It was one of the Audi MedCup's TP52 debutants, Udo Schutz’s famous Container team from Germany, which proved the most consistent performer across the two races which opened the 2011 season at the Cascais Trophy in Portugal. A pair of well earned second places, behind Synergy Russian Sailing Team in the first heat and Italy’s Audi Azzurra Sailing Team, was enough to give skipper Markus Wieser and crew a lead of two clear points after their first ever races as a crew in the fleet.
The Container team, with Hamish Pepper calling tactics, built their pair of second places from solid, if not spectacular first beats and twice in consecutive races they got the better of the world champions, Quantum Racing on the final run to the finish.
The German-backed crew made no big errors, and – crucially – were always taking places rather than going backwards in the tough fleet. Indeed it was Quantum Racing which managed to maintain the same consistency. Ed Baird (USA) and crew collected two third places to lie third on count back.
In 13-18 knots of NNWerly breeze under a grey sky and occasional downpours, with the windward-mark set just off Cabo Raso, to the west of Cascais, the wind carried the typical hallmarks which the Portuguese capital’s sailing centre has long been known for – big differences in wind pressure and shifts in direction- plenty for the tacticians and strategists to work with. And there was more than enough wind strength to punish any crewing errors.
The Russian team looked odds on to finish the day on top of the fleet after winning the first race comfortably with their brand new, from the wrapper, Botin Partners design, but their messy leeward gate rounding in the second race cost them dearly and their first race win was paired to a sixth. And after a series of errors in the first race which resulted in an opening race fifth, an inspired gybe-set at the windward mark of the second race for Audi Azzurra Sailing Team turned a fifth place with a 40 seconds deficit to a race lead by 40 seconds at the leeward gate. From there alchemists of the day, Francesco Bruni and Vasco Vascotto , at the back of the boat did not put a foot wrong and they won comfortably with Container second.
But, as Vascotto acknowledged later, such opportunities to redeem themselves are not handed out often at this level. “To be honest when we saw the wind was so far right then the decision was made for us, but when it was most right at the top mark there was nothing else to do. But, yes, we were a little surprised, not to say pleased, to gain so much. These things don’t happen every day and we really should not have been relying on things like that. We need to focus more and make fewer mistakes.
"Today we have payed very dearly for our mistakes, but we know that we can sail better, and we have demonstrated it in the second race. We had the opportunity to make a gybe set and this has been the key of the race. Starting from tomorrow, we will pay more attention, because you don't always have this opportunity, and in the Audi MedCup, in a moment you can pass from first to last."
Markus Wieser paid tribute to the shore team which has worked relentlessly to ensure they made the start line on time, acknowledging that he has a lot to learn having only steered a TP52 for the first time last Monday: “It was extraordinary for us. We were quite fast downwind and we sailed quite well. Our team is working very well together. It is the same core team that we sailed the STP65, the last Container, except for Hamish Pepper who I know very well and sailed with in the 1990s on the match race. But it all comes down to the shore team making the boat go very well to start with. Tome Swift is the boat captain who runs the shore team and is Mid-bow on the boat, and the sailmakers and our sail designer Sandro (Benigni), and Hartwell Jordan who is running all the sail coordination and the shore team and that leaves me free to just go sailing.
"The starts are always important, we did not have the best starts but we played the shifts well, it was alright but most of the gains we made downwind on wind pressure. For me I only started driving the boat last Monday, so I have a lot to learn, it all comes down to the team and if it all comes good then you look good as a helmsman. And I have to pay tribute to the owner who gave me a free hand to sail with the guys I want to sail with.
"Consistency is about keeping out of trouble, sailing your own race and get the breaks when you can take the them. But it is a long week and this is only the first day. For us, a new TP52 project it is great for us. I am too old to be nervous, I enjoy it, there are more important things than sailing and so there was no pressure today.”
Niklas Zennström rounded out the day fifth overall aboard his new Ràn: “It was very frantic. You can do a lot of practice with a few boats but when you go racing and it is much tighter and much tougher and we made a few mistakes. And so we are glad that at least the first day is behind us. I was not so much nervous this morning, but we did have a bit of an issue just before the first start when there was an issue with pit winch was not working and so we had to service it, and then we were late into our sequence for the start, and problems kind of accumulated.
"This is much, much more intensive for me than what I have done, much more boat for boat sailing. It is tough, but is good fun and that is why we are here. For us there it is good to know we can mix it in, we made a couple of mistakes and were able to get back at the last top mark until we had a problem with the spinnaker. When we hoisted the spinnaker we got a rip, and then when we peeled to the new one the old one did not come down properly and the tack line got hooked, and we damaged it and so we could not gybe. But the good thing is we seem to be fast enough and we were in there.”
In the Soto 40 fleet it was Iberdrola which proved their supremacy, gained through a solid training programme off their Valencia base, when they won the first practice race of the season. But it is only tomorrow, Thursday, that points racing begins for this exciting new class for the first time ever in Europe.
Cascais Trophy - TP52 Series
1. Container (GER), 2+2 = 4 points
2. Audi Azzurra Sailing Team (ITA), 5+1= 6 points
3. Quantum Racing (USA), 3+3= 6 points
4. Synergy Russian Sailing Team (RUS), 1+6= 7 points
5. Ràn (SUE), 6+4= 10 points
6. Bribon (ESP), 4+7= 11 points
7. Audi Sailing Team Powered by All4One (EUR), 7+5= 12 points
8. Gladiator (GBR), DNC+DNC=18 points
Soto 40 - Practice Race
1. Iberdrola Sailing Team (ESP)
2. Bigamist (POR)
3. Ngoni (GBR)
4. XXII (POR)
5. Patagonia (ARG)