Bacardi no-breezer

The Olympic Champions ghost away to another victory, while Percy wallows mid-fleet

Friday March 8th 2002, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United States
Olympic Champions Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl have sailed off to a virtually impregnable lead in the Bacardi Cup regatta due to finish in Miami today. In yesterday's thunderstorm-ridden race in winds of 2 to 4 knots, the American team went up the left and rounded the windward mark in the lead, and went on to win the race. Discarding their result from the first race, they have just five points from four races, way out ahead of Paul Cayard and Phil Trinter who now lie in second overall.

As for the Brits, Ian Barker and Ed Peel had their moment of glory rounding the first mark in third, but dropped back to the late 20s by the finish. Conversely, Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell rounded in the 70s or 80s and climbed up to 36th. Percy was not happy though. "We're not very good at this light stuff. We hardly had the crew off the leeward side today, and with the size of main you've got on the Star, that's not a lot of wind we're talking about. I don't know how you predict it out there - we chose the right and we got it wrong. But you make your bed and lie in it."

Percy now lies 7th overall, and is still just a few points of fourth place, not bad for someone in his first major Star regatta. But Percy admitted to feeling a bit hard done by. "I feel like we've sailed better than 7th overall. You look back on that first race when we were 6th until the wind turned inside out at the end, and we'd have been an easy second overall right now." It was certainly a different story the day before, when Percy scored a 1st and 2nd in steady winds of 15 knots. "That was encouraging. We were match racing with Reynolds and he won one and we won one, but we were two minutes clear of the fleet on both occasions."

Percy can draw further encouragement from the fact that he and Mitchell weigh in at 96 and 102 kilos respectively, bang on the new reduced weight limit that the class has recently imposed on itself. Reynolds and Liljedahl weigh in around 20 kilos heavier, and that old saying, "Fat is fast", is never truer than in the Star boat. "Magnus has been in McDonald's for the last three months piling on the pounds for this regatta," said Percy. Percy, on the other hand, is relying on his strength and fitness from the Finn to carry him through the medium to heavy conditions. Once the other leading crews are forced to drop weight to comply with the new ruling, the lighter-weight Brits should find themselves even more competitive.

After Ian Walker and Mark Covell's rapid rise through the Star fleet to their eventual silver medal at the last Olympics, it is easy to take the British team's performances for granted. But the fleet at any major Star regatta is chock full of legends, and this Bacardi Cup is certainly no different. Reynolds has been the dominant force in Star boat racing for the last 15 years, having notched up two gold medals and one silver out of four Games. Paul Cayard, a past World Champion in the class, is legendary for his America's Cup and Whitbread exploits. Other Olympic medallists litter the fleet, such as 1992 Finn Olympic Champion Jose van der Ploeg, and Star bronze medallist David Giles. There are others like Iain Murray who have barely warranted a mention this week. Then again, there are some notable absentees from the regatta such as four-time medallist Torben Grael and Kiwi Gavin Brady who finished runner-up in last year's Worlds. Both are on America's Cup duty for Prada, while reigning World and European champion Freddie Loof is about to set sail with Amer Sports One from Rio for the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

But there is no denying this is still a world-class fleet at the Bacardi. Percy and Mitchell are already proving their mettle at the highest level. Percy can draw great inspiration from the fact that Loof managed to win the two biggest Star regattas in his maiden year in this reputedly tough class. Percy clashed many times with Loof in their Finn days, but Percy generally came off better, most notably at the Sydney Games when the Brit match raced the Swede out of contention for the gold and won the regatta with a race to spare. Now, Percy is showing the form to be able to emulate Loof's stunning debut. Some people say the Finn is a stupid boat, but the sailors it produces appear to be anything but that.

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