Monday, September 24, 2007

Patches lead first day of Rolex TP52 World Championship

[Source: Rolex TP52 World Championship] Racing in conditions more akin to his home waters of Galway Bay, Ireland, than the glamorous summer resort location of Porto Cervo, Eamon Conneely and the crew of Patches (IRL) kept their wits about them in difficult conditions to end the first day of the Rolex TP52 World Championship on top of the leaderboard, one point ahead of Torbjorn Tornqvist's Artemis (SWE). A statement of intent that the Global Championship crown is not to be given up without a fight.

Dawn broke with a windless, overcast sky, and a Low Pressure system positioned to the south of Sardinia bringing with it a day of, frankly, horrible weather. The competing crews were kept ashore until 1230 by Peter Craig and his team of race officials to allow some wind to fill in. It eventually did from the northwest, and at 1415 the first of two windward leeward races got underway in about 7 knots. Both courses today were two-lap courses, the first with a 1.5 nautical mile leg and the second race with a 2.2 nm leg.

Race winners were Patches who, after a moderate start position, found themselves on the correct side of a right-hand swing in the wind that saw boats on the left side of the course of the first beat under-laying the mark by some distance, and, in the second race - a much tighter affair - Artemis, who had been in second for much of the race before slipping past Mutua Madrilena (CHI) on the final run home.

The fleet at the start line of the Rolex TP52 World Championship. Porto Cervo, 24 September 2007. Photo copyright Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex

The first race started with all sorts of fun on the start line. Clearly, some early Championship nerves were there to be settled as the Committee Boat end resembled a traffic jam and three boats were caught over early further down the line. Artemis and Peter de Ridder's star-studded Mean Machine (MON) grabbed the pin end and steamed off to the left side of the course. Meanwhile at the other end a number of boats were struggling to find a lane. One of those was Rusal Synergy, but such was the shift in the initial leg that by the first mark they were up to fourth despite a distinctly lower class position at the start. By now the overcast sky had decided add injury to injustice by starting to rain, compounding the problems of the shifting wind.

John Cook's Cristabella (GBR) had started conservatively and was making its way steadily up the centre of the course when the shift came. Tactician Gavin Brady takes up the story, "we were in the middle on the first beat and the wind went far enough right that the boats above us were over-laying and those to leeward didn't lay so we had the best of both worlds. We reached the top mark in third or fourth and managed to overtake a couple on the run." As for the conditions, Brady described the effect they had on the decision-makers in the fleet, "it was very hard to see the wind and the shifts because there was so much rain and the clouds were so low you could only see about a hundred yards in front of the boat. There was so much rain on the water that you actually couldn't see the wind patterns. You had to make calculated guesses on what was going to happen and see which way it was phasing." Cristabella made some excellent calculations, eventually finishing second.

Brady found the period between the two races almost as interesting as the main action, with the first race starting in 7 knots and ending with gusts of up to 20. "It started to pour with rain and blow pretty hard as the fleet crossed the finish line. Really there were three races today. After the first there was a race to change mainsails as quick as you could and head to the third!" he added with a laugh.

It is pretty impressive watching the activity on these boats. From the moment they leave the docks to the moment they return there is a constant sense of motion. Brady explained how the rapidly changing conditions meant crews had to rapidly change gears. Light mains off, heavy mains on, new headsails and spinnakers. The TP52s are turned from light wind boats into heavy-air boats in a matter of minutes. For the support boats on the water there is no let up in the final moments leading into the start sequence as decisions are made and altered.

Mean Machine during the first day of the Rolex TP52 World Championship. Porto Cervo, 24 September 2007. Photo copyright Sander Van der Borch / Mean Machine

The second race started in foul conditions after a delay in the proceedings to allow the return of race officials that had decamped from the Committee Boat to attend the finish line that had to be set over a mile distant from the start. The race got underway in 15-16 knots from the north-northeast in driving rain and a lumpy sea. This start was a much tidier affair than the first, with the increase in breeze allowing each TP52 to find a lane and approach the line at speed.

It was much more of a drag race than the first with the key being maintaining speed in the building sea being driven by the increase in wind strength. The TP52s accelerate rapidly in the puffs, but equally seem to lose speed quickly if the nose sticks in a wave. Keeping clean and showing a good turn of speed was Bernardo Matte's Mutua Madrilena (CHI). Tactician Vasco Vascotto described in typically animated style how they came close, but not close enough to scoring a race win, "I hope it will not be the last race we sail very well! The second race was nothing special, but we played a couple of shifts quite well and at the end of the first beat we were in front. We stayed in front on the second beat and half of the last run; unfortunately Russell and Artemis gained on one wave and we were not able to gybe from starboard to port. They "closed the door" on us, gaining some separation. When we came back they were in control, so we came quite close but not close enough to win. Still, second is a good result."

Vascotto clearly enjoyed the first day despite weather not commonly associated with the Costa Smeralda and is looking forward to a good contest over the week ahead, "there are at least 10 boats here that can win this Championship, so we are really pleased that we could get a good result in the second race. It's a very good fleet; any of these boats can win a race for sure. There are some that is a little more favoured but others have exactly the same speed, and there is little difference."

Racing continues tomorrow with more windward-leeward courses and the first signal is scheduled for noon.

Weather-wise, tomorrow a more normal Porto Cervo service should resume. Resident expert Major Filippo Petrucci forecasts that the general situation will get better with early morning clouds gradually clearing in the afternoon. The wind will remain troublesome, certainly initially, with tomorrow likely to be the transition day between a northeasterly airstream and the fabled northwesterly Mistral. 10 -15 knots in the morning could well disappear completely as the rotation to the northwest begins in the early afternoon. As the westerly starts to arrive in late afternoon from the Straits of Bonifacio, the windspeed will start to pick up again. Petrucci is expecting the northwesterly to stay for two three days.

Provisional Standings after 2 races

1. PATCHES Eamon Conneely IRL, 1-5-6.00
2. ARTEMIS Torbjorn Tornqvist, SWE, 6-1-7.00
3. ANONIMO Q8 Riccardo Simoneschi, ITA, 4-3-7.00
4. MUTUA MADRILENA Bablio Sail Project, CHI, 9-2-11.00
5. CRISTABELLA John Cook, GBR, 2-9-11.00
6. MEAN MACHINE Peter de Ridder, MON, 7-4-11.00
7. WINDQUEST Doug DeVos, USA, 8-6-14.00
8. GLORY John Buchan, USA, 3-15-18.00
9. CAM CAJA DEL MEDITERRANEO Leon/Sanchez, ESP, 5-14-19.00
10. STAY CALM Stuart Robinson, GBR, 13-8-21.00



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