If changes of place for the lead of a race make exciting racing, Heat 4 of the 18 foot Skiff International Championship on Sydney Harbour this afternoon (Wednesday) must have been one of the most exciting races ever to be seen.
Leadership changed on so many occasions that it was quite impossible to keep count, but, at the only time when it really matters (at the finishing line), it was Howie Hamlin on 'General Electric-US Challenge' who held the all-important first place.
The breeze today was from the south east, and was sufficiently strong to convince a quarter of the 25 boat that the Number 2 rig was the one to use. The Skiff sailors know that this wind direction will always make for a difficult race - firstly because the wind will fluctuate in strength and direction, and secondly because the course for a sou' easter includes some very tight reaching.
Rob Greenhalgh on 'RMW Marine' made a superb start, and opened up a very good lead on the work to the Rose Bay Rounding Mark, but the shifty breeze deprived him of it before he got there, and it was Gary Phillips on 'Aristocrat' who was first round, closely pursued by 'General Electric-US Challenge'.
The leading crews were soon to find that it was one of those days when the leading position was the most difficult to defend, and first place changed hands at very regular intervals. It was extremely difficult to judge where and when to hoist the spinnaker on the tight reaches, and possibly even more of a problem to decide when to take it down.
From a succession of leaders, the most consistent were 'RMW Marine' and 'General Electric-US Challenge' and, when the American boat capsized at the final leeward mark, it seemed that the race had been handed to the Brits. Not in this race, though, because one final twist of fate allowed the US team to make up their lost ground and win by 8 seconds. Great stuff!
Derwent Racing took third place, with the consistent 'Newport Arms Hotel', sailed by Matt Felton, fourth and John Harris on 'Rag & Famish Hotel' taking fifth to remain in the hunt for the championship.
The Americans have opened up their points lead again, after finishing twelfth yesterday - a place they will be hoping to get rid of when the discard kicks in.
The leading positions from yesterday's race did not change, as the protest against the winner 'Rag & Famish Hotel' was withdrawn before the hearing.
There were no protests today, and the entire fleet of 25 Skiffs finished the race.
Result of Heat 4:
1. 'General Electric-US Challenge' Howard Hamlin, USA
2. 'RMW Marine' Robert Greenhalgh, GBR
3. 'Derwent Racing' Daniel Phillips, AUS
4. 'Newport Arms Hotel' Matt Felton, AUS
5. 'Rag & Famish Hotel' John Harris, AUS
6. 'd'Albora Marinas' John Winning, AUS
7. 'Express Post' Hugh Stodart, AUS
8. 'Aristocrat' Gary Phillips, AUS
9. 'Great Britain' Tim Robinson, GBR
10. 'Sunday Telegraph, Michael Coxon, AUS
Points after 4 Heats (no discard):
1. 'General Electric-US Challenge' 21 points
2. 'Rag & Famish Hotel' 33 points
3. 'Newport Arms Hotel' 36.7 points
4. 'Express Post' 47.4 points
5. 'Derwent Racing' 51.7 points
6. 'Sunday Telegraph 54 points
7. 'd'Albora Marinas' 58.2 points
8. 'Ernst & Young' 88 points
9. 'Great Britain' 61.7 points
10. 'RMW Marine' 63 points