After winning three races in a row on Wednesday and then having to retire from the distance race on Thursday with damage to its deck, yesterday's win counted for 1.25 times the finish and catapulted the Irish boat back into second place, three-quarters of a point behind fleet leader Pegasus 52.
The Patches team, including experts flown into Miami especially from the West Coast of the USA, worked throughout Friday until 0600 local time Saturday morning to cut out the broken area of deck and rebuild it. They went out to the racecourse yesterday with a large area of black carbon fibre covering the breakage.
Yesterday's exceptionally lumpy wave conditions, with a 15 knot south easterly wind, in fact proved more of a test to Patches' repair than when it had broken originally, claimed skipper Ian WALKER (GBR). A tug and barge moving diagonally across the racecourse complicated the opening leg, a beat out into the Gulf Stream. On Patches there was another heart in mouth moment when they thought they had hooked a substantial piece of rope hanging off the back of the barge. Losing distance as a result of this, the team found themselves on the left side of the beat astern of the leader, Philippe KAHN's Pegasus 52.
First to the weather mark was Pegasus 52 with Fort Lauderdale 'amateur' sailor Tom LIHAN (USA) behind the wheel instead of owner KAHN, who will rejoin the boat today following his forced absence due to business commitments. 'We had a nice start and got the first shift to go ahead, then we could dictate,' described Pegasus 52's tactician Ken READ (USA). 'We were going good, really happy. We think we have improved upwind with every race.' Pegasus 52 was followed around the top mark by Patches and Michael BRENNAN's (USA) Sjambok.
Rounding the weather mark and bearing away onto a run, Patches made a winning move when the crew hoisted a masthead spinnaker as Pegasus 52 put up a fractional. 'Our sail was too small and too flat,' admitted READ of the sail they hoisted on Pegasus. 'We changed to a masthead right away and even with the change we were too small and too flat. So we learned something.'
Within ten minutes of rounding the weather mark Patches had overhauled Pegasus to leeward in 15-18 knots of wind and went on to extend their lead. 'It was really good fun - we were flat out,' commented Patches' tactician WALKER. 'We could only just hold that chute the whole way across with everyone hiking as hard as they could.' Patches sailed below the layline in the anticipation of getting lifted as the team converged with the Florida coast, extending the lead.
Rounding the mark off Fort Lauderdale, north of Miami, the boats went on to a port tack fetch as they sailed south down the Florida coast. From here there was little opportunity to find passing lanes and Patches fended off Pegasus to take line honours - the fifth in eight races sailed so far this regatta - by 1 minute and 33 seconds.
Two windward-leeward races today will decide the outcome of the Rolex TP52 Global Championship. 'It will be a big day tomorrow,' confirmed Patches owner CONNEELY. 'We pulled it out of the bag today with brilliant crew work downwind and a great call on the kite by Ian. So two races tomorrow, fingers crossed. I'm quite nervous.'
Stuart ROBINSON's (GBR) Stay Calm, finished third overall, passing Sjambok just before the final turn for the finish. 'We are just trying to understand the angles we're sailing on the boat and getting to know those angles,' commented ROBINSON.
Sjambok finished fourth close behind the British boat. 'We made a bit of a mistake on our spinnaker selection toward the end of the reach, which cost us a little bit,' admitted owner-driver BRENNAN. 'It is getting pretty close with two races still to go. It will be a good battle tomorrow.'