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29 April 2004, 02:14 pm
Outrageous Fortunes As The Gaeta Breeze Shuts Down
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Neeleman and Van Niekerk © F Taccola

Star World Championship and Olympic Qualification Regatta
Gaeta

It was a day of outrageous fortunes in the Star Class World championships as the breeze shut down to virtually nothing. The race committee once again postponed the start, for two hours before commencing racing late in the afternoon.
It was a decision that meant for many exhausted sailors the prospects of getting ashore before sundown were bleak with the racing being best described as "somewhat of a lottery." Finally when the start gun did fire, the wind filled to just under 10 knots with flat water beneath baking Italian sunshine.

The 118 boat fleet got away first time but the first beat was a game of snakes and ladders as some pretty big egos were humbled by the local sailors and those that had just got plain lucky. The fleet split into two packs, left and right and initially it looked like left was going to be the winner, however in the final quarter of the 2.8 mile beat, the right side benefited from a fraction of increased pressure and the righty's piled in on the windward mark. It was an Italian benefit at mark one with ex-World Champion Enrico CHIEFFI squeaking ahead of local favourite Paolo SEMERARO with Andrea RACCHELLI in third. For the first time in the tournament Xavier ROHART (FRA) showed in the top ten just ahead of the consistent Stig WESTERGAARD and the USA's George SZABO.

However the top ten was a jumble all afternoon and with the fleet splitting down the run in search of an inkling of pressure, it was anyone's game. With the windometer on Thomas Saliba's beautiful Nautor 56 'Pakilar' reading just under five knots, it was looking like being a very long day. Up front though, Chieffi and Semeraro had split away and opened up a 25 second gap on the chasing pack. As the two boats opted for opposing roundings of the leeward mark buoys, the second beat was always going to be a tactical challenge. Behind them came another ex-world champion Alex HAGEN from Germany who came from mid-twenties to round fourth whilst Paul CAYARD began his charge in ninth place.

Then came a series of windshifts that threw the race on its head, dumping the leaders and reshuffling the deck. With the pressure all coming off the right side of the course along the shoreline a pack quickly emerged to steal the leaders thunder. At the second windward mark, it was the speedy Dutch duo of Mark NEELEMAN and Peter VAN NIEKERK ahead of the Greek entry skippered by Theodore TSOUFLAS with Semeraro knocking on the door in third. Paul CAYARD had aced the beat to land in fifth whilst the hard charging championship leader Freddy LÖÖF exited in tenth place. Another long run ensued with the breeze fading to just under four knots and now the question of time limits arose with the deadline of 7.35pm looking virtually impossible to achieve.

At the final leeward mark it was Tsouflas rounding in first place with a handy three boatlength lead over Semeraro whilst Freddy LÖÖF claimed third and Cayard dropped to ninth. With the seas going glassy and the breeze dropping off further, the crews were seated to leeward as the race turned into a race against the clock. At the appointed hour, the race committee hoisted the abandonment flags and the race was over with Olympic Team Managers scurrying on to the course in RIBs to collect their weary charges. Race three will now have to be re-sailed and the jury will make a decision on the schedule overnight.

However the biggest winner of the day was the Skandia sponsored duo of Iain PERCY and Steve MITCHELL who had what can only realistically be described as a 'nightmare' race. Having been buried up the first beat, the GBR Olympic representatives rounded in the mid 50's and struggled all day to get back in contention. Desperate for any kind of get out of jail free card the sound of the abandonment gun firing leaves them still in contention with everything to play for in the championship. Fingers crossed!

Magnus Wheatley (Source: <a href=http://www.yachtsandyachting.com>www.yachtsandyachting.com</a></b>) (As amended by ISAF)
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