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8 May 2005, 09:47 am
Nail Biting Semi-Final Duels
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Toscana Elba Cup 2005
Porto Azzurro, Elba Island, Italy

Russell COUTTS, James SPITHILL, Peter GILMOUR and Magnus HOLMBERG battled it out for a chance to race in the finals of the ISAF Grade 1 Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman yesterday in Porto Azzurro and after nine breathtaking matches, the final pitts Coutts against Gilmour.
Weather conditions were perfect for the hundreds of sailing fans who crowded the piers and bay of Porto Azzurro. Sunny skies, winds form the south east at 6-8 knots in the morning. Winds died down in the afternoon and shifted 150º

Memorable sailing continues today with the final Gilmour - Coutts face off and the conclusion of the Petit - Final between Spithill and Holmberg.

Russell COUTTS beats James SPITHILL (Team Luna Rossa) 3-2

Match 1. Aggressive pre start circling and a very long dial-up gave James SPITHILL a good start crossing at the gun. Luna Rossa drew away throughout the first beat and rounded the mark 20 seconds in front of Coutts. The Australian skipper administered the lead and chose the left side of the course. The tactical decision paid and at the downwind mark Luna Rossa's margin on Coutts had increased. Spithill cut the finish line first.
Match 2. After swapping boats, the second match began. Line jostling at the start saw both contenders in an even cross head out on starboard tack, choosing the left of the course. At the first crossing Russell COUTTS was in the lead and rounded the windward mark in first position. During the downwind leg Luna Rossa fought back attempting to overtake the New Zealander. Spithill forced him to luff, but after a fantastic gibing duel, Russell COUTTS fended off the Italian team and rounded the mark with an increased lead. Coutts consolidated his advantage during the final beat and run, crossing the finish line first.
Match 3. Tension continued to build and Coutts won the start leading by two boat lengths and initially increasing the margin to 22 seconds. Spithill began the chase and soaked up a good part of the distance, none the less the New Zealander rounded the windward mark first. After a significant left hand wind shift, the racing Committee decided to move the windward buoy. At the leeward mark Spithill peeled off to the right, while Coutts opted for the left, consolidating his lead and cutting the finish line in first position.
Match 4. Luna Rossa came out of the box strong and chose to sail the left of the course, close to the coast and many sailing fans crowding the promenade. Spithill continued to gain on Coutts and rounded the windward mark first. In the course of the downwind leg the New Zealander made up ground but Luna Rossa administered her lead continuing to control the opponent and Spithill crossed the finish line first.
Match 5. Now it's all or nothing. Ragged nerves played the starring role at the start. As Spithill and Coutts square off, the New Zealander skipper tried forcing his opponent above the start line. Spithill responded and by doing so, he committed a foul and called over the line early. On-the-water umpires awarded Luna Rossa a penalty and Spithill was forced to return to restart. Fighting back, half way up the first beat the young Aussie overtook Coutts who then luffed up, forcing Luna Rossa head to wind. Spithill toughed it out and made up ground, increasing his lead on Coutts to 22 seconds at the first windward mark. But the Italian team still had to take the 270 penalty and the New Zealander was following closely. Still in control, Spithill sailed the last downwind leg in the lead and as he approached the finish line the Australian skipper was on port tack, while Coutts was on starboard. A gut wrenching finish saw Luna Rossa take her 270 penalty, cross the line first by a split hair, and then be awarded a second penalty, thereby crowning Russell COUTTS winner of the duel and finalist.

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Gilmour vs. M. Holmberg
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Peter GILMOUR (Pizza-La Sailing Team) beats Magnus HOLMBERG (Victory Challenge) 3 -1

Match 1. Tension and aggressive pre-start jostling caused Holmberg to incur a penalty, while Gilmour won the start and drew away throughout the race. Pizza-La Sailing rounded the windward mark first; the gybing duel with Victory Challenge allowed Gilmour to increase his lead on the first run, consolidating it throughout the rest of the match. The Australian skipper crossed the line first.
Match 2. Reversal of fortune in the second face off as Holmberg won the start. Victory Challenge administered wisely the advantage during the entire race, rounding windward - leeward marks in the lead and crossing the finish line first.
Match 3. Peter Gilmour came out of the box strong and rounded the weather mark in the lead. Holmberg was in close pursuit and attempted to overtake Pizza-La during the downwind leg. A spectacular gibing duel ensued and at the leeward mark the two crews battled it out; Gilmour was still in the lead. Victory Challenge attacked again on the second beat and second run with a series of tacks and gybes, but Pizza-La kept her opponent in check and cut the line first.
Match 4. In the fourth and final match Gilmour won the start again surged ahead, rounding the first windward mark with a lead of two boat lengths on Holmberg. Pizza-La extended her lead in the course of the first run and had doubled her margin by the end of the second beat. Holmberg's team made up considerable ground in the second run; none-the less Pizza-La cut the finish line first, becoming the second finalist.

Peter GILMOUR (Pizza-La Sailing Team) vs. Russell COUTTS Team Coutts (Final/best of 5)

Match1. In the late afternoon the intensity of the wind dropped to 4-5 knots; tactical choices and massive wind shifts colored the first match between Coutts and Gilmour.
Pizza-La had a good start crossing the line and kept the kiwi in check during the first beat and run. In the course of the second upwind leg the situation changed dramatically; Russell COUTTS passed Gilmour to wind, drawing away and rounding the weather mark with a delta of 1 minute and 27 seconds. As the last run was underway, the wind died down completely and the boats were left in a lull for several minutes. When the breeze picked up again, the direction had shifted by 150º and was from the north west. Coutts sniffed the change, doused the spinnaker choosing the genoa and cut the finish line first with a very wide lead.

James SPITHILL (Luna Rossa) vs. Magnus HOLMBERG (Victory Challenge) (Petit Final/ best of 3)

Match1: As in the previous match, changing weather conditions played a great role in the first match between Spithill and Holmberg. The Petit Final will determine the third and fourth place. Spithill held Holmberg in check for the first two legs and when the wind died down, both crews were at the end of the second beat. Victory Challenge caught the north west breeze first and began the chase, but Spithill confirmed his lead and won the first match.

At 10:00 this morning the Finals between Coutts and Gilmour will continue as will the Petit Finals between Spithill and Holmberg. It promises to be an yet another unforgettable regatta for all sailing fans.

Andrea Lanzarotto (As Amended by ISAF) Image: Spithill v Coutts © Event Media
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