Williams v Rahm
The first quarter final was raced between six-times world match racing champion Ian Williams (GBR) and Mattias Rahm (SWE). It was a good old-fashioned match racing dogfight in the pre-start between these very experienced skippers but Williams claimed the dominant leeward position and carried Rahm well past the reaching mark before bearing away.
He converted the advantage into a substantial lead by the bottom mark and when Rahm decided to follow into the stronger pressure down south, it should have made the job easier for the British champion. The boats came back together and a close cross resulted, with Williams on starboard – no penalty was called. At the next tack Rahm had the lead and he was first through the top gate.
Williams made up ground on the run and headed to the opposite side of the course on the final beat. When they came together Williams was forced to duck but he had made up a lot of ground. It would come down to who picked the best layline to the final turn.
The spectators on the shore were treated to the best finish of the series so far, as three tacks and two gybes were thrown, with the boats side-by-side. Finally, Williams slipped through on the inside of the finish boat and took the race.
The second race was a total contrast to the first. This time Rahm had the leeward position and he carried Williams past the southern breakwater before he gybed away. The lead changed several times, with the skippers choosing opposite sides of the course.
At the bottom mark for the last time, Rahm under-laid the mark and needed two extra tacks, allowing Williams through. However, the experienced Swede wasn't finished and the crowd gasped as he came screaming in to the bottom gate on starboard while Williams approached more slowly on port. Williams threw a desperate gybe, Rahm tried to go around the outside, the boats came within millimetres and finally Williams lifted up to the finishing gate half a boat length ahead.
It appeared that Williams had decided 3-0 was a good score as he hit the line perfectly and jumped out to a big lead at the bottom gate. Employing a one-tack strategy, he crossed significantly ahead of Rahm and from there sailed conservatively to be first into the semi-finals.
Wallen v Jerwood
This was a mismatch of experience as the Olympic silver medallist and 2014 M32 champion from Sweden, Hans Wallen, took on the young Perth qualifier, Matt Jerwood. Wallen took the lead early but Jerwood picked his laylines well and rounded the final top mark in front. Both boats went south and Jerwood gybed first. Again his layline was good and he handled the pressure superbly to win by four lengths. Strike one for youth and enthusiasm.
Jerwood also held the lead in the next race, despite a hairy moment after rounding the top mark for the first time. But a bad layline at the top gate saw Wallen get past and open up a convincing lead. Jerwood sailed a better line into the bottom gate but was forced to gybe on to the southern side, which had not been favoured.
A slow tack by Wallen and a slightly quicker one by Jerwood closed the gap but Wallen had his lines into the mark perfect. He unfurled well ahead of his young rival and was untroubled to take the win. Then news came through that both skippers had been deducted half a point for a collision in the first race, which made the scores 0.5 apiece after the two races.
Jerwood was in front at the start of the next race but Wallen managed to get the inside overlap and raced away to a good lead. Again, laylines proved vital and when the Australians had to do an extra tack, Wallen extended.
The big lead meant Wallen could sail conservatively while Jerwood had to take risks and a late drop at the bottom mark meant an incomplete furl of the gennaker. That would prove costly and Wallen ran comfortably back down the course to go to a 1.5 – 0.5 lead. He would still need to win two more to progress.
Jerwood again won the start but this time he denied Wallen the overlap and unfurled first, leading into the bottom gate by two boat lengths. Jerwood went north while Wallen gybed and went south. Wallen's strategy looked the better at the cross, giving him a three length lead, and the margin was similar as they both unfurled for the run.
This was not classic match racing as the tacticians chose radically different paths but at each mark the margin was small. The final beat would decide the result, with Wallen picking his layline well and holding on for a very easy win. But a protest is pending and will be heard ashore.
After a ding-dong battle in pre-start, Wallen was caught in irons and Jerwood got the jump on him. Wallen was quickly underway and Jerwood led by 10 seconds as they both exited the left-hand gate for the first beat. Jerwood was taking advantage of the gusts to lift higher than Wallen and soon starting giving him bad air. A slow tack by Jerwood saw Wallen take evasive acion but no penalty was forthcoming and the Aussies were first through the top gate.
The action at the bottom gate the second time was a replay of the first but this time Wallen tacked earlier. It made no significant difference as Jerwood was first to the top, flew down the run and took another win. This match looked as though it would go on forever! The score was now 2.5 – 1.5 to Wallen, subject to the protest.
Wallen nailed the start of what could be the decider, with Jerwood stuck in irons and effectively beaten by the reach mark. He tried everything he knew, but a man as experienced as Wallen would not lose a lead like this and it appears, subject to the protest, that Jerwood's regatta has come to an end.
He has impressed with his courage, his skill and his professionalism and should go on to make his mark on this tour in coming years.
Sehested v Canfield
In the strong wind that had built up, gusting over 20 knots, it seemed that the form book was going out the window. Nicolai Sehested (DEN) held former world match racing champion Taylor Canfield (ISV) out at the start and was still leading after the run to the bottom mark. Employing a one-tack strategy on the beat, Sehested crossed well ahead and had built a big lead by the top gate. He went north while Canfield went south. The north allows just one gybe if the layline is picked correctly, whereas the south requires two.
Sehested bisected the gate beautifully and by the time Canfield had gybed through, the Dane was on his way back upwind, again hogging the north wall. The black M32 was hobby-horsing through the tack, which cost Sehested a few boat lengths, and the crowd helds its collective breath as the boats came together for the cross at a combined speed of over 40 knots. Sehested got through on port.
There was just a boat length in it at the gate and both skippers chose the two-gybe route. They were side-by-side as they raced towards the beach but the Dane had the inside (leeward) position. The black boat leapt completely out of the water. The yellow boat hovered on the verge of a capsize… and Sehested raced across the line for the win.
Stung by the defeat, Canfield made sure he was in control from the gun in the second race. He swept through the bottom gate, crossed ahead in the middle of the beat and unfurled his gennaker a long way in front.
Sehested sailed a better course to the bottom gate and there was little in it – perhaps three or four seconds as they rounded different marks and went back upwind. Canfield crossed well in front and when he laid the top gate and Sehested had to do an extra tack, the race was effectively over. Canfield sped down the southern side, gybed twice and swept across the line for an easy win.
In the third race, Sehested timed his run to the start better and took an enormous lead, gybing around the reach mark at least 10 boat lengths ahead. The middle of the course has been favoured on the beat and that's what Sehested chose, leaving the northern route to the Virgin Islanders. At the top mark the lead was 10 seconds and the Dane was in control. Run, beat, run – Canfield tried everything but Sehested was not surrendering such an advantage. He won comfortably to lead 2-1.
When Sehested again won the start by a big margin, the number one qualifier was in trouble. He was forced to split tacks on the first run, giving Sehested the more favoured left-hand or southern side. It worked well and the Dane started the first run 10 seconds in front.
This time Canfield chose to follow the Dane at the bottom mark, continued all the way to the exclusion zone and set off upwind in pursuit. Despite the slow speed that these cats go through a tack in strong winds, Sehested was back at speed and gone before Canfield reached the layline. There was nothing he could do to haul in the leader and Shehested joined Williams as a semi-finalist.
Guichard v Jones
Murray Jones learnt his match racing craft in Elliott 7s at the CYCA on Sydney Harbour. By the time he was born, his opponent Yann Guichard was already one of the world's leading multihull sailors. The bookies would have had Jones at 100-1 but his Super 16 form was good – he had shown no fear and his boat handling had improved with every race.
The Frenchman's skill was apparent from the gun, holding the leeward position and finding extra speed. Jones was first to unfurl the gennaker but Guichard was sailing deeper and faster. The lead at the bottom gate was four boat lengths and Jones chose to follow Guichard up the northern side of the course. In dirty air, Jones was forced to tack away and that would mean three manoeuvres to Guichard's one, if the Frenchman laid the mark. He didn't. Jones lined up the right-hand gate and unfurled first.
Downwind sailing has been Guichard's forte all regatta and as both boats flew towards the beach, it was obvious that Guichard had much more control, and therefore more speed, than the wildly girating green boat of Jones. But there were only a few seconds between them as they headed up the course for the second time. Both tacked and they sailed side-by-side towards the gate.
This time it was Guichard who unfurled first and a slow gybe by Jones was the final straw – age had beaten youthful enthusiasm this time at least.
Guichard won the start in the next race and Jones was forced to gybe away in desperation. The tactic didn't work and the race became a procession. Jones fought back to within five boats lengths but Guichard was always in control and took the win.
Cue drama! While the crowd was watching Canfield miss out on the semi-finals, in the background an M32 hovered on the brink and slowly capsized. It was Guichard and, because they were in the pre-start, it was an automatic black flag and Jones didn't need to sail the course to pick up the win.
Jones won the next start but he left the bottom gate open and Guichard came through inside. Jones had more speed and went around the Frenchman before they tacked simultaneously but with Jones to windward. That gave him the advantage at the top mark and the Aussie in the green boat with the Boxing Kangaroo on it's mainsail drew huge cheers as he swept through the bottom gate and forced a man nearly twice his age to duck his stern.
This time they split the course, with Jones up the middle and Guichard choosing the north. That proved spectacularly unsuccesful and Jones crossed 10 boat lengths ahead, beat through the top gate and ran down the course for a comfortable victory. The match would go to a deciding fifth race.
It was Guichard who got his time-on-distance right and led around the reach mark. A slow tack after the gate didn't help Jones's cause, especially when Guichard performed his flawlessly. That translated into a comfortable lead at the top gate and from there the class of Guichard showed. He extended away and there was nothing the Australian could do.
Like Jerwood, Jones was gallant in defeat and had showed Tour organisers that he is a man to be given wild card entry at future events. To take two races off one of the best multihull sailors in the world was no mean feat.
The semi-finals and finals will be held on Monday afternoon, a public holiday here in Western Australia. They will be streamed live on this website.
– Roger McMillan in Fremantle.