The Pizza-La Sailing Team hoists the spinnaker at a windward mark rounding during its quarterfinal match against Team Musto
 

The Pizza-La Sailing Team hoists the spinnaker at a windward mark rounding during its quarterfinal match against Team Musto

Clash of the titans

Finals of Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman will be between Peter Gilmour and Gavin Brady or Russell Coutts

Sunday May 9th 2004, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: Italy
Swedish Match Tour Championship leader Peter Gilmour has advanced to the finals of the Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman. All that's left to decide is who will be his opponent in tomorrow's best-of-five final.

That team will be led by either Gavin Brady or Russell Coutts. Brady leads Coutts 2-1 in their semifinal match that was suspended late this evening when the wind dropped to 5 knots and the sun waned.

The fifth day of the Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman featured close matches with penalties and lead changes the order of the day. Rarely were boats separated by boatlengths at mark roundings. Frequently the trailing boat's bow was on the lead boat's stern.

A fresh east/southeasterly blew this morning at 12 knots for the quarterfinals and racing was conducted on the Bay of Porto Azzurro with the racecourse parallel to the shoreline to the delight of the hundreds of spectators who turned out on a glorious spring day.

The wind moderated throughout the day and backed to the east, but the race committee conducted 17 match-races to set up tomorrow's climatic final.

Gilmour, the Australian skipper of the Pizza-La Sailing Team, arrived in the final by defeating Ed Baird (USA/Team Musto) 2-1 in the quarterfinal. Gilmour then deposed of Karol Jablonski (POL/Toscana Challenge) 3-(-1) in the semifinal. Gilmour, who has a 32-point lead in the Tour standings, has won 11 of his last 12 races and is in a strong position to increase his lead.

"Gilmour showed today that he's a much better sailor," said Jablonski. "He was always in the right place in the pre-start."

In their first semifinal match, Jablonski was an early starter and had to return below the line to start properly. He didn't clear the line enough in his first attempt at restarting, and was forced to dip a second time. But when he dipped "about three or four metres" below the line, in his estimation, he still didn't see his flag lowered on the race committee boat to indicate he was clear.

Frustrated by starting as much as 20 seconds late while Gilmour sailed away, Jablonski turned toward the race committee and said something he shouldn't have. This prompted the umpires to initiate a Rule 69 protest for unsportsmanlike conduct against Jablonski after the match. In the hearing on the water, Jablonski admitted he yelled a profanity at the race committee, and the umpires penalised him a full point.

"All of my crew were sure we were clear," Jablonski said. "But the flag wasn't coming down. It was an unnecessary incident on my part. It shouldn't have happened."

With the score 2-0, Gilmour got a penalty Jablonski in the pre-start of their third match, which essentially put the Aussie in the final. The two were luffing head to wind, with Gilmour to the left of Jablonski. Gilmour jibed around to port, while Jablonski bore off on starboard. In the light 5- to 8-knot winds, Gilmour, on port, had to harden up to avoid a collision, but their gunwales touched and Jablonski was penalised.

"He hunted us down and stopped us from maneuvering. We banged side-to-side," Gilmour said. "The rules are written to make the right-of-way boat keep clear."

Said Jablonski, "I had to give him room to gybe, and did. The minute he started to come up I couldn't keep clear."

Jablonski got to the semifinal by beating Jesper Radich (DEN/Team Denmark) 2-1 in the quarterfinal. With the score tied 1-1, Radich won the start of the third and deciding match. He forced Jablonski to the left of the course, and seemed in control.

A 10-degree wind shift to the left allowed Jablonski to lay the windward mark while Radich had to cross from the right on the header. Jablonski rounded the windward mark with an eight-boatlength lead and sailed away to victory.

Also in the quarterfinal, Gilmour beat Baird 2-1, nailing him with a penalty in the deciding race. Gilmour, who sailed circles around Baird in the pre-start, was pushing him from behind.

First he forced Baird to head up, but Gilmour then got his bow on Baird's windward quarter. And when Baird turned his helm to leeward his stern pushpit nipped Gilmour's jib. Gilmour easily won the race to clinch the series 2-1.

"Ed's a benchmark sailor," Gilmour said. "When he's on he's tough to beat. But because he changes crew so much he doesn't have the finesse in the pre-start."

Brady and Coutts are staging an epic battle that has seen lead changes and come-from-behind victories in two of the three matches. Coutts won the first flight after trailing by nearly 30 seconds at the first windward mark. He rode a puff up to Brady on the first run and then played the right side of the second beat to pass Brady and extend to a roughly 30-second victory.

In Flight 2, Brady led around the first lap, but once again Coutts closed at the leeward mark. Brady rounded inside with Coutts overlapped. Coutts then luffed Brady, but there was slight contact and Coutts was penalised.

"That was an aggressive move," Brady said.

With the score tied 1-1, Coutts took it to Brady in the pre-start of Flight 3. The two skippers sat luffing head-to-wind for an extended period, and Brady was first to fall off onto starboard. Coutts followed and had command. He pushed Brady well past the pin end before tacking to port and sailing back to start. Coutts was 35 seconds late, and Brady 40 seconds late.

On the beat, however, the two split, Coutts going right and Brady left. At the first meeting Coutts held a slight edge and tacked in front of Brady, sending him back to the left. Brady found more pressure on the left side of the course, which helped him sail a higher angle toward the windward mark. Brady rounded the windward mark with a three-boatlength lead, a similar advantage he held at the second windward mark. On the run to the finish Coutts closed from behind to make it interesting, but Brady held on for a narrow, one boatlength victory.

Brady said that his downwind sailing ability was lacking at the Congressional Cup two weeks ago, when he finished third, and admitted it still needs some work. "It's not our strength," the 30-year-old skipper said.

Brady arrived in the semifinal by beating Magnus Holmberg (SWE/SeaLife Rangers) 2-0 in the quarterfinal. He was the only skipper to sweep his opponent in the round.

Coutts got the semis by beating Bertrand Pacé (FRA/Team France), 2-1, in a battle of former Team New Zealand sailors. Coutts won the America's Cup twice for Team New Zealand as skipper (1995 and 2000), while Pacé was the tune-up helmsman for the unsuccessful defense in 2003.

Coutts lost the first quarterfinal match to Pacé, then won two straight to advance.

The Brady-Coutts semifinal is scheduled to be concluded tomorrow morning, with the final starting shortly afterward.

Day 5 Results

Quarterfinal Round
Flight 1
Match 1: Gavin Brady d. Magnus Holmberg
Match 2: Bertrand Pace d. Russell Coutts
Match 3: Jesper Radich d. Karol Jablonski

Flight 2
Match 2: Coutts d. Pace
Match 3: Jablonski d. Radich
Match 4: Peter Gilmour d. Ed Baird

Flight 3
Match 2: Coutts d. Pace
Match 1: Brady d. Holmberg
Match 3: Baird d. Gilmour

Flight 4
Match 3: Jablonski d. Radich
Match 4: Gilmour d. Baird

Semifinal Round
Flight 1
Match 1: Gilmour d. Jablonski
Match 2: Coutts d. Brady

Flight 2
Match 1: Gilmour d. Jablonski
Match 2: Brady d. Coutts

Flight 3
Match 1: Gilmour d. Jablonski
Match 2: Brady d. Coutts

More photos on page 2...Alinghi Team skipper Russell Coutts (NZL) and mainsail trimmer Warwick Fleury (NZL).

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