A one-second win by Bermuda's Peter Bromby over England's Iain Percy Thursday was the overture to what looms as a rousing three-way battle Friday for the 81st Nautica 2002 Star Class World Championship.
Bromby only wishes he could be a part of it. Instead, it will be Percy and crew Steve Mitchell fighting to hold off the relentless Brazilians, Torben Grael and crew Marcelo Ferreira, and those persistent Frenchmen, Xavier Rohart and Yannick Adde, for the most prestigious of one-design crowns.
Grael won it in 1990; Percy and Rohart would be the first from their nations to win it. After discarding his worst score---19th in Race 1 last Sunday---Percy counts only a string of 4-1-3-2 finishes for 10 points, 4 better than Grael. He broke Grael's three-day grip on first place Friday, but neither could shake off Rohart, who discarded a 33 to leave him at 19 points with a 3-1-5-5 record.
San Francisco's Paul Cayard, with Hal Haenel as crew, slipped off the pace with a 40th place, which is his discard. His 28 points leave him with an outside chance if his rivals get tangled up in the 103-boat fleet. But if it happened to Cayard, as it has also happened to a host of other former champions this week, it could happen to anybody.
Grael can afford to sail more aggressively than the other two because his worst finish has been a ninth.
"He can come for us because he has a discard to give," Mitchell said, "and if he comes for us there isn't much we can do."
"We'll just have to sail a safe and smart race," Percy said.
Grael wasn't tipping his hand. "It's different when you have three boats," he said. "If you fight with the first guy the third boat's going to win." Grael and Ferreira, triple Olympic medallists, do not figure to go easily.
In Thursday's solid 12 knots of breeze they dug themselves a deep hole on the first upwind leg when they sailed up the middle and "got passed on both sides," Grael said. After the first 2.1 miles they were 26th, then clawed back progressively to 14th, 10th and seventh on ensuing mark roundings and finally to a fifth-place finish.
"We tacked too much [upwind], but we did well on the runs," Grael said. Up front, Bromby and crew Martin Siese, ranked No. 4 in the class, led convincingly at every mark until Percy/Mitchell almost ran them down at the wire on the third beat.
From 50 meters below the line, Bromby crossed Percy on starboard and again on port, but then tacked away for the pin end as Percy kept driving at full speed. Bromby poked his bow across about three feet in front. Bromby, 38 and a three-time Olympian, started near the middle of the line, then "hit a shift and crossed the fleet," he said.
One good young guy is the hard luck sailor of the week. New Zealand's Gavin Brady and crew Rodney Keenan were second only to Sweden's Fredrik Loof in the Star Worlds last year but have suffered a disabling hole in their transom and a broken headstay in collisions on the last two days. Loof is in 16th place this year.
The leaders (after 5 of 6 races, worst score discarded):
1. Iain Percy/Steven Mitchell, GBR, (19)-4-1-3-2, 10 points.
2. Torben Grael/Marcelo Ferreira, BRA, 3-1-5-(9)-5, 14.
3. Xavier Rohart/Yannick Adde, FRA, 6-8-2-(33)-3, 19.
4. Paul Cayard/Hal Haenel, USA, 7-9-4-8-(40), 28.
5. Rick Merriman/Bill Bennett, USA, (53)-7-8-4-15, 34.
6. Peter Bromby/Martin Siese, Bermuda, ( 33)-2-32-5-1, 40.
7. Mark Mansfield/Killean Collins, IRL, 2-13-17-(25)-7, 40.
8. Mark Reynolds/Magnus Liljedahl, USA, (78)-5-29-1-10, 45.
9. Colin Beashel/David Giles, AUS, (41)-19-11-2-18, 58.
10. George Szabo/Austin Sperry, USA, 1-20-10-(30)-27, 58.