Keith Swinton got off to a fantastic start on the first day of the Chicago Match Cup today, taking six wins with just one defeat at the fourth stage of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, which runs 10 - 15 July.
Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing was a winner at the Chicago Grade 1 Match Race in 2011, prior to the venue joining the Tour for the first time in 2012. That success on Lake Michigan in the same TOM 28 boats, where he beat fellow competitor and Tour Card Holder Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team, suggests that he is one of the skippers capable of victory in the sole US stage of the Tour.
Despite coming into the event with a slight illness, Swinton is upbeat about his chances, "We're pretty comfortable in these boats so we'd have been a bit disappointed not to have a good day today.
"You almost don't want to go straight through the first round of qualification as you don't get that extra racing. It's a long regatta so if you make sure you make it through, that's what counts."
Swinton's mastery of the TOM 28's in today's light to moderate breeze shown in several close matches, with probably none closer than his one and only losing match with today's runner-up and current Tour Leader Bjorn Hansen. In one of the most aggressive pre-starts of the day's nine flights sailed just metres from the spectators gathered at the end of Navy Pier, Swinton got a little too aggressive, twice hitting the Swedes and thereby earning two penalties. With under a minute left to the start, Hansen erred by rotating past head to wind in a luff, getting a penalty for the move, which then left Swinton a little breathing room to get off the start with just one outstanding penalty. The young Aussie then controlled the remainder of the match with a narrow lead, but then just missed completing the penalty turn on the finish line to cede the match to the Swedes.
The twelve competing teams also feature a strong local entry, including Beijing Olympian Sally Barkow (USA) - Team 7 Match Raceand North America's number one match racer, 23 year-old Taylor Canfield (ISV) - Canfield Racing, who feels that he can use the event to show he has what it takes to compete at the top table of match racing on a regular basis, saying, "I have a great group of guys that I'm sailing with and I believe we have the ability to win this event. 4-1 today is a good start.
"The goal for next year is definitely compete in these World Championship events more regularly and to break into the world top 15 and pick up a Tour Card."
Canfield started the day with an impressive win over reigning Tour Champion Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar, the young American using his familiarity with the boats and the sailing area to come away with a morale-boosting victory. Canfield, said, "Our first win of the day against Ian [Williams] felt good. It was a close race all the way around with multiple penalties and we were happy to come away with the win."
In fact, Canfield's only loss in the day was through an uncharacteristic error made in the match with Swinton, when he was called over the line at the start and unable to recover enough to catch the Aussie team.
Sally Barkow competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in the women's keelboat discipline where she competed for Team USA, finishing 7th. She takes to the water at the Chicago Match Cup as the sole female skipper on the series this year and will be hopeful of continuing her rise up the ISAF Match Racing World Rankings, currently at 24th position.
"Since I have a mostly new team sailing together for the first time, I like the format here in not taking points into the Repechage - that suits us because we feel that we're still gelling together and will just get better through the week."
Barkow said a miscommunication with her team was one cause for losing a close lead held over Jordan Reece at the bottom gate rounding of their match. "I'm actually glad we made that error because it helped us firm up how we will handle that in the future."
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team began the Chicago event hot off the back of a win at his home regatta, STENA Match Cup Sweden last week and leads the overall Tour standings with a commanding 62 points. Firmly the man to beat on the Tour so far in 2012, Hansen got off to a solid start on day one, finishing 5-2. Confident with the form his team are showing, he feels that all of the pressure is on the chasing pack in Chicago, saying, "We're happy with our results today so a good start to the event. We knew we would find it a bit harder in these smaller boats but we've managed to maintain our good early season form.
"We're still sitting at the top of the Tour leaderboard so it's up to the other guys to make up the gap, starting here in Chicago.
"There are some really good local sailors here and I'm not surprised that they've done well today against the Tour Card Holders. I think Taylor Canfield is certainly one of those that we had down as a favourite so it'll be interesting to see how they get on."
Chicago Match Cup Qualifying Session 2 will commence on Thursday 12th July at 10:00 CDT. The Final of the event is scheduled for 1400 CDT on Sunday 15th July.
Additional information and updates are available at http://www.wmrt.com/live
Tour regular Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/wmrt
Live event Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/wmrt_liverace
The event is available to watch live online for the final three days of the event, starting on Friday 13th July from 14:00 - 16:00 CDT at http://new.livestream.com/WorldMRT
Results after Qualifying Session 1:
Keith Swinton (AUS) Black Swan Racing Team 6-1
Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Mekonomen Sailing Team 5-2
Taylor Canfield (USVI) - Canfield Racing 4-1
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar 4-2
Phil Robertson (NZ) WAKA Racing 4-3
Pierre-Antoine Morvan (FRA) Vannes Agglo Sailing Team 3-2
Simone Ferrarese (ITA) Ferrarese Racing Team 2-3
Sally Barkow (USA) - Team 7 Match Race 2-3
Laurie Jury (NZ) Kiwi Match 2-4
Jordan Reece (AUS) - Estate Master Sailing Team 2-4
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Berntsson Sailing Team 1-4
Donald Wilson (USA) - Chicago Match Race Center 0-6