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17 November 2004, 09:31 am
No Clear Leader On Day One
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2004 Nippon Cup

The ISAF Grade 1, Pizza-La Red Lobster Nippon Cup, got underway today with six crews sailing five flights and the other six sailing two flights.
Due to the disparity in races sailed, there's a jumbled leaderboard after the first day of the 15th anniversary match-race regatta.

Australian Peter GILMOUR, skipper of the Pizza-La Sailing Team, and Frenchman Philippe PRESTI, helmsman of the le Défi syndicate for the America's Cup, went undefeated in two races this afternoon and head the leaderboard.

Trailing close behind are American Ed BAIRD, skipper of Team Musto, and Denmark's Jes GRAM-HANSEN, who skippers Gram-Hansen Racing. Both posted 4-1 records in earlier racing.

The race committee had hoped to complete eight flights, but light winds in the middle of the day forced a postponement that shortened the competitors' time on the water. Still, they completed seven flights, or 21 matches, in an abbreviated day.

A northeasterly wind blew offshore onto Sagami Bay for the first day of racing, but it had huge oscillations in it. The hills lining Sagami Bay make the wind very shifty.

"They weren't predictable oscillations," noted Baird. "The breeze was building off of the racecourse. You had to decide if you wanted to sail through the light spot to get to the new wind, or if you wanted to work with what you had."

Baird pulled even with Gram-Hansen in number of wins by beating the Dane in their Flight 5 match after Gram-Hansen was penalized twice in the pre-start.

Both crews were on port tack and below the stern of the committee boat. Gram-Hansen, pinned to leeward of Baird's bow, forced his way onto the racecourse when he tacked to starboard. In doing so, Baird had to tack to avoid a collision.

"It was a bad mistake in the pre-start," said Gram-Hansen.

Believing it was a professional foul, the umpires gave Gram-Hansen two penalties. That meant he had to perform one of his 270-degree penalty turns immediately after starting the race.

According to Baird, however, the pair was about 300 yards up the racecourse before Gram-Hansen completed his first penalty turn. Worse for Baird, Gram-Hansen was on his wind.

"I was surprised the umpires allowed him to sail for so long on our air," Baird said. "He made no effort for a long time."

Gram-Hansen still led the match after doing his first penalty turn. He was to the right of Baird and after completing the penalty turn a right-hand shift came in that allowed him to keep the lead.

Ahead by four or five boatlengths approaching the windward mark on the starboard layline, Gram-Hansen decided to try and do his second penalty turn. He bore off to gain some speed, but fell off to leeward too much. And when he came out of his turn in a light patch, Baird had gained a lead he wouldn't relinquish.

"We had a good day," Gram-Hansen said. "We're 4-1 and beat two of the probable competitors (Dean Barker and Gavin Brady) for the semifinals. The conditions were tricky."

The wind shifted more to the right for the two flights later in the day. Coupled with a change in racecourse location, it made for different conditions for the sailors who had been sitting shoreside for more than six hours.

"It was hard passing once you got behind because the breeze was so good to the left," said Tom BURNHAM, sailing with Michele IVALDI of Italy's Luna Rossa Challenge for the America's Cup. "You'd come around the leeward mark right behind someone, but when you tacked to port he'd gain a length covering you."

Ivaldi lost his first race to Gilmour. The Italian had Gilmour on the ropes in the pre-start, but didn't go for the kill. "We kind of let him off the hook," said Ivaldi. "The goal was an even start and we got it, but he was inside and lifted off us slightly."

Said Gilmour, "Yeah, he had us a little roped up, but it was nothing a little thrashing about couldn't fix."

Presti got a bit of a break in his first match against Geoff MEEK, skipper of South Africa's Team Shosholoza Challenge. At the beginning of the second beat Meek had tacked onto starboard when bowman Mark LAGESSE fell overboard.

He had been holding onto the tweaker line helping roll tack the boat, but the line popped out of the cleat and Lagesse went overboard.

"It was my first time ever falling overboard," said Lagesse, who was clearly embarrassed by the turn of events.

"It was a shame because we had lined Presti up with a boat coming downwind and might have been able to get some separation," said skipper Meek.

Full round robin scores are available on the event website at the address below.
Sean McNeill (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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