Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tough first day at the Monsoon Cup

[Source: World Match Racing Tour] The Monsoon rain in Kuala Terengganu on the east coast of Malaysia, with more than 200mm (eight inches) falling in the last 24 hours, has provided a dramatic backdrop to the 2009 Monsoon Cup, the final event in the 2009 World Match Racing Tour.

Overnight there had been heavy thunderstorms and during the skippers briefing this morning there was driving rain with claps of thunder and flashes of lightning.

David Tallis, Principal Race Officer of the Monsoon Cup commented 'Rain is not a problem for us unless it is so torrential that the loss of visibility makes racing unsafe, but we will come off the water if there is local lightning.'

Luckily neither case happened, rain eased just ahead of the scheduled start time but heavy thunderstorms lashed the sailors, as predicted, in the late afternoon.

Torvar Mirsky at the prestart. Kuala Terengganu, 2 December 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Upstream the Terengganu River is heavily swollen, with many villages and towns flooded. The currents sweep fast across the Pulau Duyong (Mermaid Island) Basin course and downstream to the river mouth. The current flow across the Basin varies dramatically with the tide, most of the volume coming from the southern side of the Island from the rear of the starting box.

So the scene was set for an enthralling battle and as expected the current flow, of up to five knots at its peak, provided 'a winning elevator' out on the right hand side of the course.

The 2005 and 2008 Monsoon Cup champion Peter Gilmour summed up the day. 'It was tough, give no quarter and take no quarter. The way it was today the start was super critical, for a short while the pin end worked. Then it was back to the boat end and head right, if you mucked it up boy you had a lot of work to do. But actually with plenty of wind it was a sensational day of racing.”

'The monsoon was certainly here with vengeance today, it was the most challenging combination of wind, rain and tide I remember in all of the five Monsoon Cups - the toughest day at the office.'

With 150 World Match Racing Tour competition points and more than US$450,000 of prize money at stake the pre-start battles were adrenalin pumping.

Adam Minoprio loses his match against Damien Iehl. Kuala Terengganu, 2 December 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Whilst most of the results were as expected, there were some surprises.

After a shock loss to World number seventh ranked Damien Iehl in his first match this morning, the 2009 Tour leader Emirates Team New Zealand BlackMatch skipper Adam Minoprio commented 'we won the start, made a silly little mistake and were penalized. That was it, we lost our first race, but we won't do that again.'

The pressure was on. For Minoprio it was straight back to business for the perfect start; he won on the left, then he was first to tack to the right, after suckering Magnus Holmberg into a penalty.

Last week Minoprio had been a little off the pace, finishing behind Torvar Mirsky and Ben Ainslie, so his match against Ainslie in the last flight of the day was watched with interest.

Minoprio was definitely on form, he controlled the pre-start and Ainslie was penalized. Ainslie lead around the course; at the top mark for the second time he was three lengths ahead but 'not enough to do our penalty and cross the line first. We thought about slowing the race down to try and get the penalties even, but with 20 knots of wind, the leg just happened too fast.'

The prestart action as seen from the media center. Kuala Terengganu, 2 December 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

However Ainslie was smiling. 'A great day, good wind, a huge challenge we have to get used too.'

With a loss in the first race for Tour leader Minoprio, the first match for the number two on the Tour was watched closely. Mirsky proved to be too sharp for Francesco Bruni, who is struggling with the transition from light wind conditions in America's Cup boats, to the stronger conditions in the Foundation 36’s.

In the pre-start Mirsky led Bruni up river bucking against the current, then turned and almost pushed the Italian into the marina pen. As they approached the line, definitely too early, Bruni was trying to zigzag to slow but failed to keep clear and Mirsky had to swing away to avoid a collision; penalty against Bruni. Mirsky won the start and the match.

Bruni was philosophical. 'A very unique sailing course, we struggled to find our timing, but in spite of our 1-3 today we were better as the day went on. We are hoping for a better day tomorrow.'

As Torvar Mirsky explained 'Today, if you lost the start and got beaten to the elevator, you were pretty much done. That's what happened to us against Mathieu Richard. So the starts were just absolutely critical.'

Another important match was between the 2008 and 2009 World Match Racing Tour Champion Ian Williams and defending champion Peter Gilmour.

Ian Williams and Damien Iehl at the prestart. Kuala Terengganu, 2 December 2009. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Williams was penalized in the pre-start with about 15 seconds to go. Gilmour was penalized as the two boats tacked when the two sterns touched on the start line. He received an immediate penalty for not keeping clear as contact was made. Williams started clear ahead and went on to win.

But Williams finished 1-3 overall. Ruefully the defending World Champion commented 'You have to be right on the money and today we were not.'

And some words from the other side...

Bill Edgerton, Chief Umpire said 'We've been getting lots of advice, some of it perhaps a little optimistic.'

David Tallis, Principal Race Officer concluded 'We are expecting a similar day tomorrow, another hard day at the office.'

Day 1 Round Robin Results
Adam Minoprio (NZL) Emirates Team New Zealand/BlackMatch Racing 3-1
Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing Team 3-1
Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing 3-1
Ben Ainslie (GBR) Team Origin 3-1
Ian Williams (GBR) Team Pindar 1-3
Damien Iehl (FRA) French Match Racing Team 3-2
Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team 2-2
Magnus Holmberg (SWE) Victory Challenge 2-2
Sebastien Col (FRA) French Match Racing Team/ALL4ONE 2-1
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Team Azzura 1-3
Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing Team 1-3
Hazwan Hazim Dermawan (MAS) Taring Pelangi Team 0-4

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