The dramas of Australia's champion 470 crew of Mat Belcher and Will Ryan have been well documented over the past four days (see Related Content) but the cream always rises to the top. A second place and two bullets in winds that went from 30 knots to 15 later in the day were enough to get them back on top of the table with four more races to be sailed before the double-points medal race.
It was vintage Belcher and Ryan, getting good starts and then picking off any boats in front one-by-one. They sent a clear message to the rest of the fleet – under-estimate us at your peril.
“We actually had the best wind we've had so far,” Ryan said. “Basically, we completed qualifying this morning, which is positive for everybody. This afternoon was great racing, we had the whole fleet going. Mat and I are really happy with how we sailed, I guess that showed. We ended up with two first. We're really happy with today.”
The other Australian gold medallists sailing at this regatta also had a solid day. Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen put together a solid scoreline of 3, 1, 13, 3 to move into third place, just 0.7 of a point behind the Austrian pair of Niko Delle-Karth and Nikolaus Resch.
Barring a major disaster, however, there is no way that anyone will catch the flying Kiwis, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. They lead Outteridge and Jensen by a massive 30 points with just five races left to sail.
I asked the Kiwis about their dominance and they smiled and said they had good boat speed and were enjoying racing. It's a simple formula, but it works.
Jensen agreed that there is nothing the Australians can do about the Kiwis at this stage. “All we can do is sail well ourselves,” he said.
Interestingly, the roles are almost reversed from the London Olympics, where Outteridge and Jensen were the ones enjoying their sailing, getting great boat speed and putting themselves in the right places on the course. There is no panic in the Australian camp. They have two years until the Olympics and Outteridge says winning is a simple formula, and one you don't forget.
Commenting on today's racing, he explained that the first two races were right on the edge for everyone. The wind was gusting to 30 knots (the class limit is 25 knots) and Outteridge said that survival was the first priority. “Almost everyone went swimming,” he said.
“In the second race we got a private puff and held it to get a 30 second lead. But then another big puff came through and we couldn't gybe in it. We carried on past the mark and had to two-sail back. We only won by a couple of boat lengths.”
Jensen summed up the tactics: “We just did everything slowly.”
There was good news for Australia in the 49erFX too, where all three crews have qualified for the gold fleet. Olympic 470 gold medallist Tessa Parkinson and her crew Chelsea Hall lead the charge in 10th place after an excellent two races where they finished second and third. But for a capsize while leading on the first day, they would be challenging for a medal.
There was a lucky escape for Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks, who are just a point and a place behind their countrywomen after scores of 7th and 5th. In the second race they split their spinnaker pole on the second run and it fell apart on the third – just before they crossed the finish line. “It cost us one place,” Caitlin said.
Like Outteridge, she described the conditions as marginal. “There were still big bullets coming off the hills, so the wind was a bit up and down. It was starting to settle just as we were leaving the course.”
The third Australian crew just sneaked into the top 25 who make up the gold fleet. Olympic silver medallist Olivia Price and her crew Eliza Stolly had two seventh places today to finish in 24th.
The Nacra 17 multihull has had the worst of the wind conditions and the worst of the race committee mismanagement, but today they got four races in. Australian skipper Darren Bundock joked about the change in pace: “Four races in a day was a bit tough. We're only used to sailing one in three days.”
Becoming more serious, he agreed with crew Nina Curtis who described it as “a solid day”.
“We're happy to still be dropping an eighth,” said Bundock. “He also said the race management was good today, apart from one race where they dropped the top mark under a hill. “You went from 8 knots to nothing in a few metres,” he said.
After the five qualifying races, Bundock and Curtis are in seventh place and are only six points off second. However, the French crew of Billy Besson and Marie Riou are putting together an incredible regatta with three bullets and two second places from their five races.
Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin are also putting together a good regatta for Australia. Their scoreline reads 6, 9, 7, (9), 6 and they sit in 15th place, but well within striking distance of the top 10.
Four places further down the table is the only Australian crew with a female helm. Pip Pietromonaco and James Wierzbowski have a solid scoreline of 5, 11, 10, (12), 6 which bodes well for the future. They need to be able to pick off one or two more boats in front of them to start making medal races.
The final pairing of Euan McNicol and Lucinda Whitty is 24th, just sneaking into the gold fleet.
There was some light-hearted mocking of Giles Scott (GBR) in the Finn boatpark today after he broke his perfect run of five bullets – with a second place. After only three days he has a 13 point lead over second-placed Jonathan Lobert of France.
The Australians fell out of the top 10 with double-digit finishes in the stronger winds today. Jake Lilley had a 15th and a 13th to drop to 13th overall but he is just two points out of 10th. Two 31st placings today cruelled Oliver Tweddell's regatta and he drops to 21st after startingthe program with a win.
Joe McMillan had a 33 and a 31 and misses gold fleet, down in 72nd place.
Racing continues in all classes except Laser tomorrow, with the RS:X fleets having their medal races. As Will Ryan said, the forecast is for light and tricky but hopefully a full day of fair racing can be held.
– Roger McMillan in Santander