Competition Heats up for Final Stretch

Yesterday was a critical day for sailors competing in US SAILING’s 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing World Cup 2009-2010. Highlighted by both lead changes and consolidations, it raised the heat for tomorrow’s final stretch: where medal winners in three Paralympic sailors will be named and top-ten sailors in ten Olympic classes will be determined for entry into Saturday’s medal races. Representing 45 nations, 448 teams (633 athletes) are competing on Biscayne Bay for this annual event, which is one of the most important preparation regattas for sailors gunning for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics’ Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) finished the day with an 18-point lead overall in the Laser Radial class, followed by Spain’s Alicia Cebrian. While it seemed like it was going to be the steadiest day of the week, it ended up being another day of difficult racing for the 57-boat fleet. Railey said she fought through both of today’s races, from start to finish, and made quick changes due to continually shifting wind.

« We had crazy wind from all different sides, » said Railey, the 2006 US SAILING Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year. « I saw some big comebacks and huge losses. You could go from last to top-five in one shift. »

In the first race, Railey said she played it conservative but got stuck in the middle of two big shifts. She rounded deep, but then made a comeback on the first run and grabbed the lead. The same thing happened in the second race: she sailed conservatively, covered her bases sailing down the middle but ended up lodged between the shifts. In the last downwind leg, she broke free and took a commanding lead.

« Racing was incredibly hard today, » she said. « It was easy to get disheartened, but I kept fighting the whole time. Patience was key. »

The UK’s Nick Thompson, who yesterday trailed leader Bruno Fontes by seven points in the Laser class, today soared past the Brazilian to take a 26-point lead. Such was Thompson’s fortune on the merit of posting two victories in as many races today while Fontes suffered a 20-44, setting him back to second place and tied on points with third-place finisher Jean-Baptiste Bernaz (FRA).

« It was a tough day, real shifty, like yesterday, » said Thompson, « and you had to get in sync with those shifts. When you’re in sync and you know you’re sailing well, sometimes it’s easy to go off your own way and sometimes you’re able to pull well away to extend your lead, but once I got ahead I just decided to be conservative and consolidate, so my leads were not huge. There are three more races, so this certainly isn’t over. »

In the high performance dinghy event, racing among the top 49ers in the world has been especially competitive. The point spread tightened at the top today, with only nine points separating the first- and fifth-place teams. France’s Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis maintained their lead in the 26-boat fleet after 12 races overall, five points ahead of Denmark’s duo of Simon Karstoft and Jonathan Bay who posted a consistent 3-3-3 today.

« I think it was a really tricky day out there, » said Karstoff, adding that positions over the 1.1-mile course « could change so much, so it’s a challenge to keep your cool. »

Kartsoff said he and Bay kept it simple and didn’t panic on the race course. « We had good speed and good starts and that allowed us to get to the good places early, which was key for us. »

In the first race of the day, the Phillips brothers from Australia had a good start off the line, maintained their lane to the left and were the first to tack on the left side of the course. They owned the middle for the rest of the beat and rounded ahead of the fleet. From there, they continued their lead through to the finish. The Finnish team of Lauri Lehtinen and Kalle Bask won the second and third races.

The 49er class started in 1995 and parachuted into the Olympic Games in 2000. The fleet has grown substantially over the last 10 years, attracting sailors from other classes who seek fast and exhilarating racing. Their races are only 30 minutes long, so they can squeeze in up to four races a day in perfect conditions. « It’s the F1 Ferrari of sailboat racing, » said USSTAG’s Trevor Moore (S. Burlington, Vt.). « Every aspect of the game is an adrenaline rush. There’s never a dull moment on the race course. There’s always a split-second reaction needed: the longer you wait, the more costly it is.