Torrential rainfall and a chill in the air, Miami isn't usually like this, but competition for World Cup honours and Rio 2016 Olympic spots are keeping the temperatures on Biscayne Bay hot.
Sailors were made to wait for racing on Thursday as torrential downpours killed off the breeze and produced large quantities of surface water. When the breeze materialised it enabled the sailors to commence racing at 15:20 local time in building conditions that ranged from 12-17 knots from the south east.
Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) regained the Nacra 17 lead after they finished ahead of overnight leaders Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning (NED) in both of the day's races.
They have a seven point gap over the Dutch but a scintillating battle is developing towards the back of the pack. Just one point separates South American Rio 2016 hopefuls from Guatemala and Uruguay with one day of fleet racing remaining.
Guatemala's Jason Hess and Irene Abascal were in the driving seat for the Olympic spot but two poor results enabled Uruguay's Pablo Defazio Abella and Mariana Foglia to hit them on the counter attack. The Uruguayans finished 23rd and 31st, leaving them on 272 points, one behind the Guatemalans who had their worst day on the water after a 37th and a discarded DNF.
In terms of races won against each other, Hess and Abascal lead the stakes 6-5 after 11 and it will be head to head on the water on Friday to decide who takes the single South American Nacra 17 place.
Canada's Luke Ramsay and Nikola Girke have a strong advantage in the North American qualification duel. They are more than 60 points clear of the only other hopeful, Puerto Rico's Enrique Figueroa and Franchesca Valdes. Ramsay and Girke will want to stay out of trouble on Friday to book their nation another Rio 2016 place.
Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) were Thursday's Nacra 17 stars after double bullets. They are fourth overall.
49er and 49erFX
A single race in the 49er Gold, 49er Silver and 49erFX was completed.
Diego Botin and Iago Lopez (ESP) and New Zealand's Alex Maloney and Molly Meech held on to top spot in the 49er and 49erFX respectively. Race wins went the way of John Pink and Stu Bithell (GBR) in 49er Gold, Ryan Seaton and Matthew McGovern (IRL) in 49er Silver and Ida Marie Nielsen and Marie Olsen (DEN) in the 49erFX.
On the Rio 2016 Olympic qualification front, there is plenty happening in all three fleets. Chilean brothers Benjamin and Cristóbal Grez Ahrens haven't made things easy on themselves in their battle against Uruguay's Santiago Silveira and Philipp Umpierre for the South American 49er Rio spot. A disastrous start and up and down results gave the Uruguayans the advantage after two days.
The Uruguayans were positioned to make the gold fleet with the Chileans back in silver ahead of Wednesday's so they had it all to do. Match racing was the name of the game and the Chileans forced the Uruguayans hand with an OCS and BFD to squeeze them back into silver fleet.
Thursday was an opportunity for both teams to reset and from a single 49er Silver race, the Grez Ahrens brothers grabbed the initiative, leapfrogging the Uruguayans. A Chilean ninth compared to the Uruguayans 18th ensures they go into the final day of fleet racing with a six point advantage.
In the north, gold fleet racing will decide the spot. USA in the driving seat with Thomas Barrows, III and Joseph Morris seventh on 71 points. Canada follow with David Mori and Justin Barnes 29th on 104 points and British Virgin Islanders Alec Anderson and Christopher Brockbank are down in 31st.
American sailors Paris Henken and Helena Scutt as well as Emily Dellenbaugh and Elizabeth Barry have put their nation in a strong position to qualify in the 49erFX. Henken and Scutt are 18th on 142 points and their compatriots, 21st on 161. Their nearest rivals are U.S. Virgin Islanders Mayumi Roller and Agustina Barbuto who trail on 181 in 23rd. Aruba's Odile and Philipine Van Aanholt hold 226 points in 32nd.
Chile's Arantza Gumucio and Begoña Gumucio are the only South American entrants who have not yet qualified for Rio 2016 so will qualify this week.
Laser and Laser Radial
A very fluid weather pattern (in more ways than one) made for a challenging, albeit short, day on the water for the Laser and Laser Radial fleets.
The threat of thunderstorms kept the fleet ashore through the early afternoon. Once the sailors launched, the compressed time left the sailors with little time to properly research the breeze. Adding to the confusion, the weather changed just as the Radials were halfway up the first leg.
“In the beginning it was quite light,” said Evi van Acker (BEL). “But then the rain came and along came the wind. So it was quite windy in the race, which was nice to have a little bit of difference compared to the first three days.”
It was also quite shifty and, with the visibility reduced, tough for the sailors to formulate a plan of attack. As is often the case in difficult conditions, the cream rose to the top, with Marit Bouwmeester (NED) nipping Sarah Gunni Toftedal (DEN) by just two seconds and adding to her impressive string of four first-place finishes in the qualifying races. But Bouwmeester was hard-pressed to describe how she won the race.
“I don't really know,” she said with a laugh. “The weather was quite tricky with the rain so I think I was just a bit lucky being on the right side of the wind shifts.”
Bouwmeester, who won the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and the 2015 Laser Radial World Championships, is probably being modest. But her day did have one significant, and totally unexpected, hurdle that she handled with a veteran's poise.
“A 470 trailer, they didn't put it up right after the 470 went into the water and it fell down and it fell straight through my sail,” she said. “So just before [launching] I had a hole in the sail. But thank God it didn't influence the racing too much.
“I didn't like it. I was like, 'Bloody 470s.' But there's not much I can do about it. This guy gave me some sail tape and I tried to cover it up as good as I can.”
In third in the race, and sitting solidly in second overall was van Acker, who was a little more expansive when asked about the path to success in Race 6. “I think play the shifts on the first beat and the first reach and the downwind,” she said. “But I could've done a bit better. So not super happy with today, but plenty to play for tomorrow.”
Van Acker is the defending Olympic bronze medalist, but there's a lot of Laser Radial talent in Belgium and she won't know until late spring whether she'll return to the Olympics. “We have a selection committee that will decide at the end of May or the beginning of June,” she said. “But as I said, I'm not really busy with the selection, just trying to do my best in every race.”
Currently sitting third in the overall standings is defending Olympic gold medalist Lilja Xu (CHN) who finished 35th, by far her worst race of the regatta. After discarding that finish she is just two points out of second and eight points off the lead.
Paloma Schmidt was the only South American sailor, who had not yet qualified for Rio 2016, to make the Laser Radial gold fleet. As a result, she has qualified Peru in the Laser Radial.
North American sailors from the Cayman Islands, Cuba, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago missed out on the gold fleet as Bermuda's Cecillia Wollman and Mexico's Natalia Montemayor advanced.
Nine points separated them before Thursday's racing but they ended up even on 95 points apiece after the single race. Wollman finished 39th and Montemayor, 40th. Results would lead to suggest some strong tactics coming in to play with three races on Friday to determine who will go to Rio de Janeiro this August.
After sailing a nearly flawless qualifying series, Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) had his first significant bobble of the regatta when he was caught over the line before the gun and didn't return to start correctly, recording a 50-point OCS. As he's able to discard that score, he retains the overall lead, but the margin has narrowed. Jean-Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) is currently second overall after getting a fourth today.
While the Radials started in light breeze, the wind had picked up substantially by the time the Lasers started sailing. Still, the weather was difficult to read. “I didn't have [a really solid plan for the first beat],” said Bernaz. “I just say, 'OK, let's sail and watch; what you see is what you get.' I was on the right, but when I saw the left gaining, I just go on the left side of the fleet. I was losing a lot and I re-gained what I lost. I was fourth at the top mark, third, then fourth again. It's good to sail in front.”
Bernaz has been on a tear of late, with top-five finishes in his four of his last five major regattas. The lone blip, a 54th at the 2015 Laser World Championships, has knocked his world ranking down to 22nd, but he's sailing like a medal contender at this event. “It's the year of the Games, some [Olympic selection series] for different countries, so everyone is 100 percent, maybe 110,” he said. “It's a really hard fleet and it's really hard to be consistent. Now we start the finals, so it's the top 49, so it's really hard, really compact.”
Sailing to his fourth second in the last four races, five-time Olympic medalist Robert Scheidt (BRA) moved into third in the overall standings. “The first few races I had bad starts and it was difficult conditions, it was shifty and light, and I just made bad decisions at the beginning of the race,” he said. “I knew I had the speed to do better and the ability to do better. From the third day I started to sail more with the fleet, more consistent, better starts.
“Today was a full-on race, it started to blow very hard just a few minutes before the start and we knew we'd have to be out of trouble, have a clean start, and use the speed and hike hard. It was a tough race. The breeze kept increasing throughout the race. I just sailed clean, sailed a solid race. I'm really happy about that.”
Scheidt won three medals in the Laser class, gold in 1996 and 2004 and silver in 2000 before switching to the Star, where he won silver in 2008 and bronze in 2012. With the Star eliminated from the Olympic roster, he was forced to choose between missing the Rio Olympics or returning to the grueling 14-foot dinghy, “The goal is to try to do the Olympic Games in my home country,” he said. “Unfortunately the Star is not anymore an Olympic class. I wish it was. It's not easy to come back to the Laser after a certain age. But I'm enjoying it. I'm still having fun out there. I'm still competing at a high level. Of course, it's not easy because physically it's a quite a demanding boat. Right now I'm in a good moment, free of injuries and really looking forward to the next six months.”
He hasn't been as dominant as he was at his peak, when he won eight world championships, but Scheidt is a serious medal threat, and anyone who thinks the pressure of competing in his home country will compromise his performance should check Scheidt's track record. Among other accomplishments, his final Laser world championship was won on Brazilian waters. He knows what to expect, and how to handle it.
“It's going to be a different Olympics with the crowd the expectations, competing in Rio, a place I've sailed all my life, for an Olympic medal,” he said. “It's going to be very special. That's why I'm still doing it. That's the reason why I'm still training hard, pushing hard. To be able to join the Olympics one last time would be a great thing for me.”
Mexico's Yanic Gentry made the gold fleet in the cut and with none of his rivals from Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico making it, he has qualified his nation in the Laser.
All of the South American sailors aiming for Rio 2016 are in the silver fleet and no racing was possible on Thursday. As it stands, Venezuela's Jose Gutierrez is 65th on 139 points, Uruguay's Federico Yandian 66th on 140, Ecuador's Matias Dyck on 145 and Colombia's Andrey Quintero 84th on 180.
Men's and Women's 470
With a win in today's lone race, Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar (AUT) moved into a tie for first place with the Brazilian team of Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbachan.
Those two teams are starting to stretch away from the rest of the fleet. As this fleet is one of the smallest in the regatta, it will be hard, but not impossible, for anyone else to claw back into contention for the win. The other teams in the top five are Shasha Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN), Marina Gallego and Fatima Reyes (ESP) and Sydney Bolger and Carly Shevitz (USA).
Onan Barreiros and Juan Curbelo Cabrera (ESP) were the only team in the top six of the Men's 470 fleet to record a top-five finish today. As a result the Spanish duo pushed their lead over Stu McNay and David Hughes (USA) out to five points. Panaglotis Mantis and Pavlos Kangialis (GRE) are third, nine points further back. A point behind third is Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstäder (AUT). While there are three races scheduled for tomorrow, it's hard to imagine anyone outside that top four making a serious challenge for the lead.
It's one on one in both North and South America for Rio 2016 Olympic qualification. Canada's Jacob Chaplin-Saunders and Graeme Chaplin-Saunders, on 53 points, have a good advantage over Mexico's Jeronimo Cervantes Belausteguigoitia and Ander Belausteguigoitia, on 90 points, in the North.
Looking south, the 21st placed Ecuadorians, Jonathan Martinetti and John Birkett, have work to do on the final day of fleet racing to catch the 17th placed Chileans, Andres Ducasse and Francisco Ducasse. The Chileans have a 16 point advantage.
Canada's Allison Surrette and Alexandra Ten Hove are uncontested for the North American spot so will seal that place this week. Chile's Nadja Horwitz and Sofia Middleton are poised to take the South American spot, holding a 36 point advantage over Argentina's Mercedes Travascio and Delfinia Bellagio.
It was the grey beards who dominated today's lone race in oldest of the Olympic classes.
Olympic silver medalists Jonas Hoegh-Christensen (DEN) and Zach Railey (USA) went 1-2 in the race and now hold those same positions in the overall standings. But in reality, the top six, who are separated by just three points, are standing on a level playing field with three races scheduled for tomorrow and then the double-points medal race on Saturday. The other sailors in that top group are Jorge Zarif (BRA), Jake Lilley (AUS), Lei Gong (CHN) and yesterday's leader Caleb Paine (USA).
The 11th placed Chilean, Antonio Poncell, is sandwiched in between his South American rivals from Argentina, Facundo Olezza in ninth and Juan Ignacio Biava in 11th.
Poncell holds 47 points which is 12 off Olezza and two ahead of Ignacio Biava. Canadian Finn sailors have no North American rivals in the Finn fleet with Finn fleet racing to conclude on Friday.
Helena Lucas (GBR) has positioned herself nicely at the top of the 2.4mR leader board ahead of the final day of Paralympic racing on Friday.
A third consecutive race win leaves her three points clear of early leader Bruce Millar (CAN) however the London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist will have to tread carefully on the final day as she discards a 12th from the first race of the series.
Peter Eagar (CAN) occupies the final podium spot with a day remaining but is just a single point clear of Charles Rosenfield (USA).
Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell, Scott Lutes (CAN) opened up a six point advantage over 2015 Para World Sailing Champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR) after winning the single Sonar race.
Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Russell Boaden (AUS) are third overall heading into Friday's final Paralympic races.
Men's and Women's RS:X
The Race Committee had to manually input the results from the RS:X race course into the results system after racing. Results will be available in due course.
Racing resumes on Friday 29 January at 10:00 local time.