Plenty and Flash Gordon close
Bill Hardesty was amazed by what he saw during Thursday's action at the Miami Beach Invitational Regatta. Just after the fleet of Farr 40s rounded the first weather mark during Race 5, Hardesty looked around and it appeared all seven boats were dead even.
"All seven boats were lined up in a row. It literally looked like a seven-way tie," said Hardesty, tactician aboard Flash Gordon 6. "This fleet is amazingly tight. If you make even the slightest error, you're going to the back of the pack."
Wolfgang Schaefer, owner-driver of overall leader Struntje Light, discovered that reality in race 5. Struntje Light was in second place coming into the leeward mark and thought the boat ahead was going to round the left gate. So Schaefer took his boat to the right gate, only to realize when it was too late that the competition changed its mind.
"We got kicked out and had to make a circle and of course after that we were in last place," Schaefer said.
Fortunately for Schaefer, Struntje Light placed second in Race 4 and that was good enough to maintain the overall lead with 13 points, three better than skipper Alex Roepers and the Plenty team.
"This is exactly the situation we like. We have put ourselves in good position and now we just need to keep sailing well," Schaefer said. "Against this group, you have to be strong every day. If you slip up, these people will make you pay."
Former America's Cup helmsman Peter Holmberg is calling tactics aboard Struntje Light while fellow professional Massimo Bortoletto is trimming main. Boat captain and bowman Matteo de Luca is the other pro on the boat, but Schaefer said jib trimmer Cesare Bozzetti is talented enough to qualify.
PRO Peter "Luigi" Reggio completed two more races on Thursday in winds that held steady at 16-18 knots out of due north. Forecasts call for more promising breeze on Friday and Reggio plans to get in three starts as the projected 10-race series remains on schedule.
"Conditions have been fantastic. This place really delivers. The racing has been delightful both days," Reggio said. "Hopefully, we'll go into Saturday only needing to do two races."
Plenty captured line honors in Race 5 following a fine battle with Struntje Light. Tactician Chris Larson said the crew did a great job of holding onto the pack after falling behind on the first upwind leg then made great gains on the next two legs and rounded the second weather mark in second - between Struntje Light and Barking Mad.
"We did a gybe set around the offset mark while Struntje and Barking did bear-away sets to starboard. The puffs were coming from the offshore side of the course and that benefitted us. We were able to get some nice puffs and shifts then gybe back on top of Struntje," said Larson, noting that Plenty won race 4 by less than a boat length.
"Going upwind, the course is pretty interesting. You can gain going right or left. It's odd because when everyone converges at the mark it's pretty much equal," said Larson, who feels good about Plenty's chances. "We're still shaking off some rust from having not sailed since the worlds, but the boat is going really well and Alex is driving great."
Owner Helmut Jahn steered Flash Gordon 6 to victory in Race 5 by taking the middle road on the second upwind leg. Hardesty agreed with Larson's assessment about choosing a side so he decided on neither right nor left.
"It seems to me like it's been very one-sided, but not always the same side. One race it's left and the next it's right," he said. "We've been having great starts, but we've had some small issues with speed so we're working on our rig tune. We've mostly been playing it conservative, but today we took a few more risks."
Struntje Light has now led at the end of racing for two straight days so Schaefer was asked if he thought the rest of the fleet might starting hunting his boat a bit on Friday. "That is not the normal style of this class. All these owners are gentlemen. That type of thing usually does not happen until the last day," he said.
Results - top three
1. Struntje Light, Wolgang Schaefer, Germany, 1-2-1-2-7=13
2. Plenty, Alex Roepers, New York, USA, 7-1-3-1-4=16
3. Flash Gordon 6, Helmut Jahn, Chicago, 3-3-5-6-1=18