Strong, gusty winds blowing over 20 knots saw the seven international crews competing in the BMW Sailing Cup World Final 2010 having to use all their boat handling skills to keep control today.
The second day of the competition in Auckland, New Zealand produced varied conditions, starting with light, fickle breezes and ending in a howling wind, with spinnakers straining and the fleet of identical MRX yachts surfing down the Waitemata Harbour.
In the final race of the day, the Race Committee decided that the yachts would not use spinnakers in the blustery westerly breeze, which saw two yachts clash rigs during a pre-start collision.
The local Team New Zealand consolidated yesterday's lead to conclude the fleet racing segment of the regatta in first place on 12 points.
Italy and Malta were 2nd and 3rd on 25 points each. The top three teams from the fleet racing advance directly to the semi-finals of the match race part of the regatta, which begins tomorrow. The remaining teams compete in a round robin match race series to decide the fourth semi-final berth.
Just missing out on the automatic entry to the semi-finals was Team Portugal, which had a mixed day, but distinguished itself by winning the penultimate race in a flawless display of boat handling, when the wind was peaking at well over 20 knots.
"We were quite comfortable in those conditions," said skipper John Tavares. "We did a clean start and were able to capitalize on that. We have not been starting so well up to now."
Having raced so well in the heavy breeze, Tavares and his crew, who come from the island of Madeira, were disappointed when the Race Committee ordered no spinnakers for the final race.
However, they were looking forward to the match racing. "We know we still have a chance to get into the semi-final," said Tavares. "We will switch to match racing mode. At least with the match racing, you only have to deal with one opponent at a time. We feel positive about the match racing. We feel our boatspeed is good."
The quiet achievers in the fleet racing were Team Malta, who never won a race, but were consistently in the top two to four places throughout the nine-race series.
Team Malta has the oldest bowman in the fleet, 48-year-old Mike Agius, who was delighted to progress directly into the semi-final. "Fantastic news," he said.
The bowmen had their work cut out in today's racing, but Agius was unperturbed. "I have been sailing since I was 16 and somehow I have never moved from the bow," he said.
Race Director Russell Green said the day's varied conditions had provided a good test of skills for the fleet. "The breeze was unstable to start with, fluctuating from 9 to 24 knots within a matter of minutes, and with big shifts in direction. It built through the day until it got over 20 knots. Two masts touched during the start of the last race, so we decided to send the fleet in after nine races, instead of the scheduled 10."
The standings at the end of Race Day Two (discarding the worst result) were:
1 Team New Zealand (2/2/3/1/1/2/1/2/1) – 12pts
2 Team Italy (3/1/5/2/3/6/3/7/2) – 25pts
3 Team Malta (4/4/6/4/2/3/2/3/3) – 25pts
4 Team Portugal (5/3/1/3/5/4/5/1/5) – 27pts
5 Team Spain (1/7/2/5/6/1/6/5/7) – 33pts
6 Team Germany (6/5/4/7/7/7/4/6/4) – 43pts
7 Team Hong Kong (7/6/7/6/4/5/7/4/6) – 45pts