The gloves came off for the first race of the 2004 Star World Championships in Gaeta, Italy with Skandia sponsored Iain PERCY and Steve MITCHELL scoring an opening race win in challenging conditions.
After an interminable delay by the race committee who were unable to set a course as the wind banged around the Aurunci mountain range, fluctuating, dying and then steadily rising to a heady peak of 26 knots, racing got underway after an obligatory general recall late in the afternoon.
Very quickly it became obvious that the guys who had done their homework on the venue were always going to be the ones to beat as the fleet split with a gaggle of Gold Star ex-world champions opting for the pin end of the line and a long starboard leg inshore. By the top mark, after a no-brainer beat it was the usual suspects up in the hunt with Ireland's Mark MANSFIELD rounding just ahead of Sweden's Freddy LÖÖF whilst veteran Mark REYNOLDS put on a late charge in the final quarter to round in third. Reynolds was to find out later that he was OCS alongside Xavier ROHART and Paul CAYARD and the Americans fell away as the pressure came on. Team Percy/Mitchell were disappointed to round fifth having led the fleet half way up the first beat but their downwind speed (where many think they are untouchable) was their get out of jail free card in the 118 strong fleet.
As the afternoon rolled into evening, the conditions played more and more into the hands of the super-fit Brits as the sea state increased and the breeze filled with the incumbent rain clouds rolling across the racecourse. An early casualty was the luckless Paul CAYARD who suffered a broken mast on the first quarter of the run, bringing his stick tumbling to the deck and ripping his mainsail. It was not the start the American Olympic representative was looking for! However up front, the race was hotting up with Percy and Loof turning the course into a private match race whilst the Irish contingent of Mark MANSFIELD and Killian COLLINS and Maxwell TREACY and Anthony SHANKS formed a chasing and closing pack behind. Power and pace were the order of the day as Percy closed down the gauge on the second beat throwing successive lee-bow tacks on the Swedes but never quite managing to cross clear ahead. At the final top mark, it was Lööf again from Percy who powered down to the spreader mark and then opted to sail a deep run to the final leeward mark under the dramatic lee of the Gaeta old town cliff-top rocks.
With the leeward marks split, Percy opted for the nearer starboard side buoy and rounded before Lööf who had gone to port. It was a critical decision as Percy piled on the pressure and stormed into a lead that he was never looking like relinquishing. With the breeze now up to 26 knots with gusts of 28 knots, it was all Percy/Mitchell whilst Lööf went to pieces, failing to cover the ultra quick Mark MANSFIELD who picked up some flat water and pace to squeak into second place on the line. Flavio MARAZZI sailing under Swiss nationality, grabbed fourth spot whilst Maxwell TREACY claimed fifth. Some big names had bruised egos after Percy/Mitchell's dominant performance with Torben GRAEL finishing seventh and Colin BEASHEL scoring an eighth.
For the rest of the fleet it was tough going with at least two boats losing crews over the side and a whole host of gear damage and fatigued sailors stepping ashore well past seven o'clock. All a far cry from the past few weeks down here in Gaeta where the weather has been light with blissful sunshine most days for the crews to train in.
Not surprisingly in an Olympic year the fleet is split into at least three fleets with the Olympians employing coaches with their own RIBS, dieticians and weather analysts whilst for the amateur crews it's a very steep learning curve. With Percy finishing over a leg ahead of the also-rans that curve must look taller than the mountain ranges that surround the venue! Racing continues tomorrow with the forecast promising slightly lighter winds and sunshine…Can Percy score a moral boosting championship win ahead of the Olympics? Stay tuned…they're looking fast!
Top Ten After One Race
||Helm & Crew
||Iain PERCY & Steve MITCHELL
||Mark MANSFIELD & Killian COLLINS
||Frederik LÖÖF & Anders EKSTRÖM
||Flavio MARAZZI & Enrico DE MARIA
||Maxwell TREACY & Anthony SHANKS
||Roberto BERMUDEZ DE CASTRO & Pablo ARRARTE ELORZA
||Torben GRAEL & Marcel BASTOS FERREIRA
||Colin BEASHEL & David GILES
||Stig WESTERGAARD & Dann NEERGAARD
||Mark NEELEMAN & Peter VAN NIEKERK