For all the blood, sweat and tears and - it goes without saying - some considerable amounts of money spent over the winter, the rewards came with a fantastic second race on Thursday. In 'brochure' conditions, 20 knots of breeze, perfect sunshine and just enough swell and chop to help the TP52s pop their bows and plane, it was the type of exhilarating conditions savoured by owners, crews and spectators alike.
With WALKER calling tactics and Tim POWELL (GBR) driving, the Irish flagged Patches added a second fifth place to their scoreline in the morning before finishing runners up this afternoon behind Peter DE RIDDER's (NED) defending champions on Valle Romano Mean Machine.
Patches lead by three points from Russell COUTTS (NZL) and a high calibre team on Torbjorn TORNQVIST's (SWE) new Judel Vrolijk-designed Artemis.
Artemis scored a runaway win in the first race of the day. COUTTS choreographed a text book start, one third down from the right hand, committee boat end of the start line and Artemis' bow was clear ahead within seconds of the gun. In 10-14 knots of southerly breeze they reaped the rewards of erring towards the right, favoured side of the first beat and were never challenged after the first mark.
'It was great racing today. In the first race we always wanted to go right, but you would say that when you look good like that. But the boat went very quick and I was impressed with it.' COUTTS said.
'I have not managed to do that much sailing with crew. I sailed it [Artemis] three or four times in Auckland and a few times out in Palma, maybe a total of ten days.
'In the first race it was more just getting clear air and getting out in front rather than speed. It was like Mean Machine in the second race, once you get out there it is relatively easy to extend your lead.'
'The competition is really good with 23 boats and Peter [DE RIDDER] has set the standard as the 'form horse.' Our boat is really well prepared. The guys have done a good job building it. Jared Henderson ran the build and I did not have that much to do with it. But there are a lot of other good boats out there but we do seem to be good speed-wise.'
Slick handling was required especially in the second race, as the sea breeze built sharply and DE RIDDER and his team capitalized after they went round the windward mark first, building a comfortable lead. But, weighted down by a 16th from the first race, they need a strong coastal race today to continue their ascent up the rankings.
While Patches' three points lead amounts merely to breathing space at this stage in the regatta, they have achieved a level of measured consistency so far. They made consistent gains downwind, regularly pushing for clear air, breaking free from the traffic as often as they could.
'Relief is the main thing I feel just now,' smiled WALKER, 'More than anything getting the boat round the course in 20 knots of wind without breaking anything, but also it was just great fun. Great fun, and that goes for all the guys on board.
'That was the first thing we said when we got back in. I am sure that there was more wind in that second race than there was all of last season, and the guys worked really hard and enjoyed it.
'The boats are just fantastic. But we are really relieved that we did not break anything. The boat is new and I would not be surprised if some of the new boats had some issues, we did, but we had nothing major.
'I am sure there is a fall just around the corner, but you just have to get off the start line and get the first beat right, but today we did well downwind, particularly. Partly that was where we positioned ourselves, giving ourselves a bit of clear air, but definitely Tim has a good feel for sailing downwind. You don't sail four times round the world four times without having a good feel for sailing downwind. And the rest of it, I think, is just the lads getting into it and enjoying, and obviously the boat must be good downwind as well. Having max beam should help, we are all out there and all back there, so there have to be one of the advantages. Every boat has its pros and cons and downwind should be one of our strong points.'
The coastal race, which counts for double points, is scheduled for Friday.
'I am glad it was not today,' WALKER said, 'The range of wind speed we saw today it would have been easy to be caught out with too many light wind sails on board. We will make sure we get the best possible weather information, but also I hope that we can get in with race over, before the wind craps out.'