The pressure is rising for the final race of the SAP 505 World Championships in Kiel, with the prospect of the trophy going either to the USA, Great Britain, Australia or Germany.....
After a day of whacky races at the SAP 505 World Championship somehow Mike Holt and Rob Woelfel have managed to cling on to a slender 2-point lead in Kiel, Germany. In the first, medium-airs race it was the up and coming Aussies, Pete Nicholas and Luke Payne, who once again demonstrated an uncanny knack of sniffing out the tricky breeze and ploughed a lonely furrow out on the left-hand side of the track.
"We're going fast in the 12-18 knot wind range, and we backed ourselves to find something good on the left,"
said Payne. The Australians, professional sailors who compete on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, did indeed hook into some good breeze to round the first mark in the lead. Even with the five-time World Champion Wolfgang Hunger and Julien Kleiner in hot pursuit, the Australians held their nerve and their lead to the finish, with the Germans in 2nd place.
Perhaps this would be the moment when Dr Hunger would start to turn the momentum of this regatta on home waters in his favour. However, the wind had other ideas. The first start of the second race had to be abandoned after a massive windshift led to a British boat crashing into the pathfinder, ruining the starting procedure. When the race got underway again, the wind was light - around 7 to 9 knots - and the 2013 World Champions Claas Lehmann and Leon Oehme were only too keen to get racing in their favourite wind strength. They started early out of the gate and took the early lead, with another light-airs team and fellow Germans, Meike Schomaker and Holger Jess, not far behind.
At the top mark the leading Germans were still in the lead when the breeze suddenly blustered up to 15 knots or more. Some boats were caught short by the quick change in conditions and capsized. But not Schomaker and Jess who flew down the run and into the lead. Meanwhile, all the leading contenders for the world title - the young Australians, Hunger, Mike Holt from the USA and Andy Smith from Great Britain - were stuck in or near to the back half of the 173-boat fleet having been caught out by a massive wind shift to the left, which had favoured the early starters out of the gate.
With an increase in breeze, now it was time for the heavyweights to put the hammer down and see how much progress they could make through the fleet during the 75-minute, 3.5 lap race. Ian Pinnell and Dave Shelton sailed a blinder of a final windward leg to cross the line in 2nd behind Shomaker and Jess, giving the 2008 World Champion from Great Britain an outside shot at the world title tomorrow. Fellow Brits Smith and Needham also salvaged a 6th from a shocking first-mark position, but others like Holt and Hunger never found a way through. They will be hoping to discard this race result from the overall scores.
"Good to get two counters out of today,"
said a relieved Smith, now sitting 2 points behind Holt in the overall standings. The former Fireball World Champion came with the hope of a top 10 place, although with that goal already ticked off he can start to think about a shot at the world title. "It's looking like good breeze tomorrow, so we'll just sail the best we can and see how it all turns out at the end."
Hunger was ruing some missed opportunities today. "We started late on the right and missed the windshift on the left. Now we have to hope to sail well tomorrow, but it is looking good for the Americans and British."
Fellow Germans and last year's runners up, Stefan Bohm and Gerald Roos are still in the mix, along with the Aussies who lie in 3rd place overall, 5 points off the lead. The forecast is saying it will be medium winds of 12 to 15 knots from the north-west, which is just what the Australians will be hoping for in their bid to topple the Americans and Brits ahead of them.
The final race is scheduled to start at 12pm on Friday, with a live broadcast of all the action.
To follow all the news and live racing coverage, go to the official event website here: http://www.sap505worlds.com