The Olympic sailing program got underway today (Sunday) on the windswept waters off Weymouth and Portland. The Finn class was first away at 12 noon and it nearly ended in disaster for Australian representative Brendan Casey in his first race as an Olympian.
Casey got off the line well in the middle of the fleet and appeared to be sailing conservatively, until a rash venture to the layline halfway up the course pushed him to the back of the fleet. He clawed back several places to be 19th of the 24 starters when, in his own words, he “pushed too hard” and capsized.
Scrambling to get the boat upright, Casey planted his foot on the join between the hull and the deck – and the seal broke. With water gushing in, there was no option but to pull out of the race.
“I made an unforced error and capsized the boat,” said Casey. “While righting the boat deck and gunnel were pulled apart and it was filling with water. I had to retire from the race and prepare it for the next one.
“We ‘Macgyvered’ the boat back together with a roll of duct tape and tried to get as much water out of it as possible, I then calmed myself down and tried to put a good race two together,” he said.
Again favouring the centre of the course, Casey found clear air and good boat speed and rounded the top mark in third place. In the brisk 16-18 knot winds he worked hard downhill and maintained his position, but by now water was penetrating the duct tape and the boat was becoming heavy. He lost two places on the second beat and another two on the run, but finished a creditable seventh, leaving him in 16th overall.
The hard work now passes to the team’s boat builder Mark Thorpe, who will be burning the midnight oil to have Brendan’s boat back in shape and watertight by tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, on a media boat dominated by British journalists, I witnessed local confidence turn to concern as Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen nailed the start from the pin end in both races and flew away from the fleet, leading at every mark to finish with the perfect score.
Ben Ainslie has always been considered Britain’s best hope for a sailing medal and most commentators, myself included, thought the rest of the fleet was sailing for second. Obviously, Hogh-Christensen doesn’t subscribe to that theory.
In race one, the Dane and Austrian Florian Raudaschl started best at the pin end, racing away from the shore before tacking back to the middle. Meanwhile Ainslie and American Zach Railey obviously preferred the landward end, under the shadow of the Nothe Fort where a huge crowd of spectators had gathered.
The left hand paid and Ainslie was only 11th at the top mark. However, he immediately called on his remarkable downwind ability, hooking onto the small swells and surfing past his rivals, pumping furiously. At the bottom mark he was third, 10 seconds behind the Austrian but 39 seconds down on the Dane.
Again Ainslie opted for the left hand track going upwind and again it didn’t pay. He was back to sixth at the mark, but again used his superior speed and wave-riding ability to return to third behind Ivan Gaspic of Croatia who had overcome a bad start and worked through the fleet.
Learning from his mistakes, Ainslie went left on the final beat and this time held his third place. But of course the last leg is a run and Ainslie snuck ahead, trailing Hogh-Christensen by 17 seconds at the finish but a comfortable eight seconds up on Gaspic.
The second race was moved from the tricky Nothe course to the windier western course but it made no difference to the Dane. Starting at the pin he raced away upwind to be 30 seconds up on Ainslie at the top mark, even extending slightly downwind before Ainslie started to reel him in. This time the placings were the same, just the margin was different – by two seconds.
Once again Gaspic was third across the line, so the leaderboard is simple – Hogh-Christensen has two points, Ainslie has four and Gaspic has six. Jonathan Lobert of France is fourth on 13 points, Vasiliij Zbogar of Slovenia is fifth on 14 and PJ Postma of The Netherlands is sixth on 15, three ahead of New Zealand’s Dan Slater. Eduard Skornyakov (Russia, 21 points), Daniel Birgmark (Sweden, 22 points) and Deniss Karpak (Estonia, 23 points) round out the top 10.
As stated, Brendan Casey sits in 16th on 32 points and will obviously use his DNF as his drop.
There will be two races tomorrow, with wind conditions expected to be similar to today, and with showers forecast.
- Roger McMillan in Portland/Weymouth
Note: Photographs from the Olympics will be uploaded shortly.
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