Another beautiful day in sunny Gran Canaria. Well, not just any day – it’s Day 1 of the 1/16 Finals of the SSL Gold Cup!
In the previous round, elite teams from Bulgaria, Peru, Cuba, Ukraine, Czech Republic and Oman were sent home.
In their place are Austria, Finland, Hungary, Croatia, Canada and Japan, all ready to make their mark on the competition.
While these newcomers may technically be ranked higher, their lack of recent experience in the SSL47 could be a handicap, levelling the playing field.
Will the teams with a few races under their belt be more at home on the water?
Let’s find out…
Fleet 1 – Race 1
Following their last win in the 1/32 Finals, the Malaysian ‘Monsoon’ kept up the pressure, delivering a masterclass in timing and coordination.
After a perfect start, Team Malaysia went on to gain an easy 300+ metre lead for the second half of the race. It was a cheery atmosphere onboard as Malaysia passed the finish line, a minute and a half before ‘Lucky Losers’ Chile in second place.
For newcomers the ‘Austrian Eagles’, it was an eventful start to the competition. After an early lead, the Austrian team experienced problems with their jib, rendering it unusable for a part of Leg 2 and relegating them to the back of the fleet. It went from bad to worse after the final windward mark, with their spinnaker in the water bringing the boat to a complete stop. The Austrians managed to complete the race, but more than five minutes after Team Malaysia.
Austrian crewmember David Hussl expressed his frustration and determination to address these teething problems:
“We had some troubles on the genoa for the hoisting. So we had to take it down, fix something, hoist it back up, and it cost us a lot. We also messed up with the kite. But we’ll have a good debrief and learn from it.”
Fleet 2 – Race 1
Bermuda’s ‘Privateers’ got off to a strong start and held first position for the majority of the race, but they couldn’t hold it together in the face of the ‘Black Pearls’ from Tahiti.
By the second upwind leg, it was essentially a match race between Bermuda and Tahiti. As they battled it out towards the windward mark, it was all still to play for, with just 8 seconds separating them. But Team Tahiti broke away on the final leg, crossing the finish line 67 seconds ahead of Bermuda.
Now with five consecutive wins, the ‘Black Pearls’ seem to be unstoppable. Tactician Teiki Hacheche, who has been critical to the team’s success, was feeling the pressure going into this next round. He says you need to take every chance you can get:
“Today the wind was very shifty. I checked the forecast this morning – it was supposed to be left, but it wasn’t that left. It’s very shifty, so you have to play the shifts and tack a lot. On the first upwind leg Bermuda did pretty well, but then made one mistake, and we took advantage of it.”
Meanwhile, newcomers Hungary and Finland didn’t stand a chance. Discussing ‘Northern Magic’s’ first race in Gran Canaria after a long break from the boat, Finnish captain Oskari Muhonen said:
“I think everybody knows their role well, but we’re still learning. We’re super fresh onto the boat but I think it’s going to get better throughout the week.”
Fleet 3 – Race 1
Breaking the trend seen in earlier races, Fleet 3 proved that prior experience in the SSL47 is not critical for success.
Croatia’s first race in the competition was a triumph, outpacing their more-experienced competitors in the SSL47, and finishing a clear two minutes before any other team. Team captain Tonči Stipanović explaining their success:
“All our guys are sailing on big boats. Some of them have experience on the RC44. So for sure, that’s an advantage. And the communication was really good on the boat, all of us were feeling good about that. So it may look easy, but if you don’t have the feeling of the boat and the communication isn’t good, you cannot win the race. And because of that, I’m really happy with how everything was working.”
It was a relaxed second-place finish for South African ‘Team Ubuntu’, who maintained a 500-metre lead over Portugal’s ‘Navigators’ in the race’s final stretch.
After some complications with a knotted winch – much the same as Cuba in the previous round – Antigua & Barbuda dropped to the back of the fleet, a position from which they couldn’t recover.
Fleet 4 – Race 1
Japan and Canada hit the ground running, leading the pack in the early stages of the race. Towards the first gate, Team Canada attempted some of the most aggressive moves we’ve seen in the competition so far. Risky, but it paid off for them, overtaking Japan and securing a lead for the next 2 legs.
Despite a 300-metre lead at one point in the race, Canada played it safe down the middle of Leg 3, paving the way for an impressive comeback from Lithuania. Down from third place, ‘The Ambers’ managed to gain the lead for a decisive victory in Race 1 of the 1/16 Finals.
After the Japanese team encountered an issue with their gennaker during a key moment at the bottom mark, the crew resolved the problem quickly, but in the end finished third, followed by a surprise last-place from Team Slovenia.
For Canada’s Chris Watters, the team’s first outing on the water was a significant learning opportunity:
“This is the first race we’ve done with this team and about half of us are new to the boat. So it was definitely a learning experience, but I think the guys did great. It’s really shifty out there, so getting those right is really important. We missed one in the second beat and unfortunately lost the boat by it, but it was good tactical racing.”
Overall, it was a day marked by shifty winds and last-minute tactical decisions. When asked about team strategy, captain of Japanese team ‘Rising Sun’ Eiichiro Hamazaki commented:
“It was a very short time for us to get used to the SSL47. We had a good start, and a good shift on the right. But the wind was quite shifty, and we made too many tacks on the water. Next time we need to try to minimise the number of tacks!”
As we saw last week at the start of the 1/32 Finals, it can be a steep learning curve to get to grips with the SSL47. With the staggered introduction of teams, new competitors faced the challenge of catching up with teams who’d already accumulated four days of experience in the previous round. Although as was the case with Croatia, it is possible to hit the ground running!
One thing is for sure: the level of competition is only intensifying as we progress through the Final Series of the SSL Gold Cup.
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