A long day on the water for the Round of 16 at the World Match Racing Tour

Following yesterday's stop-start day when time was lost with minor breakages, it was always going to be a long day before the quarter finalists were decided at the World Match Racing Tour in Fremantle. 

The day started with the final fleet race to wrap up Group 1. In almost impossibly light airs, Sally Barkow gave the men a lesson in wind reading and won by a country mile. Ian Williams ghosted across the line a full five minutes later, just pushing out Steve Thomas, Evan Walker finished fourth and Nicolai Sehested, who got caught in a hole at the north-east corner of the course, was timed out.

Because of yesterday's delays, the decision was made not to run a sail-off for the final four placings in the pool of 16 for match racing, and the fifth place-getters in each pool missed out.

That meant that the event was over for Sally Barkow, Joachem Aschenbrenner, Mark Whittington and Brett Burville.  

Rahm v Walker

The first pairing away was Mattias Rahm (SWE) against young CYCA member Evan Walker. In race one, Rahm luffed Walker at the start and sped away, with the race quickly becoming a procession. At the top mark after the second beat, Walker had to put in an extra tack and went around the opposite gate mark, but it was to no avail and Rahm went up 1-0 in the best of five series.

Obviously learning from this experience, in the second race Walker had the inside line and put a penalty on Rahm, who was required to slow down until Walker had a two-length lead. The vastly experienced Rahm however had the speed and the layline to perfection on the run and by the bottom gate was a length in front. He tacked early while Walker continued on, hoping to pick the layline to the top mark from a very long way out.

What is becoming clear about match racing in catamarans is that it is vital to minimise manoeuvres. As the boats came back together at the top mark, Walker's one-tack strategy had worked and he unfurled first. He was also able to go to the favoured side of the course and led through the bottom gate by a huge margin. He again used only one tack and again unfurled first, but this time with a much bigger lead. There was nothing that Rahm could do to claw back the margin. It was all tied up at 1-1. 

The start of the third race was all Walker. His time-on-distance was perfect – he led around the first mark and retained his advantage at the gate. There was a cross and Rahm was still behind but the next time they came together he worked his younger rival over, forcing him into a slow tack. Rahm was first through the top gate but the umpires weren't happy and put a two lengths penalty on him. Not only did he lose the lead but also seemed to have lost his cool, making a bad error that saw an extra gybe needed to reach the bottom mark.

Clearly the skippers and their tacticians have worked out that covering is nowhere near as important as minimising tacks, so Walker went walkabout, flying up the centre of the course with seemingly little regard for what Rahm was doing behind him.

He certainly had enough lead to play with, went south on the run for the first time in the race and flew home to lead 2-1.

Sadly for Walker, Rahm turned the tables at the next start, putting his rival into irons. It took the young CYCA team a long time to get mobile and by the bottom mark the race was effectively over. Forced to gamble on the less-favoured northern route to the top mark, a slow tack that saw the gennaker deployed briefly to put the bows across the wind was the final nail in the coffin. By the time they got through the top gate Rahm had already gybed for the bottom mark. Enjoying the luxury of early furls and conservative course management, the experienced Swedish team tied the scores at 2-2 with total ease.

However, it was announced they had been deducted half a point for equipment damage when the boats came together in the third race, so Rahm still needed two wins to progress.

Rahm got the better of the start in the fifth race but Walker managed to get the leeward position and refused to let Rahm gybe. Unfortunately, he carried the Swede well past the layline and was given a penalty as a result. When they came together halfway up the beat, Rahm had a boat length lead. There was nothing in it as they chose different marks at the top gate and Walker raced towards the southern rock groyne while Rahm come straight down the middle.

This time both skippers opted for a different route upwind, with Walker going north and Rahm south. Rahm's was the better option and by the top mark the lead had extended to five boat lengths. They raced back towards the beach at speeds in excess of 20 knots and Rahm had the win. But for that half point penalty, he would have been through to the quarters, but instead needed to do it all again.

The sixth and this time final race featured some boat-on-boat shenanigans in the pre-start but it was Rahm who pulled the trigger first and shot away towards the reach mark. Both boats threw up fountains of white water as they bore away and Walker was risking everything on the run. It was the more controlled Rahm who went through the gate first and Walker had a slow transition to the upwind leg.

Two extra tacks cost the CYCA team even more distance and Rahm was in complete control as he blasted back towards Bathers Beach. An early and perfect furl, two nicely-executed tacks and another run saw Rahm through to the quarter finals. It had been a long road, and the young CYCA team will have learned from the experience.

Williams v Gilmour

Local hope Sam Gilmour was up against six-times world match racing champion Ian Williams (GBR) and it should have been a mis-match in experience. But someone forgot to tell Sam. Winning the start in a drag race, Gilmour was first around the reach mark. Williams appeared to be having a sheeting problem with the gennaker in the downwind run and Gilmour extended away. Williams came back at him, but slick tacks and great laylines put the younger sailor across the line for a comfortable win.

The pre-start manoeuvres in the second race were very agressive with Williams trying to put a penalty on his young rival. Gilmour fought fire with fire and aggressively luffed the champion seconds before the start, allowing him to race away to a comfortable lead. Williams was forced to the left at the bottom gate while Gilmour could follow the same course as Walker had used in the previous race.

Unfortunately, he didn't pick the layline as well as his eastern state compatriot. Williams was able to cross ahead, and led comfortably by the top mark. Champions tend to do things like this. One gybe and a fast run to the bottom gate saw the lead blow out to 10 boat lengths and Williams threw a very loose cover on the beat and ran away to level up the scores.

The start of the third race again showed the class and cunning of the world champion. With the leeward position, Williams started a drag race with both boats flying at more than 20 knots of boatspeed. He carried Gilmour a long way past the turning mark before throwing a luff at him and forcing a penalty. To his credit, Gilmour closed the gap a little but was well behind when both boats chose the same gate exit and headed up the course on the south side. From there it became a procession as there was little Gilmour could do to make up the deficit. 

The final race was also a total whitewash by the champion. In irons at the start, Gilmour could only watch in frustration as the green boat sped around the mark and was through its first gybe before the Australians even got onto the course side. Only equipment failure could deny the British team and that didn't happen. Williams was through to the quarter-finals.

Sehested v Thomas

The first race between Nikolai Sehested (DEN) and another local, Steve Thomas, was a thriller. Thomas won the start and extended to a boat length lead at the reach mark. Like Gilmour, he took a perfect line into the bottom gate and extended by the top mark. By this stage Sehested was in follow-the-leader mode. Spotting more wind out to the left, Thomas took off on a long beat while Sehested went around the same gate mark but quickly tacked towards the north. Thomas laid a very loose cover but had let the Dane back in the game. At the top mark Sehested found extra speed and achieved an inside overlap. The boats drag-raced down to the bottom gate and Thomas had the speed. The crowd applauded as the second Western Australian went one up on a northern rival.

Sehested won the start in the second race but the boats were close together as they rounded the reach mark. A good gybe saw the Dane out to a three length lead but Thomas held his nerve, and a late furl on the gennaker paid off. He went left while Sehested went right. They both tacked early and the crowd gasped as they raced towards each other on opposite tacks. Thomas ducked Sehested's stern, there was another quick tack and positions stayed the same. Now it would come down to who had picked the layline best.

It was Sehested and again they split the gate, with Sehested reaching down to the south and Thomas towards the Port of Fremantle in the north. This time it was one gybe each and they were close as they split the bottom gate – Sehested again going south. He reached the top mark first, again went south and again his rival chose the north. It was a brave race from Thomas but Sehested had shown his experience and skill, gybing beautifully around the mark and racing through the finish line for a clear win. The score was 1-1.

The third race saw the umpires called into play again. After a very even race to the wing mark and down the run, Thomas tried to duck inside Sehested at the gate but was ruled not to have achieved the overlap. The two boat lengths penalty let the Dane escape.

The wind was picking up, blowing well over 20 knots, and in these conditions once you are behind it is very hard to find passing lanes, especially against an opponent with much more experience in the M32 than you have. Thomas tried various paths both up wind and down, but with steady breeze across the course Sehested was in no danger and took an easy victory to go to match point.

In the crucial fourth race, Thomas got the better of the start and with the wind shifting, spectators were treated to the sight of two M32s under full sail charging straight towards the beach.

Thomas went right and Sehested went left a few seconds later. A very slow tack halfway up the course by the Aussies saw the Dane cross well in front, and a perfect tack by them was all they needed to reach the top mark with a big lead. How quickly things can change when cats are match racing in 25 knots of wind!

By the bottom gate for the second time, the lead was over 15 lengths and this time both boats went left. Better boat handling helped the Aussies but the damage had been done. Sehested crossed the line for a comfortable win and a place in the quarter finals.

Canfield v Steele

Chris Steele (NZL) put himself in irons at the start of his first match with number one qualified Taylor Canfield (BVI) and Canfield took full advantage. The pair split gybes on the first run, but Steele's dash north did nothing to reign in his rival. The Virgin Islander had a 10 boat lead at the bottom mark for the second time and continued the form he showed during fleet racing. 

The second race started exactly as the first had done, except the roles were reversed. This time it was Canfield in irons and Steele racing away down wind. At the bottom mark Canfield was forced to choose the less-favoured north side, giving the Kiwis huge separation as both boats charged upwind on port.

There would have been no way back for Canfield from such a large deficit in strong winds but when his gennaker unfurled half-way up the beat, his race was well and truly over. Forced to sail directly away from the mark for over a minute while a massive wineglass was unwound, he was only half way up the first beat when Steele swept through the bottom gate. Sailing conservatively, the Kiwis levelled the score at 1-1.

The first run of the third race got the crowd on their feet as the freshening wind had both boats almost out of control. Canfield appeared to be in the better position, but a late charge from Steele took him to the favoured left-hand mark. It was not enough, though, as he was forced to duck Canfield at the first cross.

By the top mark Canfield had taken control and flew away into the centre of the course, giving the crowd another thrill as he ran straight towards them. White water was flying and the bows were digging in but these M32s always seem to come back up. This time Canfield went left and Steele was forced right. The two extra tacks he had to make were costly, and Canfield could run down to the finish in full control. He was now on match point.

The sun was getting low on the horizon as the fourth race started at 5.08pm and Steele was in no hurry to get ashore. He won the start, held the lead to the bottom mark and executed a perfect tack in front of the large and boisterous crowd. Canfield, unaccostomed to being behind, was a little slower on to port.

Unfortunately for Steele he sailed too far west and Canfield was first to tack, sailing perfectly to the top gate. The downwind run was over in an instant and back up the course they went, Canfield to the left and Steele gambling on the right. It didn't pay off. Canfield was able to cross well ahead when Steele came back on starboard and from then on the result was in no doubt. The number one qualifier had dropped a race, but he was safely through to the quarter final.

Dackhammar v Jerwood

Nicklas Dackhammar had been one of the form skippers in the fleet racing and he got the better of the start over young South of Perth skipper Matt Jerwood. But disaster struck at the bottom mark when the spinnaker furl went wrong. As Jerwood swept around the right-hand mark, Dackhammar's crew furiously tried to tame a wineglass that just wouldn't come out. Sailing slowly up the course with the sail flapping, they saw Jerwood tack well in front and race away to the top gate.

Was he rubbing it in, or did Jerwood think the middle of the course was the place to sail? Either way, after rounding the top mark he headed towards the Swedish boat which was still sailing upwind, and gybed in front of it.

There was no further chance to gloat, however. Dackhammar had been forced to drop the forestay to get the gennaker under control and sailed well past the top mark to give himself room to re-hoist it. When it went back up, there was still a wineglass. The skipper was not happy!

Meanwhile, the local crew simply sailed the course to record the win.

The task became even simpler for the local boy in the second race when Dackhammar was black-flagged after rudder issues. All the SOP crew had to do was sail safely around the course, a task which they completed with consumate ease.

The third race started with exciting drag race. Dackhammar had the leeward position but Jerwood pulled the trigger first and had a slight lead at the reach mark. Better crew work saw the Swede get the advantage, but Jerwood was able to push him around the right hand gate and up the less-favoured side.

At the top mark Jerwood crossed comfortably ahead on starboard and Dackhammar had to throw two extra tacks to get through the gate. Dackhammar closed the gap on the run and this time went the correct way up the beat. But a slow tack on to port made the task impossible and the first Australian was through to the quarter finals, winning 3-0 over the man who qualified in second place for this round.

Monnin v Wallen

Eric Monnin (SUI) and Hans Wallen (SWE) took off in a drag race and Wallen had the leeward position. He took Monnin well past the reach mark but misjudged his layline and Monnin was first to the gate. On the beat Wallen found himself in dirty air and was losing ground. He chose to pinch high rather than tack away and they were side-by-side beating to the top gate.

This time Wallen took advantage of being the leeward boat and Monnin was forced to gybe away. A late furl and a wide gate rounding saw him drop further behind and by this stage Wallen was in control. The final beat and run were relatively uneventful (if sailing a high-performance cat in 25 knots and choppy seas can be described that way) and Wallen put the first point in the bank.

Wallen again had the advantage at the start of the second race and had a four boat length lead at the bottom gate. Monnin was forced to go to the right. That course required two extra tacks and by the top gate Wallen was firrmly in control. 

Monnin threw caution to the very substantial wind on the second run and closed the gap on the more conservative Wallen. The Swede appeared content to cover his Swiss rival on the beat, but it was Monnin who picked the perfect layline and snuck around the top gate in front. Wallen pushed hard on the final run but it was too late. The Swiss crossed two boat lengths ahead and levelled the score.

A mistake by Wallen when he went into irons 10 seconds before the gun in the third race gave the initial advantage to Monnin, He led by three boat lengths at the bottom gate and good tacks by both crews saw them heading out to sea at speed.

Wallen was first to tack on to the layline and Monnin immediately covered. Who had picked it correctly? It was Wallen, who unfurled a split second ahead of tthe Swiss. They gybed simulataneously near the south groyne but Wallen's was the better. He led by five lengths and carried his board all the way to the exclusion zone on the left-hand side of the course.Again, both boats tacked at the same time.

By this stage Wallen had the race won and Monnin could do nothing but follow him around the next two marks and across the finish line.

It was approaching 6pm by the time the fourth race of this series could be started. With a minute to go in the pre-start, both skippers showed they were in the mood to swap some paint before they turned for the long run to the start boat. Wallen was first to get up to speed and by the time both skippers tacked after the bottom gate, he was in the dominant windward position and a few boat lengths ahead.

The experienced Swede appeared determined to finish it with this race and he extended away upwind, holding a huge lead as the gennaker was unfurled again. By the halfway stage only a major mistake could save the Swiss skipper and “the old man” Hans Wallen wasn't about to make one. Once more upwind, once more downwind, through the gate and across the line – the Swede was through to the next round.

Jones v Robertson

Murray Jones is the youngest skipper and has the youngest crew in the Round of 16 and he was up against the very experienced and unflappable Phil Robertson from New Zealand. The Kiwis pulled the trigger perfectly and sent their craft flying towards the reach mark. Jones was not far behind and he made up some ground as both boats leapt the waves and buried their bows. But a poor first tack cost around 10 lengths and Robertson was disappearing into the setting sun.

Another slow tack on to the layline by Jones saw the Kiwis pull further ahead and their crew work was impeccable. Jones and his boys were much smoother the second time around, but the damage had been done. Robertson notched up a very easy victory.

Robertson won the start again in the second race but this time Jones was much closer – so close in fact that he almost ran up the transom of his cross-Tasman rival at the bottom gate. Robertson's first tack was slightly better than Jones' again, but this time the Aussies kept momentum and took off up the course in pursuit. The second tacks followed the same pattern, with the Kiwis flawless and the Aussies less so. The gap was blowing out.

Just when it looked as though the result was a foregone conclusion disaster struck. Robertson, who had been almost perfect until now, snagged the bottom mark and came to a complete halt. By the time the boat floated free Jones had sailed around it, tacked and vanished halfway up the beat.

Although new to the M32s and this elite level of match racing, Jones is a fine young sailor and he wasn't going to let this opportunity escape. Robertson was unable to make any inroads and the scores were tied at 1-1. This match will resume tomorrow.

Swinton v Guichard

The only Australian tour card holder and local hero, Keith Swinton, left Jann Guichard in his wake when their first race got underway just before 5.30pm. But the Frenchman showed superb boat handling skills and closed the gap to just two boat lengths at the gate. 

Swinton picked the layline perfectly at the top of the course and was easily first to turn downwind, but Guichard was not going away. There is nothing he doesn't know about making a multihull go fast and he sailed deeper than Swinton and was first through the gate for the second time. Swinton was right on his transom but a poor tack was very costly. Guichard had the windward position and was further up the course by the time the Aussies got underway again.

Again, Guichard's work was sublime on the downwind run and he crossed the line an easy victor to go 1-0 ahead.

The second race between this pair was the last of the day. It was Guichard who got the hole shot and carried the Western Australian past the reach mark before both executed spectacular bear-aways amid a shower of spray. At the bottom gate Swinton was forced around the right-hand mark and inexplicably it paid off. At the cross there were cheers from the crowd as Swinton was clearly ahead and sailing at speed while Guichard still needed to come back on to starboard for the beat to the top gate.

Swinton's line to the mark was perfect and he held a clear margin as they ran back to the beach for the second time. Downwind had been Guichard's strong suit and his boat again looked beautiful in the setting sun, with gennaker and main trimmed to perfection. They gybed in unison but Swinton was first around and again chose the right hand gate.

A big left-hand wind shift helped Guichard but Swinton was first to tack on the layline. Guichard was a little slow and by that time Swinton was at full speed. “He can't lose it from here,” said a colleague who obviously hadn't been watching the skill of Jann Guichard on a run. With the yellow boat completely out of the water at times, he somehow found the perfect route and snuck through the gate as Swinton thundered towards it. The short dash to the finish boat was a formality and the Frenchman went 2-0 up.

As the clock had clicked over to 6.20pm there would be no further racing and the outstanding matches will be completed tomorrow morning.

– Roger McMillan in Fremantle

 

 

 

 

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