On shore spectators at the finals witnessed match racing at close range yesterday when legendary sailor and six-time Gold Cup winner Russell COUTTS was driven ever closer to a concrete wall that lines the waterfront of Hamilton harbor.
Pinned and calling for room against young Australian James SPITHILL, the boats nearly collided with the wall. When Coutts called for room, Spithill was too slow in making his turn and was penalized - his second of the match - and his aggressive move backfired and Coutts literally had him pinned instead. Spithill had to remove one penalty by making a circle turn immediately and never was able to get back into the race.
The final races to determine the winner of The King Edward VII Gold Cup, event three on the Swedish Match Tour, will be held tomorrow, but for now the "king" of this event is still Coutts who is up 2-1.
"We were trying to get a penalty back on Russell and we sailed in as close as we could to the wall," said Spithill who was undefeated in this event before going up against Coutts. "We treat him like any other competitor but he is very tough and we may not have sailed as well in the last race."
Coutts appeared pleased with his lead over a sailor who is 20-years his junior and is believed to be a talent who will sail into legendary status himself in the coming years but based on the decisive pre-start and the style of Coutts sailing, Spithill will have his work cut out for him in the second round of the finals tomorrow.
"I am pretty happy with the way we are sailing and the way we are starting," Coutts said. "I think James may have held us to the wall a little too long but he clearly was determined to win."
Also on the racecourse top seeded skipper on the Swedish Match Tour, American Ed Baird defeated New Zealander Chris Dickson 2-1 in the petite finals putting them in third and fourth place respectively.
"We are not disappointed that we raced against Russell Coutts this morning and against the top match racing sailor Ed Baird this afternoon," said a gracious Dickson who has been working hard this year to reach the highest levels of sailing here today. "We came here to race against them and that is why we are here. To be out here sailing in the final four with the best in the world - that is why we came."
Baird sailed expertly throughout the regatta, and facing an unseeded skipper like Dickson in the petite finals did not make the job any easier.
"This event is different than it was six or seven years ago and most of our unseeded skippers today are highly skilled in match racing so the gap is much narrower," Baird said.
As Peter Gilmour said earlier, this event is a benchmark for all sailors, for both seeded and unseeded. And, for some, it is one of the highlights of the racing season for sailors and spectators alike.
When asked why three-time America's Cup helmsman Russell Coutts still comes back to the King Edward VII Bermuda Gold Cup each year, he answered wryly, "well, there are some regattas that I am not allowed to sail in."
Coutts, the former skipper of the Swiss Team Alinghi is banned from participating in the America's Cup until after 2007 after he left the Swiss team. Watching Coutts take command of this event, it is a loss to the sport that the master won't be able to take the competition to
the wall at the 32nd America's Cup as he did today.
Bermuda Weather service has predicted storms Saturday night with winds gusting up to 50 knots. Conditions in the morning could prevent sailing the full finals on Sunday, so the Organizing Authority for the Investor's Guaranty presentation of the Kling Edward VII Gold Cup
amended the scoring and the schedule of races in order to complete as much racing as possible in this Swedish Match Tour event.
Racing will continue Sunday afternoon, if the weather moderates, to conclude the event. The skipper's meeting Sunday will be at 10:30 AM and the first start intended for 11:30 AM.