Yesterday, Ernesto Bertarelli in Alinghi scored a remarkable victory. The Swiss skipper, who heads the Yacht Club of Geneva Challenge for the America's Cup, with Russell Coutts as his tactician, produced sparkling boat speed to lead the series overall.
Racing took place in a south-westerly wind blowing at 23 knots, with gusts of 28. As the 22-boat fleet finished, the Royal Yacht Squadron Race Committee viewed the 27 knot wind speed with some suspicion and with a forecast of more to come and a building sea in the Eastern Solent, decided to terminate the racing until tomorrow.
'We had a bad start,' said Bertarelli, 'I thought that we were closer to the line than we actually were, but the guy above us was able to bear away on us.' That start cost Alinghi dearly and she was 13th to the first mark. 'We had good speed and balanced the sails well,' added Bertarelli, 'and we avoided any major mistakes.'
The race could not have been closer with places changing rapidly and a different leader each time the boats came to the windward mark on the three round windward/leeward course of two mile legs. There were rolling white caps on the grey-green Solent and the Farr 40s climbed over the majority of the seas, but there were some heavy slams when helmsmen didn't meet them quite right.
The 1998 world champion, Jim Richardson in Barking Mad, and the European champion, Oscar Strugstad in Dawn Raid, dominated the pin end of the starting line, while Mark Heeley's GBR-25 shot out of the other end and climbed high over the boats around, sailing in clear air. The left hand side of the course was clearly paying and it was from that side that Richardson tacked to consolidate.
Barking Mad was clear and, with her crew hiking hard, allowed tactician Adrian Stead to chose the wind shifts and his line to the weather mark. Barking Mad rounded 20 seconds ahead of Dawn Raid with Philip Tolhurst's Warlord VII edging out Steve Kaminer's Predator and Mark Heeley's GBR-25.
Downwind the boats showed their breeding, slicing through the waves at a regular 15 knots. It was at the leeward gate where Barking Mad's tactician, Adrian Stead, made a rare mistake. 'I should have gone to the right hand mark, as I intended,' he said, 'It was a little further but it was the right way to go afterwards.' His hesitation allowed both Warlord VII and Dawn Raid to round inside Barking Mad.
On the second beat, Heeley took GBR-25 from fourth to first and led Alinghi by two boat's lengths at the mark with Barking Mad in third place. Warlord VII made gains again downwind - 'We've worked on our polars,' said Tolhurst by way of explanation, 'and we stick to them rigidly' Warlord rounded the leeward gate in third place behind GBR-25 and Alinghi.
The last beat saw Alinghi move into the lead. 'We got the wrong side of a couple of shifts,' said Heeley, 'and the others got to them before we did. It dropped GBR-25 to fourth behind Alinghi, Warlord and Barking Mad. Stead admitted to taking a slight risk on the final run to gain a place, 'but it just didn't work out,' he admitted. He didn't lose a place however and the positions on the run to the finish were unchanged for the leaders.
There was an incident at the finish as Gaetan Janssens' Dune, John Coumantaros' Bambakou and David Murrin's 2XL were in line abreast. 2XL hooked the finishing line mark and is protesting the other two serially for not granting sufficient water to an overlapped boat. As a result, the finishing order and overall positions are provisional.
Results After 3 Races
1. Alinghi - 5, 7, 1 - 13
2. Barking Mad - 1, 10, 3 - 14
3. Southern Star - 4, 4, 7 - 15
4. Warlord VII - 11, 3, 2 - 16
5. Bambakou - 3, 5, 8 -16
6. A Bit of a Coup - 7, 1, 17 - 26
7. GBR25 - 8, 15, 4 - 27
8. Victric - 13, 9, 6 - 28
9. Aleph - 9, 2, 16 - 28
10. 2XL - 14, 8, 9 - 32