There was no relief from the testing conditions experienced all week at the ISAF World Championships in Santander, but most members of the Australian Sailing Team ended the day in their strongest position of the regatta.
In every class there were reports of wind strengths rising and falling from over 20 knots to almost nothing, and of wind shifts all over the course, which Nacra coach Andrew Landenberger described as “like Casino Royale”.
Fortunately for the Australians, today they rarely found themselves on the wrong side of the shifts and most were able to work the lifts and climb out of any trouble.
They say that cream rises to the top and that was definitely the case in the 470. Mat Belcher and Will Ryan have totally dominated this class since Ryan took over as crew from the equally dominant Malcolm Page after the 2012 Olympics. While the first few days of the regatta tested them, going into the medal race they sit a massive 14.7 points clear of the Croatian team who are in second place.
“We knew we needed to have a good day today,” said Belcher. “We had to make every race count and today's result (two bullets and a second place) gives us a lot of confidence that when things get tough we can can rise to the occasion.”
Despite the testing conditions, it was an excellent day for Olympic champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. The were second in the first race of the day and won the next one, then headed home early for some much needed sleep.
While it is almost certainly a case of too little, too late, they moved closer to their rivals Peter Burling and Blair Tuke after the Kiwi world champions had a collision and were wrapped around a mark for nearly five minutes. It is testament to their form that they were able to climb back into the boat and work their way through the fleet to finish 14th, which becomes their drop. Burling was last sighted in the protest room, but even a DSQ would not change the equation.
Asked who was at fault in the collision, Buring said it was “a bit of both”.
“We just got in a position where it was impossible for either of us to avoid it,” he said. “We did our turns though, just in case.”
There was some satisfaction for the Australians in that they were responsible for the Kiwis being down in the fleet and mixing it up at close quarters during the mark roundings. Until now they have always been in the first few boats, who get round without traffic and clear away.
“We held a lane off the start and rolled the Kiwis,” said Outteridge. “They had to tack out and got caught up in the pack.”
He described the conditions as “less survival” than yesterday but Jensen added that there were still some testing puffs coming down the course. “There are a few boats missing parts,” Outteridge added.
The key element in the Australians' success was that they were able to work the shifts today, whereas yesterday the wind was often so strong they had to hold off from gybing until the wind eased.
“Today we could gybe when we wanted to,” said Outteridge. “That gave us options up the course.”
All three Australian crews in the 49erFX gold fleet experienced one bad race and one good one, and they now sit just outside the top 10 in 14th, 15th and 16th place, with just a point separating each of them.
Olympic silver medallist Olivia Price and crew Eliza Solly had their first win of the regatta, but coupled it with a 14th and a 22nd. Price was philosophical about the event, which started with Black Flag disqualification.
“We've been trying to improve throughout the regatta and we have been, so that's good, said Price. “We've seen these things (bad races) before so we'll go home and work on them.”
Like her team mates, she said the conditions were very tricky, making it difficult to decide which settings to use.
Sitting one place and one point above Price and Solly are Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks. They had a second placing in the first race today but followed it up with a 24th, which becomes their drop, and a 22nd.
Elks described it as a day of snakes and ladders – “a bit of a tough one”.
One place and one point above them are Olympic 470 Olympic gold medallist Tessa Parkinson and crew Chelsea Hall. The pair have had less racing than their compatriots and it has showed at different times, when they have been in commanding positions but have “gone for a swim” or been overtaken by a bunch of boats.
They are 16 points out of 10th place and seem unlikely to qualify for the medal race, but another day like today could see major fluctuations.
The Australian contingent in the Nacra is an interesting mix of youth and experience. Experienced helms Darren Bundock and Euan McNicol face up against the young guns, Jason Waterhouse and Pip Pietromonaco.
Today it was the youngsters who had the bragging rights, with Waterhouse and his cousin, Lisa Darmanin, recording a bullet, a second place and a 10th to leapfrog Bundock and his crew Nina Curtis to sit in fifth overall and with a very good chance of making the medal race.
“There were big shifts and big pressure lines all over the course and they were moving around,” Waterhouse reported. “We just chipped away and got the win, which was good.”
It was “just one of those days” according to Bundock, who would normally be the master of such conditions. He and Curtis had to 18ths and an 11th to fall to eighth overall.
“You had to make sure your brain was on,” said Curtis, “You could gain or lose 15 boats with a good or a bad call.”
She and Bundock looked tired after two consecutive days of four races in trying conditions and will hopefully be better for a good rest tonight.
The other youngsters, Pietromonoco and James Wierzbowski, had a scoreline of 12, 5, (19) and are in 15th overall, but only 12 points outside the top 10.
They are followed in 16th place by McNicol and Lucinda Whitty, who had two good races (6th and 8th) before a 33rd which becomes their drop. With three more gold fleet races, they will need a good day tomorrow to make the medal race, currently sitting 16 points away.
Australia's two gold fleet participants, Jake Lilley and Oliver Tweddell have fallen off the overall pace but continue to put some good races together. With two races remaining Lilley is only six points off 10th place but his results today, a 12th and a 22nd, didn't help him close the gap.
Tweddell managed a fourth today and has a bullet against his name, but two scores in the 20s and two in the 30s have ruined an otherwise excellent regatta. He is 23rd and can't make the medal race.
At the top of the table, British sailor Giles Scott has shown he is human after starting the event by winning five races straight. Today he added a third and fourth to yesterday's second place – and his lead is “only” 20 points.
Scott was the overwhelming favourite coming into the regatta and has done nothing to persuade his rivals that he will be easy to beat any time soon. Ivan Gaspik (CRO) is in second and Jonathan Lobert (France) is in third.
Two more medal races were run today, with Julien Bontemps of France continuing his domination of the class to win by a massive 21 points over Przemyslaw Miarczynski of Poland and Thomas Goyard (FRA), who took bronze on a countback from another Pole, Piotr Myszka . Bontemps stayed out of trouble and was happy to finish fourth in the final race.
In the women's division the lead changed many times in the up-and-down conditions but there could be only one winner. Charlene Picon of France had a worst placing of fourth after dropping a ninth in the qualifying races and she romped away to win the Gold by an enormous margin of 40 points.
Veteran Spaniard Marina Alabau received the acclaim of the big crowd in the grandstand when she was announced as the Silver medallist on a countback from Maayan Davidovitch (ISR).
With four titles now decided, we have the unique situation where the Netherlands won both Laser classes and France won both RS:X titles.
That situation will change tomorrow when the 470 classes sail for the title. In the women's class Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar of Austria lead 2012 Olympic champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie by a single point and the victor will come from one of those crews.
Neither of those countries will be represented in the men's division, where Croatia would need to win with Australia no higher than ninth if they were to ruin Mat Belcher's 32nd birthday and deny him his fifth straight world championship.
– Roger McMillan in Santander