Thursday was a critical day for sailors competing in US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup.
Highlighted by both lead changes and consolidations, it raised the heat for Friday's final stretch: where Medal Winners in three Paralympic sailors will be named and top 10 sailors in 10 Olympic events will be determined for entry into Saturday's Medal Races. Representing 45 nations, 448 teams (633 athletes) are competing on Biscayne Bay for this annual event, which is one of the most important preparation regattas for sailors gunning for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics' Paige Railey (USA) finished the day with an 18-point lead overall in the Laser Radial class, followed by Spain's Alicia Cebrian. While it seemed like it was going to be the steadiest day of the week, it ended up being another day of difficult racing for the 57-boat fleet. Railey said she fought through both of today's races, from start to finish, and made quick changes due to continually shifting wind.
"We had crazy wind from all different sides," said Railey, the 2006 US SAILING Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year. "I saw some big comebacks and huge losses. You could go from last to top-five in one shift."
In the first race, Railey said she played it conservative but got stuck in the middle of two big shifts. She rounded deep, but then made a comeback on the first run and grabbed the lead. The same thing happened in the second race: she sailed conservatively, covered her bases sailing down the middle but ended up lodged between the shifts. In the last downwind leg, she broke free and took a commanding lead.
"Racing was incredibly hard today," she said. "It was easy to get disheartened, but I kept fighting the whole time. Patience was key."
Britain's Nick Thompson, the reigning World Cup Champion who yesterday trailed leader Bruno Fontes by seven points in the Laser class, today soared past the Brazilian to take a 26-point lead. Such was Thompson's fortune on the merit of posting two victories in as many races today while Fontes suffered a 20, 44, setting him back to second place and tied on points with third-place finisher Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA).
"It was a tough day, real shifty, like yesterday," said Thompson, "and you had to get in sync with those shifts. When you're in sync and you know you're sailing well, sometimes it's easy to go off your own way and sometimes you're able to pull well away to extend your lead, but once I got ahead I just decided to be conservative and consolidate, so my leads were not huge. There are three more races, so this certainly isn't over."
In the Two Person High Performance Dinghy event, racing among the top 49ers in the world has been especially competitive. The point spread tightened at the top today, with only nine points separating the first- and fifth-place teams. France's Emmanuel Dyen and Stéphane Christidis maintained their lead in the 26-boat fleet after 12 races overall, five points ahead of Denmark's duo of Simon Karstoft and Jonathan Bay who posted a consistent 3, 3, 3 today.
"I think it was a really tricky day out there," said Karstoff, adding that positions over the 1.1-mile course "could change so much, so it's a challenge to keep your cool."
Kartsoff said he and Bay kept it simple and didn't panic on the race course. "We had good speed and good starts and that allowed us to get to the good places early, which was key for us."
In the first race of the day, the Phillips brothers, William Phillips and Sam Phillips from Australia had a good start off the line, maintained their lane to the left and were the first to tack on the left side of the course. They owned the middle for the rest of the beat and rounded ahead of the fleet. From there, they continued their lead through to the finish. The Finnish team of Lauri Lehtinen and Kalle Bask won the second and third races.
The 49er class started in 1995 and parachuted into the Olympic Games in 2000. The fleet has grown substantially over the last 10 years, attracting sailors from other classes who seek fast and exhilarating racing. Their races are only 30 minutes long, so they can squeeze in up to four races a day in perfect conditions. "It's the F1 Ferrari of sailboat racing," said USSTAG's Trevor Moore (USA). "Every aspect of the game is an adrenaline rush. There's never a dull moment on the race course. There's always a split-second reaction needed: the longer you wait, the more costly it is."
France also holds the overall lead in the Women's 470 event. Ingrid Petitjean and Nadège Douroux (FRA) returned to the top of the leaderboard after a first and a second in races seven and eight of the series. Americans Amanda Clark and Sarah Chin fall back to second, tied on 23 points with the French team. In the men's fleet, Sweden's Anton Dahlberg and Sebastian Östling have taken over at the lead with consistent 4, 4 scores in the day's two races. Double World Champions Nic Asher and Elliot Willis (GBR) now lie in second place.
The American crews continue to dominate the tightly contested Star fleet. Andy Horton and James Lyne still hold onto first place after recovering from an OCS early-start score in the day's first race with a win in the second. The leader is also unchanged in the Finn, with reigning World Cup Champion Ed Wright (GBR) extending his lead to 12 points over Skandia Team GBR teammate Giles Scott (GBR) in second. Wright picked up another race win - his fourth of the series so far - and a third to cement his place at the top of the leaderboard, even though he and Scott both picked up yellow flag penalties in the opening race.
Dutch windsurfer Dorian Van Rijsselberge continues to impress in the Men's RS:X fleet and now holds a five-point advantage over Ivan Pastor (ESP) at the top of the leaderboard. In the women's fleet, last year's runaway World Cup winner Blanca Manchon posted a second and a first to return to the top of the leaderboard with just eight points scores after six races. Manchon is closely followed by Charline Picon (FRA) and World Champion Marina Alabau (ESP), who are both four points off the pace.
Lucy MacGregor, Annie Lush and Ally Martin (GBR), the reigning World Cup Champions, continue to impress in the Women's Match Racing event. The Skandia Team GBR trio, vying for honours in the newest Olympic sailing class, have still yet to be beaten in any of their 14 races so far at this second leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup series, and have amassed a 2-0 lead in their first-to-three quarter-final against Danish opposition.
Macgregor's team started Thursday's racing in style, completing the clean sweep in the gold round robin group to enter the knockout quarter-final stage as top seeds. There they took on Denmark's Lotte Meldgaard Pedersen, the world #9, and gained a 2-0 advantage for when the quarter-finals resume on Friday.
"It felt really good this morning to finish off with all wins against the rest of the top six boats and then move into the quarters," admitted crew Lush on their performance so far. "There were really shifty, tricky conditions today. I think it was all quite calm on the boat and everyone said we looked quite calm but it was hard and there was a lot going on on the racecourse today!"
The British trio will face tough competition should they advance to the semi-finals, with world #1 Claire Leroy (FRA) and US skipper Sally Barkow, both two-time World Championship winners, locked in battle to meet them in the final four. Currently Leroy holds the upper hand, holding a 2-0 advantage.
"Either way it's going to be a tough semi-final!" Lush confessed, although she, Macgregor and Martin have already toppled both crews in the round-robin stages.
"We've raced Sally twice - she was our closest race probably so far in the round robin but we beat her, and beat her again in the gold fleet and Claire as well, so that feels good and so hopefully we'll just keep doing what we're doing, and just keep chipping away"
"It's quite funny for me match racing against Sally," she continued. "I've match raced with her for about five years and won the Worlds with her twice. She's the person I've match raced with the most, so it's funny racing against her but I know her moves, what eggs her on and what makes her calm down so it's good for us!"
In the other quarter finals, Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) leads Lucinda Whitty (AUS) 2-0 whilst reigning World Champion Nicky Souter (AUS) is tied at 1-1 with Samantha Osborne (NZL).
There was one change amongst the leaders in the three Paralympic events. Reigning IFDS Disabled Sailing World Champion Thierry Schmitter (NED) has taken over the lead in the 2.4mR fleet, edging John Ruf (USA) into second place with Beijing Paralympic gold medallist Paul Tingley in third. In the SKUD18 fleet, Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett (USA) still lead, with Jennifer French and Jean-Paul Creignou (USA) now second and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) third. In the Sonar fleet, Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Per Eugen Kristiansen and Marie Solberg (NOR) put in another day of consistent performances to maintain their overall lead.
In addition to title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A., US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR is also sponsored by AlphaGraphics, Atlantis WeatherGear, Sperry Top-Sider, Harken, Team McLube, and the University of Miami Hospital.
A complete roster can be viewed at the event website, http://rmocr.ussailing.org, where real-time regatta results, photos and updates will be posted daily once racing begins. Video highlights, produced by T2Productions, will air Wednesday through Saturday and can be viewed on the event website. Fans can also visit the Facebook fan page and Twitter page.
You can follow live coverage of this year's event on Sailgroove via the link below.
Click here for live the Sailgroove Miami page.