and current world number 1 Antoine ALBEAU (AHD, Neil Pryde).
As the last eight prepared to do battle, Swift looked very much like the favourite for opening round honours, having qualified comfortably in each of his heats. The twenty year old Englishman was clear ahead as he reached the first duck gybe, but came unstuck at the second leaving him floundering as the chasing pack overtook him. Matt PRITCHARD was now out in front and with Cyril MOUSSILMANI (Fanatic) and Albeau bringing up the rear he was set for an early victory. Cheo DIAZ appeared as if from nowhere, after his usual disastrous start, and shot through his Forward Loops and Spocks like a well greased bullet to finish second ahead of Julien TABOULET (JP, Neil Pryde) who had fought his own battle with Kauli SEADI (AHD, Naish) who finished fourth ahead of Swift.
With all the top 4 ranked sailors in with a chance to claim the PWA Super X World Title, Matt PRITCHARD will be somewhat relieved to have got off to a good start. In contrast, Albeau must be feeling the pressure more than ever as his victory slips ever more from his grasp. With two such talented sailors now leading the race however, anything is possible in what promises to be 2 more days of down to the wire action.