America's Cup finalists Russell COUTTS of Team Alinghi and Dean BARKER of Team New Zealand were pushed to elimination matches in yesterday's Round 1 of the ISAF Grade 1 Investors Guaranty Presentation of the King Edward VII Gold Cup.
Both survived the first wave of the knock-out series format and now headline the eight skippers sailing into Friday's quarterfinal action.
On a white-capped Hamilton Harbour, with winds approaching 25 knots, the action was furious throughout the day. And, with the start line positioned just off the end of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club pier and spectator area, everyone in attendance had prime viewing for some of the most thrilling match racing action in recent memory.
Adding to the day's excitement, local favorite Paula LEWIN of Team Ace Group, competing in the event following her victory in yesterday's Bermuda International Women's Match Racing Championship, swept her way past America's Cup legend Dennis CONNER 3-0, to reach the quarterfinals of the regatta proper for the second straight year.
"It was a really fun match, the day threw some very different conditions at us (from earlier in the week),"
said Lewin. "I'm glad we were able to hang in, start well and compete."
Conner was impressed with the performance of his opponent and sees good things in her future."The last time I lost a match race, Paula was crewing for me (at the 2001 Bermuda Gold Cup),"
said Conner. "I'm so proud of how far she's come as a sailor. She has a bright future ahead of her."
Another upset featured unseeded skipper Bill HARDESTY of the United States defeating US Virgin Islander Peter HOLMBERG of Team Gramicci, a former winner of this regatta in 2001, 3-1. Hardesty actually spent several days last week training with Holmberg in Newport, RI. Today's result was a case of the pupil schooling the teacher.
"I guess that goes to show you should be careful who you train with,"
said Holmberg. "Anytime, I'm talking to the umpires more than my crew, its not a good day."
In morning action, Coutts was challenged by upstart Cameron DUNN of New Zealand, who refused to be intimidated by his more accomplished countryman. After winning the first two matches of the first-to-three-points round, Coutts became his own worst enemy, crossing the start line early and copping a penalty in the pre-start of the third match and then hitting the windward mark in the fourth match to earn another flag.
In the fifth match, all manner of mayhem took over. Following an exciting pre-start and a close first lap around the race track, Dunn ran into trouble with his spinnaker in the strong wind that swept through Hamilton Harbour all day.
While Coutts' crew wrestled with getting their own spinnaker back on board following the leeward mark rounding, Dunn lost control of his chute and in the chaos, crewmember Brett JONES was struck by the boom, suffering what would later be determined to be a concussion and sore jaw. Following the combination of incidents, Dunn withdrew from the match.
Barker, meanwhile, faced a stern test from American Ed BAIRD of Team XL Capital, with Baird winning the first match, Barker taking matches two and three, and Baird winning the fourth to set up the final showdown.
"We knew today was going to be hard,"
said Barker. "Our last two rounds here, we had Russell and Chris and lost both of them. Knowing Ed was sailing well coming out of the qualifier, we knew it was going to come down to it."
Baird, a veteran of international match racing and former skipper of the Young America challenge, came into today's action as one of the top qualifiers from the unseeded portion of the event held earlier in the week.
"Dean and his team came here ready to play and they did a great job,"
said Baird. "All the information the previous week provided us didn't do much to help us today (as a result of the very different weather conditions).
Denmark's Jes GRAM-HANSEN of Team Colorcraft won his re-match with Bermudian Peter BROMBY of Team Ace Group. Last year Gram-Hansen won a five-match affair that delivered him into the finals, this year the score line was 3-1, but none the lesser for drama as both teams engaged in dramatic match racing tactics this afternoon .
"Racing on Hamilton Harbor is all about sailing the right shift,"
said Gram-Hansen. "Peter and his crew are very good sailors and we're just happy to be moving on."
While disappointed in today's result, Bromby was pleased with the effort put forth on the week. "Last Saturday we started this regatta 0-2, and it's a tribute to my crew that we're even sailing today."
Advancing with relative ease today were the regatta's top seed and defending champion Jesper RADICH of Denmark, who dismissed Italy's Paolo CIAN of the Riviera di Rimini Sailing Team 3-0.
"Today I felt we had a good idea about our timing and positioning of the boats,"
explained Radich. "Good boat-handling is rewarded in these conditions and is especially important at the mark roundings."
Also moving on to the quarterfinals are Oracle BMW Racing skipper Chris Dickson who sailed past Sweden's Jenny AXHEDE of Team Panorama, who qualified for the event as a result of her runner-up finish in the Bermuda International Women's Match Racing Championship, and Australian skipper Peter GILMOUR of Team Pizza La, who beat his opponent Staffan LINDBERG of Finland 3-1.
Thursday is a layday at the Investors Guaranty Presentation of the King Edward VII Gold Cup, with the event's pro-am scheduled to take place. Quarterfinal action will commence on Friday morning.
Full results are available on the website at the address below.