Biscayne Bay provided the 711 sailors from 64 nations with a welcome breeze for Wednesday's racing at Sailing World Cup Miami presented by Sunbrella.
Following two challenging days of racing a breeze, albeit light in between 6-10 knots, sustained throughout the day enabling the ten Olympic and two Paralympic events to complete their scheduled races.
The leaderboards in all of the fleets are starting to shape up and for the 49er, Laser and Laser Radial qualifying is over with two days of Gold and Silver racing to ensue.
As of 17:45 local time, a number of protests were on going ensuring a late evening for the jury with a number of scoring changes possible.
Men's and Women's RS:X
Three races apiece in the Men's and Women's RS:X satisfied the burning racing desire within the windsurfers hearts following two frustrating days.
Just two men's and one women's RS:X race had been completed over Monday and Tuesday and even though the breeze remained light, three races apiece played out on Biscayne Bay on Wednesday.
In light breeze the RS:X is physically demanding. Competitors have to chisel their bodies and watch their weight in the build up to an event and then push their aerobic capacity during racing whilst reading the wind and tidal patterns across a wide body of water.
In short, it isn't easy. Poland's Pawel Tarnowski explained, "In these conditions it is really hard to have a good race in the RS:X as you have to pump all the time in the upwind and in the downwind. It affects your body from your legs, your arms and back.
"You have to be very well prepared physically plus have some good tactics. Sailors say it is like playing chess with a huge heart rate.”
Tarnowski was one of the chess masters on the third day, picking up a 2-5-1 scoreline to occupy second overall.
However, the grand master of RS:X chess playing has to be Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED) who continued his exceptional consistency. A third and a second kicked off his competition and he added his first bullet, a third and a discarded fourth to his tally to lead the pack on nine points.
"It's pretty brutal out there when it's light,” explained Van Rijsselberge when messaging @isafworldsailing on Instagram via his account @lifeofdorian after racing.
In between sending selfies with compatriot Kiran Badloe, Van Rijsselberge continued, "It was nice to get some races done. For sure the last couple of days were a bit slow so it was so much better to do what we came here for, racing at the top level.
"The conditions are hard out there but the top five are all in it to win it.”
The top five the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist speaks of is the second place Tarnowski on 12 points, Nick Dempsey (GBR) on 12, Chunzhuang Liu (CHN) on 13 and Aichen Wang (CHN) on 14.
Lilian de Geus, compatriot of Van Rijsselberge, continued the trend of Dutch consistency in the RS:X and holds first overall in the Women's pack.
De Geus won the opening race on day one and picked up where she left off, recording a 2-1-(5) score line to lead Patricia Freitas (BRA) by four points.
Freitas started the day off by claiming the opening bullet, following up with a fifth and a discarded eighth. "I had a good day,” said Freitas. "The wind was really tricky and it was coming and going. There was a lot of cloud so the pressure was on and off. There were shifts on both sides and the race course was very short as we have a target time of 30 minutes.”
There was minimal separation amongst the top racers in the Women's RS:X over their three races and that is evident by the scores at the top of the leader board. De Geus sits top on four points followed by Freitas on eight, Bryony Shaw (GBR) and Peina Chen (CHN) on nine, Marina Alabau (ESP) on 11 and Poland's Malgorzata Bialecka on 14.
The 2016 Sailing World Cup Miami may be the biggest regatta of Caleb Paine's (USA) sailing career. But the towering Finn sailor is trying to treat this event, which doubles as the first part of the U.S. selection series for the Rio Olympics, just like the many other Olympic-class events he's sailed over the past decade. "I try to get into the mindset I know works for me and keep that repetition going,” said Paine after a solid day on the water. "Hopefully it all works out in the end.”
The Finn class was limited to just one race over the first two days. Now, with four races now in the books, it's a good time to look at how the fleet is shaking out. Surprisingly, there's no more space between the top six than there was after Race 1. Paine leads with 10 points, Lei Gong (CHN) is in second with 11, and Jake Lilley (AUS) is in third with 12. The pattern continues through Zack Railey (USA), the 2008 Finn silver medalist, in sixth, with 15 points.
Paine's 4-3-3 was the best score on the day and the most consistent of the front-runners.
"We were all expecting a little more breeze,” he said. "But fortunately we had enough to get three races in. I still could improve on my starting, but for the most part it was all about just keeping your lane wide open and having the ability to make the right decisions instead of other people dictating it.
"Boat speed was the king of the day. I've been working with my coach quite a bit and feel like I'm going pretty fast.”
In contrast to Paine's steady performance so far, Railey, who is emerging as Paine's chief rival for the Olympic berth after some time away from the dinghy, has been a bit up and down. Today he sandwiched two wins around a 15th; and he opened the regatta on Monday with a 13th.
"The first race of the regatta was a really difficult race, really big shifts, and I just wanted to get a solid result out of that one. I probably sailed too conservative, but I was OK with a 13th,” he said. "The second race today, I thought the right side was going to come in, and we were looking OK about halfway up the first beat. There was a 20-degree left shift with pressure. I just never made it out of the right side and rounded [in the bottom half of the fleet] at the first mark and caught back up as much as I could. That's just part of sailboat racing.”
After the 2012 OIympics, when he finished 12th, Railey turned his focus toward a product development company. A half year ago he decided to get back into the Finn.
"I've got a great family that allows me to do it and I've got some really great business partners that allow me to step away from the business,” he said. "I'd done a lot of other sailing outside of Olympic sailing and I just really missed Olympic sailing. I missed the training and the grind that goes along with it. And I had a couple of really friends of mine that decided they were going to come back also, so many a little bit of peer pressure also.”
One of those close friends, 2012 silver medalist Jonas Hoegh-Christensen (DEN), is currently in fifth place. With the three races scheduled for each of the next two days, this event could turn into a test of strength and endurance. That might seem to favor Paine, who is younger than Railey and has been training for this moment for four years. But he's not taking anything for granted.
"Everyone is fit and, being that it's the Olympic Trials, everyone is ready for it,” he said. "It's good to see everyone out there in the competition, and I look forward to see what the result brings.”
Laser Radial & Laser
After opening the regatta with a sixth, Laser Radial veteran Marit Bouwmeester (NED) has been unstoppable, winning all five of her remaining qualifying races to open up a four-point lead. Evi van Acker (BEL) another veteran and fellow Olympic medalist, has won a pair of races herself and was able to discard a black flag disqualification from today to sit second. Defending Olympic gold medalist Lilja Xu (CHN) in third, a point further back.
With qualification completed, the fleet will be split into a gold and silver grouping and winning the races will be that much tougher over the final two days.
The top American in the fleet is Paige Railey, who is currently 17th with 36 points. That's good enough for a 9-point cushion over Ericka Reineke (USA), who is Railey's chief rival for the 2016 Olympic berth in the Radial class. That battle will be an interesting one to watch during the next few days. This event is Part 1 of the two-stage selection series for that class.
The Laser class, one of only two to start the Day three on schedule, sailed a pair of afternoon races. Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) won his final race of the day—as with the Radial fleet, the 98-strong Laser fleet has been sailing in two groups for qualification—and has built himself an impressive 16-point lead heading into the gold and silver fleet split. Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) sits second with 27 points, but there is a pack of four sailors all within 5 points of the silver-medal position. At the back end of this group is 5-time Olympic medalist Robert Scheidt (BRA), who has rebounded from a tough start with three straight second place finishes.
Charlie Buckingam (USA) is the top American in 11th. While he has his sights focused on the top 10—only the top 10 in each class qualify for Saturday's medal race, which will be carried lived on ESPN3—Buckingham has to be comforted by the knowledge that the next American sailor is 20 points behind. As with many of the other classes, this regatta serves as the first part of the selection trails for the U.S. Laser berth in the Rio Olympics.
49er and 49erFX
The 49er qualifying series concluded with three further races on Wednesday ahead of the fleets separating into Gold and Silver for the duration of the World Cup.
Diego Botin and Iago Lopez (ESP) advanced to top spot in the 49er, recording an 8-4-3 to leave them on 45 points. The Spanish duo tend to excel in the qualifying series and more times than not, come out at the top of the leaderboard.
When push comes to shove and they race in a top quality Gold fleet they fall down the pack. Six Gold races are ahead of them now to see if they can buck the trend. Carl P Sylvan and Marcus Anjemark of Sweden follow in second and Jorge Lima and Jose Costa (POR) are third.
Defending 49erFX champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) moved up to first after four good races. A pair of seconds, a seventh and a sixth hand them a ten-point advantage over Jena Mai Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN).
It's common across Olympic sailing that one sailor or partnership will excel and shine on any given day. A pair of bullets, a trio of top three results or four top tens can often be seen on a daily basis at World Cup, World Championship and Continental Regattas but that common rule was broken today in the Nacra 17.
Each team picked up a mixed bag of results over four challenging races to open the scores up with six fleet races remaining.
Lucy Macgregor and David Evans (GBR) were the leading performers of the day, starting with a bullet and then a third. An 18th, which they count having already discarded a 33rd, followed before they concluded the day with a third to move to fifth overall.
They sit 42 points off leaders Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning (NED) who have 49 points with overnight leaders Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) second on 53 points.
Men's & Women's 470
Today wasn't up to the standard of the previous two for the Brazilian duo of Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbachan, but a strong finish in the final of three races kept them in the lead for another day. Close on their heels is Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar (AUT), three points behind, and then there's a gap of five points to third, currently occupied by Shasha Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN). Consistency has been a challenge for every team outside of the top four, which has started to stretch away from the rest of the pack. With 29 points, Sydney Bolger and Carly Shevitz (USA) are in fifth. They showcased their potential by winning today's first race. But will have to be more consistent to get on the podium.
In the men's 470, we have a new leader. Onan Barreiros and Juan Curbelo Cabrera won the final two races of the day—and were able to discard an OCS from the first race of the day—and move past Stuart McNay and David Hughes (USA) into the lead. McNay and Hughes are just two points behind, and hold a seven-point cushion over third, Panagoitis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) and Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstäder (AUT).
A jam packed day of Paralympic racing saw three races in both the 2.4mR and Sonar fleets completed.
Helena Lucas (GBR) showed her class in the 2.4mR advancing to top spot after a second and double bullets. The London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist is yet to taste that golden feeling in Miami after several attempts. Her performance today has boosted her chances as she tops the billing by top points over Bruce Millar (CAN) who had held top spot from day one.
Millar started the day with a bullet but couldn't hold on to Lucas as two third followed. Peter Eagar (CAN) is third on 20 points.
Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes (CAN) were assertive in the Sonar, notching up two race victories to accompany their third. They lead 2015 World Champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR) by two points heading into the penultimate day of Paralympic racing this Thursday.
Racing resumes on Thursday 28 January at 10:00 local time.