The penultimate round of the iShares Cup got underway today in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, with plenty of drama already as Mike Golding's Ecover was hit by Oman Sail Renaissance in a classic port starboard confrontation.
The nine-boat fleet is competing on the tiny IJ-Haven canal and the racing will be extremely 'tight' on the trickiest race course of the six-stage series. As will be the tussle in the top half of the overall iShares Cup leaderboard, as the front runners vie for pole position ahead of the final round of the six-stage series that will take place in Almeria, Spain over 10-12 October. None of the five teams dominating the top half of the overall leaderboard, currently led by Oman Sail's Masirah, have enough points advantage to secure their final place on the podium, and it will be imperative to put in a good performance at this penultimate event to give them 'pole position' going into the final round.
However things did not start well for the series leaders as during the preview media yesterday afternoon, they hit Mike Golding's (GBR) Ecover in a classic port starboard confrontation.
"It was a straight forward port starboard incident; I just don't think they saw us or heard us calling," says Golding. "We had been crossing and ducking each other all the way up the beat. They hit us in a relatively soft area of the boat, it looks bad but luckily it's not a structural point of the boat."
Oman Sail's Masirah skipper Loick Peyron (FRA) agreed, "It's not a good day for us today. We were at the back of the fleet fighting our red boat [Oman Sail's Masirah] and no-one on board looked right and it's the first thing you should do on a port tack. There was no noise and we hit them. I really hate it, it's not good; the second time in three weeks, not the same situation, but the second time. [Oman Sail Renaissance hit Team Wirsol Kiel.Sailing City in the first day of racing in Kiel]. Our guys will work through the night helping the Ecover shore team to get the boat back on the water for racing tomorrow."
Ecover was lifted out of canal by crane and the shore team for both boats worked through the night to repair the damage and make the boats race-fit for the first day.
After yesterday's incident, it will be with some relief for the teams that the weather is forecasted to be fairly light, although as the IJ-Haven is surrounded by tall city buildings, the wind can still funnel through the gaps at alarming speed: "Amsterdam brings unique challenges to the iShares Cup with the smallest course of the season on the IJ-Haven," said iShares Cup Events Director, Gilles Chiorri. "We are surrounded by tall buildings and these, coupled with the shifty wind conditions and the gusts that channel down the gaps in the buildings, can provide difficult conditions for the crews. The courses will be just 875-meters long and 265-meters wide. Nine boats in an area like that will provide some spectacular action for the public, there are no escape routes!
"There is a high pressure coming from the West of Brittany which means nice weather and light westerly winds most of the time - 2-8 knots strengthening up to 10 knots at times. The nine boats can just about compete together in such a tight area. It will be interesting to see how the teams will react to these conditions," concluded Chiorri
Yann Guichard (FRA), skipper Gitana Extreme - Groupe LCF Rothschild, who currently lies in second place overall, four points behind Oman Sail Masirah, gives his view of this very specific playing field: "I don't know the race zone personally but on paper it's a narrow area which may completely change the face of the rankings. We're going to sail right in the heart of the city and I wouldn't be surprised to see a boat win one race and bring up the rear in the next."
The battle for the middle ground is also far from over… Team iShares, skippered by Olympic double gold medallist Shirley Robertson
(GBR), is seventh overall on 17 points - three points behind Nick Moloney's (AUS) BT and 1 point ahead of Erik Maris' (FRA) LUNA with Holmatro (13 points) and Golding's Ecover (6 points) in the final spots. Co-creator of the class, Mitch Booth
(NED), took over the Holmatro skipper spot full time in Kiel and he will be looking forward to getting another round under his belt here in Amsterdam. Golding's Ecover team will be joined by Belgian Olympic sailor Sebastien Godefroid
, replacing Bruno Dubois who suffered a head injury during Round 4 in Kiel. Godefroid is a world-renowned dinghy and multihull sailor and has represented Belgium at three Olympic games, most recently in Beijing where he sailed in the Tornado class.
The 2009 iShares Cup will visit:
Event 1 - Venice, Italy, 15-17 May
Event 2 - Hyères-TPM, France, 3-5 July
Event 3 - Cowes, United Kingdom, 1-3 August
Event 4 - Kiel, Germany, 28-30 August
Event 5 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 25-27 September
Event 6 - Almería, Andalucía, 10-12 October
The iShares Cup is an ISAF Special Event. Find out more at www.isharescup.com.