The Finn fleet at Skandia Sail for Gold caught up with its programme today with three cracking races in great conditions in Weymouth Bay. After eight races, Ben Ainslie (GBR) has extended his lead to 13 points over Giles Scott (GBR) and 14 over Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO). Race wins today went to Ainslie, Rafa Trujillo (ESP) and Ed Wright (GBR).
Conditions were less extreme today with shifty onshore winds of 12 to 16 knots on the offshore race course on the far side of the bay. The fleet was tracked today with GPS boxes, but ironically the box in the boat that most viewers were watching – Ben Ainslie (GBR) - stopped working before the first race.
In race six, the fleet spread evenly over the course, but those who went to the right seemed to gain the most. Pieter Jan Postma (NED) led round the top mark from Jonathan Lobert (FRA) and Giles Scott (GBR). Postma got left behind on the first downwind and Lobert and Scott battled for the lead with Jonas Høgh Christensen (DEN) always in contention. Scott briefly held the lead before Ainslie moved up to third at the leeward gate and then came through to take his fourth race win of the week. Scott placed second with Lobert holding on for third. Several new faces were putting in a strong performance including Caleb Paine (USA), Oliver Tweddell (AUS) and Jan Kurfeld (GER) who finished an excellent fifth, just behind Høgh Christensen.
In race seven Lobert was again at the front with Rafael Trujillo (ESP) close behind. Trujillo took the lead on the second windward leg and stayed there to the finish while Wright moved up to third on the first downwind. Scott climbed from seventh at the first mark to fourth at the finish and, with Ainslie crossing in sixth, had narrowed the gap to eight points. The last race of the day was going to be crucial.
Race eight brought world champion Wright to the front yet again. This time however he managed to hang onto it until the finish to take a well overdue race victory. Kurfeld was also up the front again, passing the first mark in second and holding out for eighth at the finish. Kljakovic Gaspic rounded the top mark in fifth place and climbed to second by the finish while Daniel Birgmark (SWE) made his first appearance at the front this week with a third place finish. Scott and Ainslie rounded further back and while Ainslie recovered to fourth, the best Scott could do was ninth, to lose even more ground on the regatta leader.
Apart from gear problems in the last race, Lobert had an excellent day on the water.”It was a very good day for me and it could been better if I hadn't broken my vang in the last race when I was in the top ten. Today the wind was around 15 to 18 knots with pretty nice waves. Twice I managed to have the possibility to go to right side and then it was more a speed race. I was leading on both of the first races but I made some mistakes and the guys came back immediately. I am very happy because it's an important regatta for us and improving all week is very exciting.”
After finally winning a race, Wright said, “I didn't really do anything different, but in those races the wind went my way. It's a shame the rest of the week was not a bit better. Today I really enjoyed the downwind with big waves and long rides. With these conditions during the week I am usually very strong but I have struggled getting out in the lead. It's very difficult on the course with the wind doing strange things. The other British guys Giles and Ben have sailed really well in these tricky conditions and have been rewarded well. Also Ivan is also not far behind them.”
Ainslie summed up his day, “It was a mixed day, we had three races in tough conditions out there and to cap it all off you then have a very long sail back to the harbour, so I’m looking forward to getting some rest. I won the first race but I made a few mistakes in the second two races. I didn’t pick the right side on the first beat and I had to battle back and fortunately I did a pretty good job of that. It's hard out there. It has been a very difficult course because it's quite tidal. Overall, I had a good day and with regards to the nearest competition I'm reasonably happy. We've got two more races tomorrow and then the medal race so things are certainly starting to get into the money end of the regatta.”
One of the erstwhile favourites, 2004 Silver medalist Rafa Trujillo (ESP), was not having the best regatta before today. He said earlier, “ I'm having a few problems with my strategy, which added to the speed issues does not mix. But hey, I know we have to go step by step. I have to be consistent and keep improving as far as possible. The race course is very complicated, but I've been very 'cloudy' with my tactical decisions.” Today Trujillo posted a 6, 1, 16 to bring him up to 12th overall. Not exactly consistent, but at least now he is within striking distance of the top ten for the first time this week.
Second overall Scott spoke of the rivalry among the Skandia Team GBR sailors, “There is a lot of rivalry and obviously with the Olympics only one person gets to go, so being number one Brit is very important. And the way the Finn fleet is at the moment to be number one Brit you pretty much have to be number one in the world. So there’s a lot of rivalry out there but we are good friends off the water. But that friendship doesn’t go onto the water at all.” What about nerves before the racing? “I find you settle into it a little bit. I think the first day is always the most nervous day and after that you get into a bit of a routine. We’ll all pretty knackered at this stage and just plugging away to try and win the races.”
The tension is mounting on who will win this important regatta. Ainslie has a comfortable lead, but as shown today he can make mistakes and those behind him will be quick to pounce. Scott needs to do something special to bridge the gap, but Kljakovic Gasic is just one point behind, so it could be a thrilling final day of qualification. And as usual the cut for the medal race is very tight with at least six boat in with a chance of making the cut, so there is a lot of sailing still to come in Weymouth.
There are two more races and two more more chances to move up or move down on Friday, before the medal race for the top 10 on Saturday.
Results after eight races:
2 GBR 41 Giles SCOTT 29
3 CRO 524 Ivan KLJAKOVIC GASPIC 30
4 DEN 2 Jonas HØGH-CHRISTENSEN 44
5 NZL 1 Dan SLATER 46
6 GBR 11 Ed WRIGHT 50
7 FRA 112 Jonathan LOBERT 56
8 GBR 85 Andrew MILLS 58
9 NED 842 Pieter-Jan POSTMA 73
10 SWE 11 Daniel BIRGMARK 76
11 GBR 88 Mark ANDREWS 80
12 ESP 100 Rafael TRUJILLO 83
13 USA 4 Zach RAILEY 83
14 FRA 29 Thomas LE BRETON 88
15 SLO 5 Gasper VINCEC 91
16 SLO 573 Vasilij ZBOGAR 91
17 EST 2 Deniss KARPAK 120
18 SWE 736 Johan TILLANDER 124
19 FIN 218 Tapio NIRKKO 127
20 USA 1140 Caleb PAINE 131
Event website: www.skandiasailforgoldregatta.co.uk