SSL Gold Cup – Day 3 of the 1/16 Finals

Momentum is a precious commodity on a yacht, but is just as important in any regatta or sporting series. The national teams, especially those who have qualified from the 1/32 Finals, need to stay on a roll to continue their SSL Gold Cup adventures.

Just as in the football world cup, winning builds confidence and can lead to more success, and the penultimate day of the 1/16 Finals had the potential to make or break teams’ fortunes. Here’s how it played out…

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Fleet 3 – Race 3

Race 2 winners South Africa were squeezed out on the start line, having to tack away on to port early, while Croatia started in pole position for the early lead. The margins though were very tight on the first upwind leg with clear wind vital.

Portugal went hard left which proved disastrous, while Antigua & Barbuda went hard right to lead around the windward mark, with Croatia and South Africa rounding simultaneously. ‘Team Ubuntu’ gybed early – had tactician Mark Sadler seen more wind offshore?

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Antigua & Barbuda’s ‘Rum Runners’ extended their lead to over two minutes downwind with Croatia rounding just ahead of South Africa, and Portugal a further 30 seconds adrift.

The ‘Rum Runners’ extended their lead to over 500 metres, really hitting their stride in a big momentum shift after their poor start to the 1/16 Finals. They are still facing an uphill battle to remain in the competition, but with double points on offer tomorrow anything is possible. For helm Jules Mitchell, entering today’s race as the underdogs actually played to their advantage:

“I think we’ve been putting ourselves under a lot of pressure, and last night we just decided to relax a little bit. We came in with no nerves, because we didn’t have anything to lose. So tomorrow we’re going to keep the same mentality. All we can do is go and sail as best we can, and keep our heads outside of the boat because it’s so shifty out there.”

With Croatia finishing ahead of South Africa we have a tie at the top of the Fleet 3 leaderboard, while both Antigua & Barbuda and Portugal are also on equal standing just 3 points behind. Perfectly set for the golden final race!

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria
SSL Gold Cup – Antigua
SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Fleet 4 – Race 3

Japan shut the door on the entire fleet on the startline, leaving them in clear breeze to sail off on starboard, with Slovenia and Canada forced to tack off to clear their wind and Race 2 winners Lithuania languishing in dirty air.

Slovenia’s ‘KRPANI1860’ team sailed a beautiful upwind leg to round the top mark 52 seconds ahead of ‘Team Rising Sun’. Fleet 4 leaders Lithuania’s ‘Ambers’ were a further 33 seconds behind, followed by Canada’s ‘Enforcers’ bringing up the rear.

The wind was unusually calm for Gran Canaria for Fleet 4, and the SSL47 yachts all slowed to a crawl towards the end of the first lap. Slovenia rounded the leeward mark a full 2 minutes ahead of any other team, a lead they maintained to take their first win of the event.

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Slovenian tactician Brcin Branko was pleased with his team’s progress in the competition:

“We’re really happy as we sailed the whole race at the front, against really good teams. Half our crew is new, and we’ve had no time for training, so we’ve been learning a lot during the racing, particularly during the manoeuvres, and today it all worked perfectly.

On going into tomorrow’s double points race Brcin had some trepidation combined with confidence:

“It’s scary with a lot of points, which is always challenging, but we’re building momentum, starting with a fourth place, followed by a second and first, so we’re building and going up. For psychology it’s really good, but tomorrow is another day!”

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Lithuania pulled through to second, and are looking a safe bet for the 1/8 Finals on 11 points. Canada’s last place drops them to third in the leaderboard, but bowman Ansel Koehn wasn’t deterred:

“We know there’s room to improve and there’s places to jump. I think we’re all still feeling pretty good because the race isn’t over until it’s over.”

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria
SSL Gold Cup – Slovenia
SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Fleet 1 – Race 3

In one of the tightest and most exciting races seen so far, Malaysia just edged Chile to leeward at the start, and the whole fleet tacked early on to port.

With a little more breeze on the race course, an extraordinarily close battle developed between Malaysia and Chile, rounding the top mark simultaneously, forcing Malaysia into an early gybe  to clear their air.

This battle royale continued down the run, with Malaysia gybing on top of Chile, which had the effect of bringing both Estonia and Austria back into the contest.

Chile ran into a wall after they were penalised for not giving Malaysia room at the leeward gate. The 360 degree turn dropped them from first to last, handing Estonia the lead and ultimately costing them the race.

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

On the windward leg Malaysia then caught Estonia on port, forcing them to tack to leeward, but the Estonian ‘Icebreakers’ had just enough speed and height to push the Malaysian ‘Monsoon’ into a tack away, allowing the Austrian ‘Eagles’ to peck away at the leaders and relegating Malaysia to third. The ‘Eagles’ soared downwind to overtake the ‘Icebreakers’, collecting their first win after two previous last places.

After two last-place finishes for Austria, helm Thomas Zajac knew that a heroic effort was needed to stay in the game:

“We are very relieved. We knew before we started today that we had to improve a lot, we tried to sail much more aggressively, and it worked out for us. We saw the battles on the racecourse and took our chance to do our own thing. For example at the leeward gate our plan was to take the right mark, but when we saw Chile taking a 360 we changed our plan to the left mark as we knew we’d profit more from it. We had to make a lot of last second decisions today, and finally it worked out for us.”

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Tõnu Tõniste, Estonia captain and tactician, emphasised the unpredictable nature of the racing:

“It’s difficult to say who is the biggest competition. Malaysia and Chile, like us, have one more week of experience. But it looks like Austria is getting better and better and we don’t know what the wind conditions are going to be tomorrow. So it could be for anybody.”

We’re left with a mouth-watering double points race tomorrow, with Estonia, Chile and Malaysia tied on 8 points and Austria only 2 points behind. Fleet 1 has served up great racing so far, and the decider is going to be a must-watch on the livestream.

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria
SSL Gold Cup – Austria
SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Fleet 2 – Race 3

Tahiti have been on a roll, seemingly breezing through the competition so far, and today they were off to another great start. The other teams kept up the pressure, with a very tight fleet for the whole first leg, but ‘The Black Pearls’ are smooth operators and slipped away from the chasing pack to secure their sixth victory of the competition.

The Tahiti team, led by the charismatic pairing of helm Teva Plichart and tactician Teiki Hacheche, entered the 1/32 Finals in top gear, and have continued to hone their skills ever since. Will anyone be able to stop this formidable team from this beautiful island nation in the South Pacific archipelago?

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Teva Plichart said after racing:

“I had a clear call from our tactician so I was able to do the start he wanted me to do, then we just had to keep moving and get ahead if we could and we managed to win.”

At the leeward mark we witnessed one of the fastest spinnaker drops in the SSL Gold Cup so far, and Teva was full of praise for his team:

“Yes, it was a nice one. We had a briefing yesterday because they wanted me to count a little bit more clearly for the drop, so I did what they asked and I was amazed how they dropped it.” 

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

Foretelling the best course, the Hungarian ‘Shamans’ overtook Finland’s ‘Northern Magic’ on the final downwind leg to take second with Bermuda’s ‘Privateers’ at the back.

Going into the final double-points race, Teams Tahiti and Hungary comfortably top the leaderboard in points, meaning they’ll almost certainly advance to the 1/8 Finals. Captain for ‘The Shamans’ Zsombor Berecz shared his thoughts:

“We found the best lanes in the downwind, then Finland made a mistake and we used that. Every day we’ve been improving a lot, and this was the first day when we had no issues onboard. We’re feeling confident for tomorrow – we want to go through, and that’s it!”

SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria
SSL Gold Cup – Tahiti
SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria

We had a bit of everything on day 3 of the 1/16 Finals. Some huge wins in the first two races in the light winds, followed by an epic third race of the day for Fleet 1, where each boat-on-boat battle brought other teams into play, resulting in constant lead changes, and the Teva & Teiki Tahiti show continuing in the final race.

The scene is exquisitely set for Super Sunday in Gran Canaria!

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