Day three of competition at the Sperry Top-Sider Melges 24 World Championship 2013 saw three races take place in shifty northeasterly breezes, which ranged as low as eight knots and as high as 18 knots.
The wind direction was uncharacteristic for San Francisco Bay - almost the reciprocal of the regular wind - and produced lumpy seas, making life difficult for the helmsmen trying to coax maximum speed upwind and tough for rest of the crews hiking.
A fourth in the first race of the day for overnight leader Italian Flavio Favini at the helm of Franco Rossini's Blu Moon saw him extend his advantage at the top of the leaderboard to five points at that stage. A win in the next race meant Favini had further extended that advantage to seven points with seven races sailed. However, the Italian stumbled in the shifty third race, coming home in thirteenth place and narrowing his overall lead to just a single point at the end of the penultimate day.
Blu Moon tactician Gabriele Benussi said conditions on San Francisco Bay today had been extremely taxing.
"The wind was very shifty, 20 or 30 degrees at times,"
he said. "Then the were holes in the wind and it was shifty and puffy the whole time. We started well today and the whole crew worked very hard, particularly upwind. We were pleased with a fourth in the first race and a win in the second race. Then in the last race I made a mistake in choosing the right because the gains were on the left.
"Now we are just one point in front with two races and we need to do very well tomorrow,"
A boat-of-the-day 3,2,8, scoreline from American Brian Porter on Full Throttle moves him up from fourth to second overall and breathing down Favini's neck with two more scheduled races to go.
Full Throttle tactician Andy Burdick said the tricky conditions had played to their advantage, being similar to the inland conditions which prevail on Full Throttle's home waters on Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
"Being lake sailors, we had a bit of an advantage,
" said Burdick with a smile. "Today we just tried to stay in the breeze, on the lifted tack and always keep a clear lane."
Burdick said he and the Full Throttle crew were happy to be second by such a narrow margin going into the final day.
"It's a good place to be,
" he said. "Our game plan was to be close to the lead at the end of the event and here we are. Our strategy for tomorrow will just be to sail smart and clean.
Also moving up to within striking distance of the lead is Australian Nathan Wilmot at the helm of Conor Clarke's Irish entry Embarr. Wilmot turned in a wire to wire winning performance in the first race and followed that up with a ninth and a sixth in the next two races. Tonight he sits in third place, eight points out of second and nine points out of first.
Embarr's owner Conor Clarke said he thought his crew had sailed their best day but would need to do even better tomorrow. Asked what his crew pep talk would be in the morning and about his strategy for the final two races, Conor replied simply: "Stay clam and focused on what we have to do. Our goal is to stay and contention at the top. Taking a massive risk and gambling on either winning a race or having a shocker is no good.
American sailor Argyle Campbell made a return to form in the third race of the day, picking his way through some shifty and patchy conditions to pull off a commanding victory. Second in that race was Denmark's Kim Christensen who tonight sits in fourth place, two points behind Wilmot. A 12,3,11, scoreline from Thursday's boat-of-the-day performer, America's Bora Gulari on West Marine Rigging/New England Ropes, sees them drop from second going into the day, to fifth.
In the Corinthian Division (no professional sailors allowed) American Don Jesberg on Viva and fellow American Loren Colahan on Lounge Act remain locked in combat for the lead. Jesberg's Corinthian 1,6,3, today puts him at the top of the Corinthian leaderboard on 21 points, just two points ahead of Colahan who could only manage an 8,3,2, today. A 2,11,10 , score for Kevin Nixon sees him remain in third, now nine points off first.
With just two more two races scheduled for the final day, the championship now hangs on a knife edge with the top of the leaderboard highly compressed and just nine points separating the top three boats.
To add to the tension, Saturday's forecast calls for the lightest winds of the championship so far; meaning a slip by any of the top crews could drop them out of contention and open the door for the chasing pack.
On Friday night however the sailors put aside thoughts of championship deciding races to celebrate the Melges 24's twentieth birthday with a Caribbean themed Melges Rocks party where international class president Riccardo Simoneschi paid tribute to the Melges family - represented at the championship by Harry Melges III sailing with his son Harry IV - for their foresight in creating the world's most enduring sportsboat.
Simoneschi also announced that, after a remarkable nineteen-year tenure, international class administrator Fiona Brown would be leaving her post after the 2014 Melges 24 World Championship in Geelong Australia at the end of January. This news prompted an immediate standing ovation from the sailors keen to show their appreciation of Fiona's many years of dedication and hard work on their behalf.
The Sperry Top-Sider Melges 24 World Championship 2013 concludes on Saturday 5 October with two races scheduled to decide who will claim the overall and Corinthian world titles.