The weather has been "stuck on beautiful" at the Rolex Miami OCR, but more important to the 529 sailors competing from 41 countries has been the wind on Biscayne Bay, which strengthened in knots on day three to reach low double digits and helped re-ignite several key performances of sailors turning the corner to enter the regatta's home stretch.
Making the most out of the zippy conditions were the 24 teams split into Groups A and B in the Women's Match Racing discipline. The goal on day three was to complete the second of two round-robin series in each group. This was realized in Group A but not Group B, which will finish up on day four and add its top four finishers to the top four from Group A that have won the honor of proceeding to the quarter finals, a single elimination "knock-out" round.
Group A's top finisher Sally Barkow (USA), was especially exhilarated by her 10-1 win-loss record, which was helped by a victory in a closely watched match-up with fellow US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics member and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) who has a 7-4 record. "I don't think we were ever more than a length apart the entire way around the course, so that was pretty cool,"
said Barkow. "There were probably about four lead changes; nobody got penalties but everything was really close."
Match Racing courses are two laps around (windward/leeward), with a five-minute pre-start sequence, where boats are allowed to enter the starting area at four minutes. Then it is a full battle from there until the finish line.
Barkow, who won bronze here last year to Tunnicliffe's silver said, "Sometimes when you get a two-length lead, then it's not so much of a big battle, and you don't have to defend things so hard. But you can imagine when it's really close that upwind it's kind of good for the boat ahead, but as soon as you go downwind, it's good for the boat behind. So, if you only have a length between the boats, it's really hard to be the boat ahead and stay ahead. That was what it was with Anna."
Also moving on to the quarter finals is Silja Lehtinen (FIN), with an 9-2 record, and Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) with an 8-3.
"We made one or two mistakes out there,"
said Tunnicliffe, the four-time (consecutive and current) Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and two-time ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year (also current), "but we still made the quarter finals."
As for her match with Barkow, she said, "It was full on, lots of fun. It shows that team USA has what it takes, and we will all be pushing hard leading up to the Olympics."
Tunnicliffe, who also has an Olympic gold medal in Laser Radial class, explained that the Women's Match Racing U.S. Trials are in May in Weymouth where the "winner takes all" and goes on to compete in the Olympics.
Conditions were prime for the RS:X Men's windsurfing fleet, and Nick Dempsey (GBR), who was sitting in third in the Men's class coming into the third day, moved to first, with fellow teammate Elliot Carney moving up right behind him. "Elliot and I had a good couple of races today - kind of like training races for the two of us in a way - and it was great to get the conditions we did,"
said Dempsey. "It was the first time we've got to planing since we got here, so it gave the body a bit of a rest from the pumping, and it was nice to be going well in those conditions."
Although some big names are missing in the RS:X fleet, which is relatively small this year compared to others, there is still stiff competition. "You have to work just as hard to get the results,"
said Dempsey. "It's never as easy as the score line might look, so it's definitely been worthwhile coming here, and I'll be pushing hard for the rest of the week."
In RS:X Women's, Demita Vega De Lille (MEX) maintained her lead from yesterday and added two more victories to the two already existing in her six-race scoreline. Like most of the classes here, the RS:X Women were allowed to discard their worst score after six races, which shuffled many scores.
Another sailor who did not change positions on the scoreboard was Marit Bouwmeester (NED), the current Laser Radial World Champion, who has held on to first place over all three days. "Today I was struggling a bit because the wind pressure kept going up and down, and in the first race I got a yellow flag, but it's good to get out and experience the Miami weather,"
said Bouwmeester. "This regatta has been great practice. I've been sailing against all these girls in many previous regattas and they are all major competition. It's great that so many of them took the time to come here after the Worlds in Perth."
US Sailing's Rolex Miami OCR, established in 1990, is open to boats competing in events chosen for the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions. The 10 Olympic classes for 2012 are: Laser Radial (women), Laser (men), Finn (men), Men's RS:X, Women's RS:X, 49er (men), Men's 470, Women's 470, Star (men) and Elliot 6m (women). The three Paralympic classes are: 2.4mR (open), SKUD (mixed) and Sonar (mixed).
For fleet racing in the Olympic classes, the Rolex Miami OCR consists of a five-day opening series (Monday - Friday) and a double-point medal race (Saturday). The top 10 finishers in the opening series of each class will advance to the medal race. For match racing (Elliott 6m), which makes its debut in the 2012 Olympic Games, the regatta will consist of an opening series, a knockout series, and a sail-off for boats not advancing to the knockout series. Competitors in the Paralympic classes have five days of fleet racing (Monday-Friday) and no medal race.
Medals will be awarded to the top three boats in each Olympic and Paralympic class on Saturday, January 28.
For more information on the ISAF Sailing World Cup click here.