It’s the fourth day of racing at the SSL Gold Cup in Gran Canaria, and it’s also the double-points final race day for the 1/32 Finals. The wind is up, the sun is shining – perfect for yacht racing.
For the national teams in Fleet 2, Chile, Portugal, Estonia and Cuba, it’s also a double race day, after they were unable to race yesterday when the wind died in the afternoon. They were the first out on the racecourse, greeted with a beautiful 10 knots from the north.
With so many points on offer, today is double the pressure, double the intensity, with the reward being progress to the 1/16 Finals for the top two teams from each Fleet.
Fleet 2 – Race 3
At the start of the race it was double or nothing for Cuba, who took the left hand side of the course while all other teams picked the right. The roll of the dice paid off for the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, who managed to maintain their lead for most of the second leg.
However, all was not well for the Pirates, with an override on the starboard winch causing them trouble, meaning they were unable to drop their spinnaker until well beyond the leeward gate. They managed to sort the problem, but by this point they were a kilometre behind the pack.
By the windward mark, Portugal had returned to the front of the fleet, ahead of Estonia by only 2 seconds, followed by Chile 10 seconds behind. The teams maintained this order for Leg 3, right up until the finish line, with only 15 seconds between the three teams.
Back on land, morale was low for the Cuban team, as Captain Nélido Manso Lopez explained:
“It was impossible to get off the halyard during the downwind. After our lead on that upwind leg, the team is devastated because now we don’t have the chance to go to the next round.”
Despite coming third, Chile’s ‘Finis Terrae Sailors’ were still leading the fleet going into their final race. Tactician Benjamin Grez seemed ready for their second race of the day:
“As leader of the group, we have a little bit of pressure, but at the same time, we’re still in a good position because Estonia and Portugal are pretty tight on points, so for sure they will be feeling the pressure more than us. We will keep doing what we did in the other races – keep the boat calm, do things simply and minimise mistakes.”
Fleet 4 – Race 4
In the first of today’s double-points races, SSL Team Oman held a comfortable lead in leg 1, with the Czech Republic trailing them by 21 seconds at the windward mark, followed by Lithuania a further 8 seconds back, and then South Africa 9 seconds later at the back of the fleet.
Mirroring Cuba’s performance in the previous race, Oman led the pack until the end of the downwind leg, when a slow spinnaker drop led to them relinquishing the lead, and ‘The Czechs!’ surged to the front.
The wind was up, so the Race Committee increased the course length for the second lap. With the blue skies and glittering Canarian waters, the golden hulls of the SSL 47 yachts were sparkling, and the racing was electric.
South Africa’s never-give-up attitude was on show again as they surged up the fleet on the second upwind leg, rounding the windward mark just 8 seconds behind Lithuania with ‘The Czechs!’ just behind.
Positions stayed the same on the downwind, meaning the Lithuanian ‘Ambers’ and South Africa’s ‘Team Ubuntu’ are the first two teams to qualify for the 1/16 Round!
Asked about his team’s staying power in the competition, Lithuania captain Rokas Milevičius said:
“Hopefully till December, right? That’s the plan, but in a sense we’re also getting tired and it’s getting more difficult with each day, because every day takes its toll. But we also feel much more confident with the boat. Of course we haven’t seen the other conditions, which we would like to see and sail. Today it was supposed to be a very light day and it turned out to be full hiking conditions with a light jib. So yeah, you never know.”
South Africa’s Howard Leoto, a protégé of Captain Ian Ainslie’s sailing school, was elated to be progressing to the 1/16 Finals:
“It means a lot and I’m super excited! I’m speechless! It was a pretty tight race, but with our teamwork we managed to pull through. I was kind of worried when we were in last place, but I had faith in the team. We’re very patient, calm and focused on our roles, which helped us get back on top.
On how far South Africa can progress in the competition Howard added:
“Very, very far. We have sailed in the SSL Test Events, winning those, so I believe we can go a long way.”
Crewmember Michaela Robinson shares her teammate’s optimism:
“We had quite a bad start, but we managed to come back very well out of it. Each person in their position is getting it down to a fine art, our jobs on the boat are becoming more efficient, and the synergy is just through the roof right now.”
Fleet 1 – Race 4
Tahiti, with their flawless track record, made it look easy and established an early dominance in the race. Bulgaria trailed closely in their wind shadow, until Slovenia came up to jostle for first place nearing the windward mark.
Despite a torn spinnaker on the final downwind leg for the Slovenian team, the race went to form with the top two teams going into the race, ‘The Black Pearls’ from Tahiti and ‘KRPANI1860’ from Slovenia taking the top two places, and their spots in the 1/16 Finals.
‘The Black Pearls’ Captain Teva Plichart went into the SSL Gold Cup Final Series with low expectations, so for Tahiti to win their fleet he was a very pleased to be be progressing to the 1/16 Finals:
“We are really happy and proud of what we’ve done. We knew we were in a good position, so we took it calmly and sailed well, so that was great.”
On the excellent boatspeed that the Tahiti team seem to enjoy Teva said:
“This is speed racing first of all, so if we’re sailing fast that helps a lot. The further we go on in the SSL Gold Cup, the faster our opposition will become.”
The Black Pearls have rapidly become a fan favourite, and could well be the dark horses of the SSL Gold Cup. Teva is proud of their performance so far:
“When we had the first briefing we were pretty sure we wouldn’t pass through the 1/32 Finals, so we’re pretty surprised. Let’s keep going and we’ll see!”
Vasilij Zbogar, captain of ‘KRPANI1860’, named after a hero from Slovenian mythology, said his team needs their well-earned break:
“It was very intense, much more than we thought. At the beginning, we felt we were a very strong team, so we thought we were gonna go through pretty easily, but by the end, it was a shock – the SSL Gold Cup is very competitive, very challenging.
“For the upcoming days, we are planning some changes. I think it’s crucial for the team to refresh a little bit. This competition is a marathon, not a sprint – if you stay in – so you need to keep people mentally and physically ready. We’ll prepare the next two days for when the other teams arrive, and try to use all the learning that we had this week for the next round.
“Every race was very close, but I think it’s great for spectators. It’s amazing to watch and the feedback from home is great. People like drama and today, like yesterday, there was a lot of drama with a broken kite and trying to finish the race.”
Fleet 2 – Race 4
The second race of the day for Fleet 2, and the first leg was incredibly close. Portugal edged ahead at Mark 1, but the rest of the fleet was right behind, with a mere 21-second difference among them. By Leg 3 it was all still to play for, with the projected results showing just a 1 point difference between all four teams.
Portugal’s helmsman Afonso Domingos said on qualifying for the 1/16 Finals:
“Today was a great performance for us with a 1st and 2nd, so it was really good, but we still need to improve some things to increase our competitiveness.”
On the teamwork needed to sail an SSL47, Afonso explained it’s all about process:
“One thing that we say is that the boat is complicated. It is not the boat which is complicated, it is the crew that can complicate things. You need to do things step-by-step, and if you don’t follow the steps, then you complicate a lot of things. The manoeuvres are all about timing, if you get that right then you can sail smoothly and everyone is happy.”
Despite Chile’s confident lead after the first race this morning, the double points scoring combined with their last-place finish dropped them to 3rd in the ranking, cutting the ‘Finis Terrae Sailors’ journey short.
Double trouble came from the Tõniste twins on the Estonian ‘Icebreakers’ team. Trimmer Toomas commented:
“All our races have had a good start so far. Maybe our speed was not the best, but we were tactical and managed to hold second place.”
Team Captain Tõnu is thrilled to be heading into the next round:
“We all wanted to go forward, nobody wanted to go home, so we are very happy.”
For the next two rest days, the Estonians have a conservative agenda:
“We don’t have any plans now. We’re just going to wash our clothes and be ready for the next day.”
Fleet 3 – Race 4
The last race of the day was high-stakes, with three of the four teams on identical points, and Bermuda only two points behind, setting the stage for an unpredictable finish.
There was drama from the off with Team Ukraine having to rapidly take their sails down after a fitting on the spreader failed, cruelly putting them out of the race.
Approaching the end of the first leg, it was a head-to-head showdown between Antigua & Barbuda and Malaysia, rounding the Mark 1 with just 7 seconds separating them. But after a penalty called by Malaysia, Antigua & Barbuda were forced to perform a 360-degree turn. This setback knocked ‘The Rum Runners’ from the lead down to second place, and then eventually third behind Bermuda.
As we reached the end of Mark 3, the race dynamics shifted dramatically. Bermuda, in a stunning manoeuvre, overtook Malaysia, with Antigua & Barbuda trailing behind by 400 metres.
However, Bermuda lost their position to Malaysia on the final stretch. For Team Malaysia, this was a crucial and momentous first win in the fleet, and came at just the right time, as Captain Megat Danial explained:
“It was close all the way and we’re very happy to get the result today as our sailors have really sacrificed a lot to be here. We prepared as much as we could ahead of the competition, and for a country like Malaysia, where we don’t usually get to sail keelboats at this level, we’re very thankful and looking forward to the 1/16 Finals.”
To have His Highness Tengku Amir Shah watching on was an honour for the team:
“It means a lot to have him here supporting us and representing our country.”
While His Highness Tengku Amir Shah was disappointed not be present for the next round of the competition, he praised the format of the SSL Gold Cup for fostering unity among competing athletes and nations:
“This [competition] is about the nation, which is very much in the full interest of all of our countries. It brings our athletes together. We’ve been training in places like Croatia on the RC44 to get the team to learn how to work together, because they’re normally competitors with each other.”
The Malaysian ‘Monsoon’ certainly pulled it together today, forging a double legacy that reflects the triumphs of the athletes as well as their nation.
Bermuda had to wait to confirm their place in the 1/16 Finals as the tie-break system was clarified. ‘The Privateers’ second place in the double point Race 4 gave it to them due to the 6 points they were awarded.
At the podium ceremony in the evening, runners-up on points Chile and Antigua & Barbuda were awarded ‘Lucky Loser’ places, keeping them in the game for the next round.
The action resumes on Thursday 16th November as the 1/16 Finals of the SSL Gold Cup gets underway.
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