A glorious day of blue skies and calm waters greeted the World Match Racing Tour skippers in Fremantle this morning. With three quarter finalists still to be determined, racing was scheduled to start in the light easterly breeze blowing off the beach.
Canfield v Steele
First up were Taylor Canfield (ISV) and Chris Steele (NZL). Canfield was leading 2-1 and needed just one more win to progress. However it was Steele who won the start. Once round the wing mark Canfield was first to fly a hull and dropped into the lead position.
The pair split at the gate, with Steele going up the left and Canfield taking the southerly route. At the cross Canfield held a big lead and from there it became a formality. The top qualifier was through to the next round.
Guichard v Swinton
Jann Guichard (FRA) dominated the local tour card holder Keith Swinton in their two races yesterday, showing superb downwind speed and control in the heavy conditions. However, in the light airs of this morning it seemed his control had deserted him, With both boats going through the bottom gate together, Guichard came within a few degrees of a capsize, allowing Swinton to race away towards the Port of Fremantle in the north. At the cross Swinton maintained his edge and was first to turn downwind for the second time.
Guichard has recently finished 47 days of mostly downwind sailing during Spindrift's Jules Verne attempt and this leg is definitely his strength. He crossed ahead the first time the boats came together but Swinton had already done his gybe. This superior course management saw him through the bottom gate first.
The major drama of the race happened as both boats approached the top gate. With Swinton coming in at speed on starboard and Guichard needing one more tack, Guichard got a little too aggressive, forcing Swinton to avoid a collision, and was given a two boat length penalty. So Swinton stayed alive, with the score at 2-1 in Guichard's favour – until the umpires docked him half a point for colliding during the previous race. This is an initiative aimed at preserving the boats for their owners – any contact costs a penalty to the skipper responsible, even if ni damage results.
The next race saw more old-fashioned match racing, with the boats close together on the first beat. Swinton held the advantage but the breeze was going light and he found a pocket of dead air. Guichard inched past and both boats took off downwind together.
Guichard held a boat length lead and Swinton had to throw an extra gybe right at the gate. They split and when Guichard came back on starboard he was able to cross comfortably ahead and then cover for the rest of the beat, ultimately winning by more than 100 metres.
After a very long delay waiting for wind, hostilities re-commenced at 2.10pm and this pair was first away. Unfortunately for the locals, Swinton put his cat into irons 10 seconds before the gun while Guichard hit the line at around 20 knots. You can't give such an experienced crew 300 metres start and Guichard sailed around the course in cruise mode to qualify for the next round.
Jones v Robertson
Although the score was tied at 1-1, the pairing of young Murray Jones from the CYCA in Sydney against experienced Kiwi Phil Robertson had been very one-sided. It was only when Robertson got tied up on a mark that Jones had managed to get anywhere near the New Zealander.
Race three began just as the previous ones had, with Robertson showing superior speed, but Jones picked the better side of the course and a big shift put him well in front at the top mark. The young Aussie crew had their trim perfect and their course management in overdrive and they blasted away to sit on match point.
Jones was showing no fear of his older opponent and locked Robertson out as they approached the reach mark in the next race. Robertson went for an early deploy of his gennaker, but Jones pushed him to leeward and slowed his turn. The Aussies raced away towards the bottom mark.
The boats split on the upwind, with Jones' position to the north looking favoured. There wasn't much in it at the cross but Jones on port was able to pass ahead. It looked as though Jones was in great position but a sudden wind shift favoured the Kiwi, who was able to lay the gate. They swept through together, going around different marks.
Another shift downwind favoured Jones, then it clocked left and favoured Robertson. Again they went through the gate together and chose different routes, with Jones to the south and Robertson to the north.
The boats were sailing radically different angles in totally different winds and Jones was pointing almost straight at the top gate. Seeing this, Robertson tacked, picked up a favourable shift and crossed several boat lengths in front. It was then just a cae of covering until he could lay the final gate and scoot away to the finish where he tied the scores at 2-2.
In the decider, Jones set up in the dominant leeward position and carried Robertson all the way to the exclusion zone at the south of the course.There was nothing in it at the bottom mark as Robertson's crew held their furl a little longer and closed to within a boat length.
Jones was first to tack for the top mark, with Robertson continuing on for a few seconds before he too put the helm over. Jones laid the top gate perfectly and it was follow-the-leader through the bottom gate for the second time. Again Jones tacked first and he had extended his lead to around five lengths. Heading back to the beach with white water flying, Robertson gybed first and now Jones was determined to cover every move. He handled the building breeze with style and received a huge round of applause as he crossed the line and qualified for the quarter finals.
Jones, Canfield and Guichard therefore join Ian Williams, Nicolai Sehested, Hans Wallen, Matt Jerwood and Mattias Rahm in the quarter finals, which commenced immediately this race had finished.