Wot Chicks in Busan
After finishing off their round robin with three wins from three races against the Chinese, Korean and Polish teams on Friday, Katie Spithill cemented her place in the semi finals only to find herself up against the French powerhouse Claire Leroy once Sally Barkow (USA) opted to race against Susan Ward (DEN) in the second petite final.
In front of a huge weekend beachfront crowd and under cloudy skies that brought cooler temperatures and importantly, a welcome 8-9 knot breeze, Leroy's clean sweep of three wins left Spithill to face Ward in yesterday's 3rd-4th place knockout. Spithill claimed the final podium place with a 2-1 result.
Given the round robin took three days to complete, organisers decided to go straight to semis on Saturday rather than sticking to the original format which included quarter finals.
Weak morning breezes plagued the first three days of the ISAF grade 1 women's match racing regatta that began last Wednesday in Busan, Korea, aboard the new Bakewell 30 class. The brand new boats had their first salt water trials the day before the regatta commenced.
Friday's first flight was held in the middle of Suyeong Bay, the course area the race committee anticipated would be favourable for a morning breeze. Racing was postponed for an hour before a zephyr finally wafted across the bay, later building to 7-8 knots.
With the round robin completed, the other semi finalists in order of finishing were Barkow on 9 points, Leroy on 9 points, Ward on 8 points and Spithill also on 8 points and fourth on the ladder.
One of the Wot Chicks' three wins on Friday was against the eventual first place getter, Sally Barkow. "It was a very close race with many lead changes and two penalties given to Sally's team, one at the bottom mark as she was windward boat and did not keep clear in a luff, and the second one was near the finish line for a similar scenario," reported Spithill.
Wot Chicks' loss to Danish skipper Susan Ward was another exciting match up. "We led off the start line but sailed into a hole that covered the whole course. Ward managed to close gauge us and take the lead. After coming from behind and an aggressive downwind luffing duel we lost this race at the finish line when we picked up our first penalty of the regatta for what the umpire considered was an aggressive luff".
Racing on Thursday also got off to a leisurely start, Spithill reporting "the day started slowly thanks to a thin fog which stifled the breeze. All the racing was sailed off Haeundae Beach in a south westerly that eventually built to 12 knots, making for some exiting viewing for spectators".
The regatta opened last Wednesday with a 0 - 8 knot breeze which swung 50 degrees at times and cut short the scheduled nine flights. A local crowd gathered on the beach to watch the impressive international line up adapt to the flukey conditions.
"At times the ocean was like glass," said Spithill. "The first five flights of the day were sailed right off the shore of Haeundae beach and for the last flight we raced closer to the marina, away from the beach in an effort to try and find some wind. It was tricky for all sailors as well as the race committee and PRO Peter Reggio."
Wot Chicks sailed three races on day one, winning two. Their loss to Leroy was another close-fought race. "We were right on Claire's stern at the top bottom mark and all but getting ahead down the run but the world number one didn't make any mistakes. The girls just couldn't peg her back.
"The venue is a great setup with sand sculptures, boat graffiti....yes they have Optimists on the beach which they are spray painting...and a mixture of sailing dinghies rigged on the beach," said Spithill.
The Busan Women's World Match Race is the closing event of the grade 1 international match racing circuit for 2008 and the final regatta before ISAF confirms the class of boat for the new Olympic women's match racing event in 2012 - an announcement eagerly awaited by Wot Chicks, Australia's highest ranked female match racing team.