Souter wins match racing on count-back

Nicky Souter yesterday survived a scare in the semi-finals to win the compasscard Australian Women's Match Racing Championship on a count back after the finals were abandoned owing to lack of wind.

Souter and crew Nina Curtis and Nicole Douglass took home the title ahead of fellow Australian Sailing Development Squad members Katie Spithill, Samantha Boyd and Rayshele Martin. Samantha Osborne, representing the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, finished in third position ahead of another ASDS squad member, Lucinda Whitty.

Spithill is ranked second in the world and Souter is ranked fourth, so they were expected to win their semi-finals. However, both women lost the first race of the best-of-three series and were forced into a must-win situation. Excitement rose on the spectator ferry as the underdogs forged to the lead in race two, showing extremely good teamwork and skills. However, on the downwind legs, the champions managed to gain dominance and force the series to a deciding third race.

In race three nineteen-year-old Lucinda Whitty, coming in on starboard entry, forced Spithill away from the pin and took the lead on the first windward beat, throwing quick covers on every move her opponent made. However, on the downwind leg, some excellent gybes under spinnaker put pressure on the teenager and forced an error. As they crossed the line together it was announced that an outstanding penalty for Whitty meant Spithill was through to the final.

The second semi-final was just as exciting, with the boats starting at opposite ends of the line but with Osborne in the favoured windward position and marginally ahead. Souter had her boat fairly humming to windward and used the speed to round in front but a beautiful gybe-set at the top mark put Osborne back in control. Again, an on-course penalty was delivered by the judges, however, Souter had already managed to sneak in front for another thrilling finish.

Then followed a prolonged wait as the principal race officer, Mark Pryke, scanned the horizon for any hint of a breeze. The competitors agreed to a one hour extension and the run-off for third and fourth got underway, but it was almost immediately abandoned when Whitty “parked” in a huge wind hole. Finally, at 4.30pm all racing was called off. Souter was awarded the title based on the most number of wins in the preliminary and semi-final stages.

“This is my sixth national title and I'm very happy to have won this year,” said Souter. “It was extremely close against Samantha Osborne in the semi-final and she put up a really good fight.”

“We went down one nil and had to fight back to claim the second race and force a decider. The final race was extremely close and it was only after Samantha picked up some penalties that we pulled clear.”

“I was looking forward to going up against Katie in the final,” said Souter. “It was a bit of an anticlimax to win the title without a final but in the end the PRO made the right decision to call off racing as it would have been difficult to run the final in the light and shifty conditions.”

“We now head into the Australian Open Match Racing Championships and hopefully we can take this form into the regatta,” she said.

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