It started out a perfect day on Biscayne Bay, with sunshine and 12 knots of breeze, but those conditions gave way to struggling light winds by late afternoon, when several of the ten Olympic and three Paralympic classes at the Rolex Miami OCR regatta were trying to finish opening day races.
The six-day event is the second of seven ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas and the only one of those to be sailed in North America. In its 23rd edition, it is hosting 529 sailors from 41 countries sailing on 354 boats.
Canada's David Wright took two first-place finishes in the Laser Blue Fleet, putting him in second place overall and three points ahead of his prime competitor Chris Dold. Dold, in third place overall (behind GBR's Paul Goodison) with a 2-3 in the Yellow fleet, is duking it out with Wright for Canada's berth at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
"This is the second part of our Olympic championship qualifiers, and he (Dold) is leading me by three places, so I have to outperform him,"
said Wright, adding that Dold was in a different fleet from him today, because the Laser numbers were so large (78) they had to be split into two racing groups, then combined again for the purpose of overall scoring. "When we are in a split fleet like that we have to just make sure to finish with little points. I did it today, so hopefully I can do it again tomorrow."
"It was a good day-light, but good,"
said Chris Dold adding that he has been training against Wright for about five years. "I'm excited and sticking to my guns; if there's any match racing between us it's going to be later on in the week."
One team who doesn't have to worry about snagging an Olympic berth is Miami's own Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih, who finished a solid 3-4 today in the Star class to take second overall on tied points with Sweden's leader Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen. They were named to the USA's 2012 Olympic Sailing Team after they recently finished third at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships. "This is not a major regatta for us in the same regard, but we definitely want to train and improve our standing in the World Cup,"
said Fatih, adding that this will be his first time to the Olympics after four times trying and Mendelblatt's second (in Laser class).
Fatih said the wind was 8-9 knots at best for the Star racing, and he felt badly for the Finn sailors who would "have a tough time" racing-according to the staggered-start schedule-in dying winds on Course D after them. (There are four competition circles, each for multiple classes, and a fifth reserved solely for Women's Match Racing.)
For Loof and Salminen, they practiced "no risk" sailing. "We were not hitting the corners or anything, just one thing at a time,
" said Loof, who added that he even wisely held back, but only "a bit," for the second start, which was black-flagged (meaning any boats over the line prematurely would be disqualified). "Our two goals were to have good starts and hold the lane for a while to control our own destiny on the first shift."
In Sonars, the USA's Paul Callahan, Tom Brown and Bradley Johnson finished 1-3 to end the day second overall behind Norway's Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Marie Solbert and Per Eugen Kristiansen and better their chances of being awarded a Paralympic berth at the conclusion of this regatta. "It's one day at a time,"
said Callahan, "but we are in an extraordinary groove, sailing extremely confidently, and appear to be peaking just as we planned after hundreds of days of training over the last year."
Although Rick Doerr, Brad Kendell and Hugh Freund, also sailing here and currently in third overall, are their rivals for the U.S. berth, Callahan says the 11-boat fleet is so competitive his team needs to keep its eyes on everyone. "Mainly, though, we just put the boat on the starting line and try to win."
In the Women's 470, with 16 boats, Great Britain's Olympic-bound Hannah Mills and crew Saskia Clark battled the light wind and came out on top, taking first in the only race of the day. "The fleet size is similar to what the Olympics will be like, so it's quite good practice,"
said Mills who added that there are a handful of teams competing against her this week who are also qualified for the Olympics. "We came here to do as well as we possibly can and have goals that we want to achieve throughout the week. We are excited to be back in Miami and really love it here."
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.