If the Chamber of Commerce had stayed up all night working at it, they could not have served up a better day for racing at ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, presented by Sunbrella.
The second day offered a steady diet of breeze in the teens, the allure of a sun-drenched Biscayne Bay, and the kinetic beauty of boats in ten Olympic and three Paralympic sailing classes being put to their best and highest purpose.
We're still early in a regatta scheduled for six days of racing, including a Medal Race on Saturday for top-ten qualifiers. At stake are qualifying points and slots for the finale of the six-event international series that has become the proving ground of the would-be Olympic sailor.
The finale will take place in Abu Dhabi U.A.E. late in 2015, and after that – After that, an athlete is either ready for Rio and the 2016 Olympic Games, or not.
In their first trip to Miami, Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (NZL) have brought their game faces.
The masters of control in the opening day's big breeze backed up their bright start with a 1-2-7 to solidify their position at the top of the fleet.
Their secret in Monday's madness, “Our advantage was to have a much taller and bigger crew on the wire as it was single trapezing,” explained Jones. “That was our advantage downwind but we sailed well upwind as well.”
With Jones at the helm and the 6'1″ Saunders in front of her, it proved to be a winning formula as she continued, “Yesterday we had pretty good speed, we didn't have good starts but we took some pretty huge shifts upwind and that put us in a pretty good position round the top mark and then chipped away for the rest of the racing.”
The Kiwis have always been in the top group at Nacra 17 competitions but are yet to back it up with a podium finish. Whilst that may be in the back of their mind, with nine fleet races remaining ahead of Saturday's Medal Race the Kiwis will be sticking to their usual pre-sail routine for Wednesday's trio of races, “We'll just start again, get a nice sleep in, cruise on down, check the boat is good and then launch an hour before racing. It's a really high level fleet and the racing is really good.”
The day's other race wins went the way of Renee Groeneveld and Steven Krol (NED) who are 11th overall and Ben Saxton and Hannah Diamond (GBR) who are seven points off the Kiwi leaders.
With first starts in the afternoon, in decreasing winds, the two divisions of women sailing Laser Radials “hoped to get in three races,” said Ireland's Annalise Murphy, “but we just ran out of time.”
Long shadows were spreading over the boat park at the Olympic Training Site as Murphy de-rigged. She described the day's competition as, “Pretty difficult. Winds 5 to 15 and really shifty. We saw some 60-degree shifts, and that is rather stressful racing. If you're leading, you can easily drop a lot of the fleet. If you're behind, the lottery just might go your way.”
Murphy at 2-2-(5)-3 is presently second in the standings to Denmark's Anne-Marie Rindom, 3-(5)-1-1. Belgium's Evi Van Acker is third with scores of (7)-3-3-5. There are 79 Laser Radials, broken into two divisions.
“On a tricky day,” Murphy said, it feels good to get consistent, high finishes. A sixth and a fourth today qualify, and the fact is, the breeze is tricky but slightly predictable. If it goes hard left, it's most likely to go back hard right. The question, is how long do you wait? “The thing is to go up the middle and don't get locked out on either side.”
Brazil's five-time Olympic medalist, Robert Scheidt, owned the course today along with Aussie Matthew Wearn. Sailing in separate divisions of the 107-boat fleet, each won a race.
After five races, Scheidt leads the standings with scores of 2-(4)-2-3-1. Wearn looks good to go the distance at (7)-7-1-1-2 and, being a Western Australian in his twenties, he naturally has a nickname. Try Wearn Dog.
Nick Thompson of Great Britain likewise looks good at 6-4-2-(10)-1, and behind Thompson comes Jean Baptiste-Bernaz, who has burned his throw-out with 37 points in race five.
New Zealand's Alex Maloney and Molly Meech were left somewhat disappointed as they returned ashore after four 49erFX races with a handy advantage at the top of the leader board.
For many a 2-2-5-9 scoreline would be a day of work well done. But for the Maloney, the ninth, which they discard, left her visibly frustrated, “We had a good downwind, gybing in pressure,” explained Maloney, “but I probably took it a little bit too far and gybed a bit too many times near the finish and we lost a few boats.
“It was a tricky out there, a head out of the boat type of day. We'll learn from the mistakes we made today. Hopefully we'll improve on that but all in all it was a pretty consistent day.”
The day prior the Kiwis were one of eight boats to complete the single 49erFX race in the big Miami breeze. With their nearest rivals counting hefty scores, the Kiwis are the only team with single digit scores and subsequently lead Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) by 17 points.
That in mind, they're still striving for me, “Tomorrow we are going to improve our starts by getting a good lane. If we do that, our results will improve,” concluded Maloney.
The day's victories were spread four ways. Third placed Leonie Meyer and Elena Christine Stoffers (GER) claimed the opening win with Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth (GBR), Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) and Ida Marie Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen (DEN) all claiming bullets.
Consistency is king in sailing and after two days of racing, Diego Botin and Iago Lopez (ESP) are a fine example of that statement.
From six races they hold a trio of race wins, a pair of twos and a discarded eighth. Their score of seven points leaves them 14 clear of David Gilmour and Rhys Mara (AUS).
With six races down, 49er qualification is done and dusted. The top 29 teams now advance to gold fleet racing where the competition and fight for points will heat up.
Botin and Lopez's advantage is a healthy one but as shown at the 2014 editions of World Cup Mallorca and Hyères, Botin struggles when it comes down to gold fleet racing. Only time will tell.
At the cut of mark Julien d'Ortoli and Noe Delpech (FRA), Yago Lange and Nicolas Aragones (ARG) and Canada's Michael Brodeur and Daniel Inkpen all sneaked in to the gold fleet by a narrow two points.
After the conclusion of the six race qualification series, there is very little separating the top Men's RS:X sailors.
France's Louis Giard holds on to his overnight lead but with three days of gold fleet racing ahead of him, he will be under no false pretences that the work is done. Eleven points split places first to eighth with Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED), defending Miami Champion Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) and Nick Dempsey (GBR) breathing down Giard's neck.
One of the biggest smiles of the day on the race course came from youngster Mattia Camboni (ITA). The 2013 RS:X Youth World Champion put in a hard fought performance in the fifth race of the yellow fleet. Working his sail hard on the run to the finish the Italian stormed to the race victory ahead of Ricardo Santos (BRA) and Nimrod Mashich (GBR).
Defending Miami Champion Bryony Shaw (GBR) showcased her skillset once again in the Miami sun, advancing to top spot following three top results. A fourth, a bullet and a fifth give her a one point advantage over Russia's Olga Maslivets and a two point advantage over Lilian de Geus (NED).
The leading trio shared the race wins between them but it's Shaw's consistency that ultimately sees her top the billing.
Giles Scott stumbled all the way to fifth in race four, but that did not alter the Finn class story line. Britain's gold medal hope, who has not lost a regatta in eighteen months, now has scores of 1-1-1-(5) and a lead of three points over Australian Jake Lilley-and Lilley has already used his throw-out.
Having come in as the obvious favourite, Scott is inevitably in the spotlight. But he's a realist. “People ask me about my form,” he says. “It was great to go last year unbeaten, but, ultimately is kind of means nothing.”
Not when, really, it's all about Rio, 2016.
The World Junior Champion is also faring well in his first year in senior competition. Anders Pedersen of Norway is fourth overall after a 4-9 day. He said, “Today's racing was tough. It was very shifty and up and down in pressure. The first race for me was good. I had a good start and got the flow. The second was difficult. I lost the wind half way up the first beat, and got knocked out of rhythm. The rest of the race was a struggle to hang onto the fleet.”
As for the shift from Junior to a Senior, “The perspective hasn't changed that much, really. My goal is to do well in the Olympics. It's good to feel that I am fighting with 'the big guys.' “
At 2-3-(26)-1, Lilley is, yes, three points out of first, but those are a big three points, and another bad race would really hurt. Great Britain's Ed Wright has been consistent at 3-(7)-6-6, but this is a unique fleet where, for the last 18 months, consistent high place finishes have not been enough.
Forty boats. It's lonely at the top.
Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie came to Miami as favorites, and so far, they're living the role. You have to love a pair who meld into Team Jolly. 420 class world champions and gold medalists for New Zealand in the 470 at the London Games in 2012, they are “on track for Rio” as either of them will tell you.
After two days in a fleet of 29, Team Jolly is sitting on scores of 2-2-1-(7) and a three-point lead over Great Britain's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark. Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntire, also GBR, are another seven points back in a tight grouping with boats from Russia, Japan and Slovenia.
Mills and Clark are a case in point of what it takes to compete at this level, beyond the relentless physical training and hours and days and weeks in the boat. Mills has it that, “I would guess almost a fourth of our time is spent making up ropes, preparing and polishing the boat before any big regatta. And it's not just our boat that needs the love. We make sure we have a spares bag made up with almost anything we can think of that we would be able to change or fix on the water, just in case. If we didn't have spares on the water in the coach boat, we would have to go ashore to sort out problems. And miss races.”
At ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, that wouldn't do.
Panagiotis Mantis and crew Pavlos Kaglias of Greece lead the Men's 470 standings, but the banana peel under their heel takes the form of a throw-out used in the opening race. They look good on scores of (25)-4-1-1 but cannot afford another bad result.
Two hungry teams are only one and two points back, respectively, and they could better afford a bad race in the coming days. Britain's Luke Patience and Elliot Willis wrapped Tuesday with scores of 1-2-(5)-4 followed by Australian's Mat Belcher and Will Ryan at 5-1-2-(12). Behind them, it's an eight-point jump to fourth.
And why don't they ever get the crew's perspective?
They do. Roger Hudson would probably rather have had his talking moment on Monday, when he and his skipper, Jim “Squirrel” Asenathi, placed 4th and 6th – and it was Asenathi's birthday. Two 13ths on Tuesday pulled the South African sailors down to 10th overall, but the experience jelled in Hudson's analysis of the racecourse.
“The defining thing,” he said, “is that even though it's breezy, it's really on and off, with a lot of pressure differences. It's quite light in patches, and the wind comes through in big blocks. There are huge gains to be made, and lots of position shifting. It's like sailing in Greece, with the wind coming off the land, broken up by land features, and that's maybe why the Greek guy won two races today.”
Results will be available here – www.sailing.org/worldcup/results/index.php