GBR Challenge take first match

Nigel Cherrie reports on a day of light breeze matches from the Hauraki Gulf

Thursday February 14th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: Australasia
The final match of the day was worth waiting for.

James Spithill once again took the helm of USA-55. Beadsworth lost his first start of the match race regatta but made up for it in his aggression up the windward leg as the two yachts traded tacks, with Spithill protecting the right hand side of the course.

It only takes one split second mistake to earn a penalty at this level and Spithill left a tack that inch too late and forced GBR to luff to avoid a collision. "It's a fine line between a perfect tack and a penalty," explained British skipper Ian Walker later.

OneWorld now had a penalty to offload. At the post race press conference, it was clear Spithill did not agree with the decision. "The umpires call it how they see it and that's life," he reflected.

OneWorld still led around the windward mark by 28 seconds as a favourable shift helped lift USA-55 round the mark but Beadsworth and Walker sailed off to the left side of the course and assumed the lead position three-quarters of the way down the run as they sailed into more pressure.

A smooth and perfectly executed leeward spinnaker drop gave GBR-52 a 26 second advantage at the bottom mark with one upwind and one downwind leg to go. Their lead had stretched to nearly a minute at the windward mark for the second time.

OneWorld split off down the final run and pulled even as the breeze started to die away more on the British side, but Spithill still had a penalty turn to complete. Within a few boat lengths of the line, the spinnaker was dropped and USA-55 started her turn while GBR-52 sneaked up and edged across the line by the smallest winning margin of the regatta so far. But time and distance are irrelevant, GBR Challenge have earned their first victory and put a point on the board.

Despite the shaky finish, which Walker admitted, "with hindsight was a mistake", it had been a good race for the team. "We had managed the shifts well upwind and we had eked out a minute lead by the second top mark but we're just pleased to get a win however it comes," commented Ian.

There is still a mathematical chance that GBR Challenge can be in the match race final on Saturday but they have to beat Sweden who in turn must beat OneWorld to equal the scores.

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