Russell Coutts and his Danish crew lead Magnus Holmberg’s SeaLife Rangers to the windward mark

Russell Coutts and his Danish crew lead Magnus Holmberg’s SeaLife Rangers to the windward mark

Racing in the rain

More big names tumble on the penultimate day of the Swedish Match Cup

Sunday July 11th 2004, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: Scandinavia
The Swedish Match Cup rolled to the mid-point of the semifinals at the end of play today for four crews, while four others were left wondering what could've been after the quarterfinal round at the Swedish Match Tour's final event of the 2003-'04 season.

The semis were suspended this afternoon with Peter Gilmour's (AUS) Pizza-La Sailing Team leading Chris Law's (GBR) crew, The Outlaws, 2-0 in one match.

In the other semifinal match Magnus Holmberg's (SWE) SeaLife Rangers crew is tied with Russell Coutts' (NZL) crew of Danish sailors 1-1. The semifinal matches are best-of-five series, or first to 3 points.

This morning's quarterfinal round brought an abrupt end to the title aspirations to the crews led by skippers Ed Baird (USA), Jesper Bank (DEN), Karol Jablonski (POL) and Lars Nordbjerg (DEN).

Baird lost to Holmberg, 2-1, while Bank, Jablonski and Nordbjerg lost 2-0 to Coutts, Gilmour and Law, respectively.

The quarters were sailed in a northerly breeze between 8 and 14 knots. That direction means the breeze is blowing across the western approach to Marstrand harbour rather than down it and makes for a very short racecourse even though the races were three or four laps long.

The windward mark was placed directly under a 125ft bluff on the northern shore of the approach, which made for squirrelly conditions at the mark. The start line was placed just 25 yards off the southern shore, making for close quarters during the pre-start circling action.

"We were doing a windward/leeward in less than five minutes," said Baird, currently eighth on the Swedish Match Tour leaderboard. "That means 75 seconds to the layline in 37-footers."

Baird and his SKF Racing crew (Andy Horton, Pete Poulsen, Pete van Nieuwenhyzen, Jon Ziskind) won their first match against Holmberg and crew (Martin Krite, Lars Linger, Oskar Ljung, Stefan Rahm), but then lost the next two.

Baird was blunt in his assessment. "I failed to get the left side off the line," said the reigning world champion of match-racing. "When the start line is as close to the rocks as it was, when you break off the spins there are different way to get the left. Some of those ways come and go.

"In the second start I was pushing him and he was early to the left end. We got him to tack to port and we tacked on his hip to prevent him from coming back. Then we got a right-hand shift (a header) and he was able to tack and cross our bow."

Jablonski (crew: Tom Baranowski, Piotr Przybylski, Markus Wieser, Jacek Wysocki) felt he got the better of Gilmour (crew: Rod Dawson, Mike Mottl, Kazuhiko Sofuku, Yasuhiro Yaji) in both pre-starts, pushing him over early in the first match and starting to the favoured left end in the second. Jablonski led both races up the first beat, but couldn't keep the lead around the windward mark.

"Beating Peter is never easy, but we felt we might have a chance in the shifty conditions," said the Pole. "We got stuck both times at the windward mark. It was too close to land."

Bank (crew: Henrik Blakskjaer, Morten Halkier, Thomas Jacobsen, Time Nielsen) also felt he did well in the pre-start in his match against Coutts (crew: Michael Arnhild, Jes Gram-Hansen, Christian Kamp, Rasmus Kostner), but he received two penalties and was at a loss to understand why. After racing he was too frustrated to ask the umpires what they were thinking.

The second penalty, in the second match pre-start, left him standing in the cockpit, mouth agape, looking in disbelief at the umpires.

With both boats luffing head-to-wind, and Bank to the right of Coutts, Coutts started sailing backwards. Then he fell off onto port and sailed into Bank's port gunwale. The umpires penalised Bank. "I have no idea what that was about," Bank said.

Bank, the three-time Olympic medalist, led around the race course and held a four to five-boatlength advantage approaching the finish line. He did his circle on the line and almost pulled off the win, but lost by half a length after performing the 270-degree penalty turn.

"We led to the line on starboard," Bank said. "We didn't have time to gybe to port so that when we came out of our turn we were on starboard. We went in and did it on starboard gybe, meaning we came out on port tack."

Law and the Outlaws (crew: Oscar Angervall, Daniel Bjorndahl, Anders Dahlsjo, Henrik Valderyd) won their two quarterfinal matches to push his record to 9-2 in defense of his title, and then ran into Gilmour in the semis and a quick 2-0 deficit.

"We weren't in his class this afternoon," said Law, the most senior skipper in the fleet at age 52. "We were slow on the hoists, messed up the drops and didn't have any opportunities on the one-way track."

Racing continues tomorrow.

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