The first day of the ISAF Grade 1, Rolex Miami OCR was cut short for most of the 11 classes competing when a rain squall bearing high, shifty winds rolled down Biscayne Bay at mid-day.
With six racecourses utilised in six different areas, some classes were affected more drastically by the surprise conditions than others. "The water was foaming,"
said US Sailing Team Coach Skip WHYTE, who was on the 470 course where several of the boats purposely capsized to avoid wind damage to their rigs and one signal boat reported a waterspout hitting it. "The gusts felt like bowling balls coming at you."
Nevertheless, scores tallied--even if it was for one race--were important for all 11 Olympic and Paralympic classes competing here. The Rolex Miami OCR, in its 15 year, has attracted 503 sailors representing over 35 countries. It is one of the largest regattas of its kind in the U.S. and is serving as a qualifying event for some countries in their determination of Olympic and Paralympic representatives for Athens 2004. In other cases, the event is serving as elite-level practice for athletes already chosen for the Olympics.
One sailor who falls in the latter category, along with Sweden's Fredrik LOOF and France's Xavier ROHART, is Great Britain's Ian PERCY, who had an "untroubled start" in the Star class's single race and led Mark REYNOLDS, USA's gold medallist from 2000, around the course to win. "Those are the easy races, when you're out in front,"
said Percy. "We're happy with our boat speed."
When a 40-degree wind shift forced the race committee to abandon the second race halfway through the first beat, Percy was sitting in 15 position. "That was going to be the hard one,"
said Percy, conceding that winning in this fleet, with 58 entries, will be no cakewalk. "Being in Miami for this event is a no-brainer,"
he said, with a nod to the many world champions competing. "Because of the quality competition, you have to be here, and most of the Star sailors from around the world come here in mid-December and stay through the winter."
The Finn sailors, on the same course as the 470 and 49er sailors, got to their last downwind leg in the second race before half the fleet capsized. Denmark's Jonas Hoegh CHRISTENSEN, a defending champion here and his country's leading contender for a Finn Olympic berth, had worked his way to third after handily winning today's first race. The 1996 Finn Gold medallist Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ (POL) follows the Dane in second overall.
Topping the Tornados today was Argentina's Santiago LANGE after posting finish positions of 1-3. Close on his heels is USA's Lars GUCK, only one point behind in total points. This fleet, too, is deep with talent, with Lange having finished top-five at the 2003 Tornado Worlds, along with Great Britain's Olympic representative Leigh MCMILLAN (19 after today) and Germany's Roland GAEBLER (third after today). Roman HAGARA, who recently won the Tornado North Americans, is in sixth after today, while USA's 2000 Olympians Johnny LOVELL and Charlie OGLETREE, who finished second at the North Americans, are in seventh.
Racing continues until Friday 30 January. Regatta Headquarters are located at the US Sailing Center in Coconut Grove. Other Hosts for the event are the Coral Reef, Key Biscayne and Miami Yacht Clubs; the Coconut Grove Sailing Club; and Shake-A-Leg Miami.
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.