Etchells – Penultimate day sets the stage for a battle to the end

It’s wide-open going into the final day of the AON 2023 Etchells World Championships Almost all the boats in the top 10 are still in contention with two races remaining. The standings changed dramatically after three races were held on Thursday and could do so again before all is said and done on Friday.

“This regatta is going to come down to the last race, that’s for sure,” said Luke Lawrence, skipper of Cruel Jane 2.0 (CAN 1501). “You look at the scores across the board and it’s pretty much the same. If anyone in the top five gets one more bad race they’re in trouble.”

Lawrence was thrilled to be sitting fourth in the overall standings after being hit with a U-flag penalty in Race 4 on Wednesday. He was among many skippers who were happy to see a throwout come into play after the seventh race was completed Thursday afternoon on Biscayne Bay.

Cruel Jane 2.0 began Thursday with a fifth place finish in Race 5 then was able to replace the 63rd caused by the U-flag after finishing 11th in Race 7.

“We knew things would change up once we got a drop. I thought the team did a great job of fighting back today,” said Lawrence, saying his team “moved on immediately and did not dwell” on getting thrown out of a race for being over the start line early following one general recall.

TONS OF STEEL (USA 1511) Stephen Benjamin, Michael Buckley, Ian Liberty, and Dave Hughes won Race 6 - Photos: Nic Brunk/ Etchells Class
TONS OF STEEL (USA 1511) Stephen Benjamin, Michael Buckley, Ian Liberty, and Dave Hughes won Race 6 – Photos: Nic Brunk/ Etchells Class

Skipper Steve Benjamin and the Tons of Steel (USA 1511) team also benefited big-time from the discard, replacing a 31st suffered in Race 4. Mike Buckley is serving as tactician aboard Tons of Steel, which posted a superb score line of 8-1-3 on Thursday.

That puts Benjamin in position to capture his second World Championship as Tons of Steel has a low score of 29 points, nine better than second place Veracity (USA 1477). “Mike was really on his game today. We had all good starts and were straight in phase coming off the line,” Benjamin said. “Yesterday, we felt like we were a little late getting into shifts and kind of chasing things. Today, we were just slightly early and getting ahead of the shifts. It was just textbook.”

Thursday’s racing was held in predominantly northeasterly winds ranging from 10 to 13 knots with 30 degree shifts. Tons of Steel won Race 8 by a whisker, narrowly holding off Veracity at the finish.

“Veracity was very fast downwind and sailed right through us to leeward. We were inches apart at the finish and I guess the pin end was favored,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin, whose first world championship came in 2017 on San Francisco Bay, said it was “absolutely critical” to perform well on a three-race day but did not feel any pressure. “Everyone calls it ‘moving day’ because there were three races. We don’t really think about it that way. We think about it race by race. Just another day at the office. Get good starts and hit the first shift.”

Tons of Steel is the only boat to win two races and Benjamin acknowledged that could prove important if there winds up being a tiebreaker situation.

Veracity, skippered by John Sommi, enters the final day in second place via tiebreaker over Lifted (USA 1504). This is the first Etchells Worlds for Sommi, a Darien, Connecticut resident and member of the Shelter Island Yacht Club.

“We’ve been working really hard all week and we’re just really happy to be in a position where we can make a move tomorrow,” Sommi said.

Victor Diaz de Leon is tactician, while Will Ryan and Beccy Anderson round out the crew. Veracity has been the most consistent boat in the regatta and throws out a 12th place finish posted in Race 7.

“I’m really pleased with the team we have and all the hard work we’ve put in over the past year,” Sommi said. “In a lot of ways, we’ve been working toward this. We’ve done everything possible to put ourselves in position to be successful.”

Sommi thoroughly enjoyed the back-and-forth battle with Tons of Steel in Race 6 and drew confidence that Veracity was able to match the speed of the regatta leaders. He noted that Benjamin cannot afford to absorb a bad race Friday, while Veracity can.

Big Dawg (USA 926) is another newcomer to the Etchells Worlds environment and has impressed everyone with their performance. Miami native Malcolm Lamphere skippers a crew whose average age is 25 years old.

After getting off to a tough start with results of 24 and 18 on Tuesday, Big Dawg has come on strong and finished no worse than 10th in the last five races. That performance was highlighted by a victory in Race 5 with Big Dawg taking the lead for good midway up the second windward leg.

“We were able to get off the line really well in that first race then stay in the top group. We just kept working hard the rest of the way and were thrilled to cross the line first,” said Lamphere, the oldest member of the team at age 27.

Lamphere sailed with Sonia Lingos-Utley at Yale and has known jib trimmer Greiner Hobbs since their days on the Florida Optimist circuit. Tactician Key Becker is another friend through sailing and the team has quickly developed chemistry. Thursday’s strong showing leaves Big Dawg in fifth place and very capable of shocking the 63-boat fleet by capturing a world crown.

“Honestly, we’re just trying to be conservative, go with the grain and sail with clear air,” Lamphere said. “We’ve been focusing on doing all the small things right and using our youth as an advantage by hiking really hard.”

Lamphere was introduced to the class through the Etchells youth team and the Big Dawg team is sailing a boat borrowed from Peter Duncan. Becker and Hobbs sailed with Lamphere for the Etchells Midwinters and North Americans, while Lingos-Utley joined the team for Worlds.

With an early start tomorrow, the Race Committee has two raced planned for AON Race Day to complete the World Championship.

FULL RESULTS

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