Bit between Spithill's teeth

Team Ceeref unbeaten after 10 races at the Puerto Calero RC44 Gold Cup

Thursday December 11th 2008, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
More wind and more drama on the Atlantic race course for the concluding day of match racing at the Puerto Calero RC44 Gold Cup. Before the start of racing, BMW Oracle Racing broke the gooseneck fitting on their mast, preventing owner Larry Ellison from competing in today’s five heats.

The first big match of the day was between Banco Espirito Santo and Team Aqua, with Cameron Appleton bringing his customary aggressive pre-start tactics to bear against Mark Mendelblatt helming for the Portuguese team. Appleton trapped Mendelblatt in coffin corner, leading off the port end of the start although still finding himself with a fight on his hands from Mendelblatt. In the end, however, Aqua pulled clear and won their match.

Appleton also got the better of Dean Barker in the pre-start, just as he had in their match on the previous day. However Barker was unflustered by his early mistakes and kept Artemis in the match, rounding bow-to-stern with Team Aqua around the top mark. They went round the bottom mark overlapped, with Appleton claiming the inside but failing to round up quickly enough, according to the umpires who gave him a penalty.

With the wind blowing around 20 knots and the RC44s planing at more or less windspeed, Appleton felt there wouldn’t be time for him to complete his penalty just before the finish line, so instead he elected to gybe on the final upwind leg. Appleton hoped that he might just be able to keep Team Aqua’s nose in front, but the Swedish boat rolled over the top of the United Arab Emirates team and Barker stole the win back from his Kiwi rival.

While Mendelblatt had suffered at the hands of Appleton earlier in the day, the American helmsman got the better of James Spithill in the pre-start, relegating Team Ceeref to the unfamiliar position of being last off the start line. The Australian helmsman initiated a tacking duel against Banco Espirito Santo, trying to wriggle clear of Mendelblatt’s close cover. Half way up the beat, Spithill went for the duck, bearing away behind the Portuguese transom and breaking into clear air to the right of the race track. The two boats separated, and when they converged it was Igor Lah’s Slovenian crew who had found the better wind on the right. Spithill was back in control and his clean sheet remained intact.

Meanwhile in the other match of flight 9, Artemis was leading Daniel Calero’s local team on his chartered RC44, Islas Canarias Puerto Calero. The Spanish team’s lack of RC44 experience showed when they trawled their spinnaker in a poorly executed hoist. Helmsman José Maria Ponce rounded the boat up into the wind, as the crew fought to get the big blue fishing net back on board. Eventually one of the crew stripped down to his Speedos and dived into to free the halyard from the head of the wayward sail. Calero quipped that they had always meant to go trawling, as the fishing in this area is excellent, so he claimed.

“Banco Espirito Santo broke their spinnaker on the last downwind leg. We were lucky because the other day we were the boat breaking everything, but today it was good for us. That area is really good for fishing! The first two races were bad for us, so we said, ‘Let's fish a little bit and then go to the owner's dinner!’”

Calero retired from that race with the ‘fishing’ incident, but the Spanish team got their act together for the final match against Banco Espirito Santo. The Portuguese crew led the locals all the way round the race track until the final hoist, when a small tear in the spinnaker resulted in the sail exploding just seconds after the final hoist of the day. The Puerto Calero team seized their moment, rolled over the top of the wounded Portuguese and won their first match on the water, to go with the bye which everyone earned against the absent BMW Oracle today.

Banco Espirito Santo helm, Mark Mendelblatt said: “We controlled the Spanish all the way round but we ripped our chute on the last run. It had a bit of a tear as we hoisted and it blew up about 50 metres later. We tried to luff them on the way to the finish but they got over the top of us and they beat us. I'm enjoying these boats, and would have liked to do a better job for Patrick, but tomorrow it's calling tactics for a different team, BMW Oracle. I want to do well for my team, but I'll be cheering for Patrick too.”

So it was a good day for the new team in the RC44 fleet, but an excellent one for Igor Lah, James Spithill and the whole Team Ceeref crew. They sailed a perfect day, winning the match racing event in Lanzarote and securing the 2008 match race season by an emphatic margin from BMW Oracle Racing, who finished second in the year’s rankings.

“James proved that he's the best in this class," said Lah. "The whole team has worked hard all year. We try to practise a lot. Everybody works as one.”

Michele Ivaldi, tactician added: “We've been match racing a long time. This crew is pretty strong. We can use few words to make a long plan. The way the crew is working on the boat and the way we're talking is very advanced. It's a quiet boat, especially when things go well, there's not much yelling needed. The same people have been sailing in position for more than a year and a half. Good crew work is the key, and winning is a big credit to everyone on the crew.”

Tomorrow the fleet racing contest begins, with three races scheduled.

Match-race, final results after 10 flights:

1) Team Ceeref, James Spithill, 10/0 - 10 points
2) Team Aqua, Cameron Appleton 7/3 - 7 points
3) Artemis, Dean Barker, 6/4 - 6 points
4) BMW ORACLE Racing, Larry Ellison, 3/7 - 3 points
5) Islas Canarias Puerto Calero, José Maria Ponce, 2/8 - 2 points
6) Team Banco Espirito Santo, Mark Mendelblatt, 2/8 - 2 point

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