Today stronger winds were forecast, with a return to the conditions seen last week during the practice sessions. As the fleets headed out ready for the 1300 (local time) start, the RS:X men planed across the bay, the Qingdao skyline stood bright in the background and everything looked set for the first day of big breeze. And then the rain came down. A short but heavy shower coincided with the early breeze dropping out, and another day of tactical racing ensued.
Tomorrow the Men's 470 fleet return to the Qingdao waters after a two day break and the 49ers and Finns are also back in action after a day off today. The forecasters are once again expecting winds in the teens, with a shift in the conditions looking set to add a further twist to the tale spun so far in Qingdao.
Whilst the sight of the Men's RS:X boarders planing out on the bay this morning promised much, the Women's RS:X fleet in the end had to settle for one short race in full pumping conditions.
Japan's Yasuko KOSUGE found pressure early on the right of the course to take an early lead, but young Polish star and bronze medallist at the recent Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship Malgorzata BIALECKA was also away well and past KOSUGE by the second upwind. Behind the battle for first Olympic Champion and overall leader Faustine MERRET (FRA) was engaged in a battle with the three Chinese sailors, rounding the final mark a fraction ahead of Athens silver medallist and local hero Jian YIN (CHN). Peina CHEN's (CHN) challenge also faded in the face of MERRET's persistence, but Limei SUN (CHN) was able to hold off the French star. She crossed in third place, two ahead of MERRET, whilst BIALECKA held on for the bullet.
MERRET explained away her performance in race 3, 'I came fourth in the first race (race 3) today and first place in the second. I am satisfied with my results. Although in the first race I missed my start, because I was trying to hit the line at top speed and started pumping too late and I knew it. Fortunately I caught back a few places. In the second race (race 4) I got a good start and I didn't make any mistakes. I had a good feeling in that race and I came in first! '
With a shifting wind, the Race Committee postponed several starts to get the fleet off on a fair race, with the opening race five starting in just over six knots from the south east.
A stunning start from Natthaphong PHONOPPHARAT (THA) saw him head off the line closest to the Committee Boat and lead the fleet up the right hand side of the course in race five. But PHONOPPHARAT's display of speed was shortlived and chasing hard Joeri VAN DIJK (NED) rounded the windward mark first and took the fleet down to the gate, with Ricardo SANTOS (BRA) and Lukasz GRODZICKI (POL) hot in his heels. As VAN DIJK, who claimed the silver medal at the recent RS:X European Championship, continued to lead through the downwind gate, it was surprising to find Israel's Olympic hero and defending gold medallist Gal FRIDMAN only just making his way around the windward mark for the first time.
GRODZICKI the gold medallist from this year's ISAF Youth Worlds managed to catch VAN DIJK on the final downwind leg to take the gun. This victory was followed by a fifth in race 6, and sees GRODZICKI hold firm in the bronze medal position.
Despite winning race 6, FANG was not happy with his start, 'Today was good. But I made a mistake at the start in race 6. The wind today is shifty which influences my performance. Of course the weather is the same for every athlete. It's fair.'
Not to be discounted, their team mate Aichen WANG (CHN) wrapped up his best day of the series so far, to take two third place finishes and remain in sixth overall.
Like the 470 fleet, the Tornado ventured out today for a single race to catch up with their schedule. Given the dominance of Roman HAGARA and Hans Peter STEINACHER (AUT) in the light winds so far, today's 16th place at least gives the rest of the fleet hope that the Austrian pair can be caught. Olivier BACKES and Paul Ambroise SEVESTRE (FRA) built on their bullet from yesterday with a second place, moving them into a tie for second place with Xavier REVIL and Christophe ESPAGNON (FRA), who were fourth today. HAGARA and STEINACHER still have a ten point lead over this pair, but look a lot less invincible than 24 hours ago.
The bullet in today's race went to Russia Andrey KIRILYUK and Valeriy USHKOF, which combined with some inconsistent scoring elsewhere moves them up from 13th to sixth overall.
The campaign of Mandy MULDER, Brechtje VAN DERWERF and Janneke HIN (NED) moved even further in the right direction today when the trio posted their third bullet in the series. This now places them with an eleven point lead over the second placed Helena LUCAS, Annie LUSH and Lucy MACGREGOR (GBR).
LUCAS continues to prove herself as a stand-in helm for the Olympic gold medal winning helm Shirley ROBERTSON (GBR) who is on maternity leave, and will no doubt be pleased with the team's steady progress up the leaderboard, after they posted 4,2 today to sit in the silver medal position. LUCAS can be more usually found competing on the Paralympic circuit in the 2.4 Metre keelboat.
China continues to challenge the cream of the Yngling fleet with Xiaqun SONG, Xiaoni LI and Chuanshuang ZHANG (CHN) finishing in second and seventh today. But a points shortfall sees them drop down to third overall, by a one point margin.
Sarah AYTON, Sarah WEBB and Katherine HOPSON (GBR) showed their form to take the gun in race six and with it manage to convert themselves up to fifth overall. No surprises elsewhere in the fleet as the top three boats continue to cruise over the fleet.
Only three more races remain until the ten-boat Medal Race, and whilst the top few boats seem safe to make the cut, the battle will continue to intensify for those further down the scoreboard.
Another two races turned the Laser fleet on its head today, with Evagelos CHIMONAS (GRE) relinquishing the overall lead for the first time since the regatta began. The Greek had been somewhat of a surprise leader, but 20,15 scores today saw him fall back into second place. European Championship silver medallist Maciej GRABOWSKI (POL) moves into pole position, although even he was immune to a bad score on a day when inconsistency seemed to be the only consistent factor. Of the top ten only Singapore's Maximilian SOH (SIN) managed to avoid a score in the double figures today.
SOH is having a remarkable regatta in Qingdao and after 8,9 scores today is now seventh overall and sandwiched between World number one Paul GOODISON (GBR) and Olympic silver medallist Andreas GERITZER (AUT). All this less than a year after he finished 118th at the Laser Worlds in Brazil.
After a good start, GOODISON has struggled through the rest of this week, but a bullet in today's first race was a return to form. 14th in race eight was less good however, but with high scores right across the leaderboard he is by no means out of the running, 18 point off GRABOWSKI. Steven LE FEVRE (NED), caught out with a rule 42 penalty in the preceding race, took the bullet in race eight by a considerable distance to move into fourth place overall.
After two more races today for the 34 boat Laser Radial fleet, the same three sailors remain in the top three positions, but Paige RAILEY (USA) has managed to wrestle the top spot from Penny CLARK (GBR), despite posting her worst result of the series.
RAILEY was too keen at the start and was called off the race course for being OCS (on course side) at the start of today's race six. This result however has been discarded from her points total, as competitors may exclude their worst result after five races have been completed. RAILEY subsequently redeemed herself with a third in race seven.
Sitting just five points behind on the scoreboard in third is Jo ALEH (NZL), who had her worst day of the series, posting 11,24 to drop down into third overall. ALEH who seems to be struggling on the starting line, remarked, 'Today was not so good. I just had a bad start and not very good sailing. Everyone has ups and downs. I hope to sail a little better in the following days, and just want to get good starts, just the starts! It's very hard to get it right. Once I get it right, it's ok, but its not happening at the moment. '
One sailor's bad day becomes a good day for another, and Ireland's Ciara PEELO seized her opportunity today to take the gun in race six in convincing style. PEELO's victory marks her second appearance amongst the top three finishers, and with it she retains fourth overall. PEELO lacked consistency across the opening races, but since then seems to have found her form to post three consecutive top ten places. This top four have now established a reasonable points margin over the rest of the fleet.
Racing continues tomorrow for the Laser Radial on Course A.
Athens bronze medallists Therese TORGERSSON and Vendela ZACHRISSON (SWE) were the fastest crew downwind and picked off the Ukrainians to take a lead they would never relinquish by the downwind mark. PETITJEAN and DOUROUX were also able to pick up places by catching the Swedes and were able to sail through from sixth to third on the final leg, passing their closest challengers Camille LECOINTRE and Gwendolyn LE MAITRE (FRA) on the way. That results, gives PETITJEAN and DOUROUX a three point lead over their team mates, whilst TORGERSSON and ZACHRISSON move into fourth place overall, although they are 17 points adrift of the leaders.
As quickly as they secured themselves at the top of the leaderboard, the newly crowned European Champions Diego NEGRI and Luigi VIALE (ITA) fell out of the top three entirely after today's races five and six. Whilst scores of 5,5 would normally be considered worthy, in the seven boat Star fleet competing on Fushan Bay, the damage such results bring is considerable, and the Italians now find themselves in fourth overall, but only by a point.
The points scores remain close, very close, with the top four crews only sitting one point adrift of each other.
The world number one crew of George SZABO and Eric MONROE (USA) have patiently sat in second place overall since the start of the competition, but tomorrow will carry the yellow leader dot after posting results of 1,4 today. Team mates Andy HORTON and Brad NICHOL (USA) move into second overall with Iain PERCY and Steve MITCHELL (GBR) retaining the bronze medal slot.
Newcomers to the Star fleet, the home team of Shaojun WANG and Anjie LU (CHN) have justifiably found themselves at the back of the Star fleet through the series - a reasonable position to be given the quality of the other crews. The pair did not take to the water today, and now posting two DNC (did not compete) results will struggle to convert their overall position any higher in the remaining races.