In a fitful and unpredictable breeze and under gaze of Christ the Redeemer high up on Corcovado, the first race of the 2004 Finn Gold Cup got underway in grey and damp conditions.
The opening race went to Michael MAIER (CZE), world ranked number 13, after taking the lead on the second upwind and holding off some strong competition on the final downwind leg.
After Saturday's perfect sunshine, the fleet awoke this morning to a strong wind and rain. Overnight the wind had shifted 180 degrees and was blowing onshore at the regatta centre. As the morning progressed the wind decreased and by the time of the first race at 13.00, it was down to 5-7 knots and very patchy.
However the scene couldn't have been more spectacular. With the start line close under Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado over to the left, the grandeur of Rio Harbour and the majestic and formidable looking mountains cutting the horizon made an awesome vista from which to start a Finn race. Everyone was keen to start racing. Too keen in fact.
The course set was a windward leeward double loop with a gate at the end of the first downwind. After two general recalls the black flag went up and this time the fleet got away cleanly. Most of the fleet headed to the left while a few went up the middle and the right. The leaders emerged round the first mark mainly from the left side of the course, although a few of those who stayed near the middle rounded in the top 10.
First round was Jaap ZIELHUIS (NED) closely followed by fellow Dutchman Stefan de VRIES (NED). Behind them chaos ensued as many sailors got caught out by the strong tide around the windward mark and bunched up in a big raft. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of shouting!
Zielhuis protected his lead through the downwind gate, although Jonas Hoegh-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) was very close behind. These two began a tough battle heading to the centre-left of the course after taking a short hitch right. Behind them Michael MAIER (CZE) and Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ (POL) headed left and kept on going. Maier, who had rounded the gate in 6th hit the left hand corner, tacked and laid the windward mark in first place.
The cloud had started to clear by now and those who went left gained enormously on the right as the breeze increased. Zielhuis held onto second place with Kusznierewicz rounding in third.
The final downwind became a battle of wills with the breeze now starting to build in patches. However Maier kept his cool to win the first race of the regatta. Hoegh-Christensen finished in fourth, just ahead of defending champion Ben AINSLIE (GBR) who commented on the tough conditions after the race.
Also commenting on the tough racing, Jonas Hoegh-Christensen, was still pleased with his fourth place. He said, "In conditions like these a top 10 result is always good, so I am happy with my day. I like to sail conservatively and not take too many big risks. I saw what Michael was doing but didn't want to follow him as that corner had proved to be difficult on the first upwind. So I let him go. It was a big risk for him, but today it obviously paid off nicely."
Some sailors didn't have such a good day. David BURROW (IRL) and Luca DEVOTI (ITA) got caught in the raft at the first windward mark and finished very poorly for them in 33rd and 39th places and Sebastien GODEFROID (BEL) was down in 24th. However, last year's runner up Rafael TRUJILLO (ESP) had a worse day yet, finishing in 45th.
Racing continues tomorrow with two races scheduled to take place.
Top 20 Results after Race 1
1 Michael Maier CZE
2 Japp Zielhuis NED
3 Mateusz Kuzsnierewicz POL
4 Jonas Hoegh Cristensen DEN
5 Ben Ainslie GBR
6 Karlo Kutet CRO
7 Bruno Prada BRA
8 Charlie Cumbley GBR
9 Stefan de Vries NED
10 Jorge Zarif BRA
11 Richard Clarke CAN
12 Michele Marchesini ITA
13 Aaron O'Grady IRL
14 Johan Tillander SWE
15 Soren Holm DEN
16 Emilios Paptahansaiou GRE
17 Sander Willems NED
18 Ali Enver Adakan TUR
19 Guillaume Florent FRA
20 Andrew Simpson GBR