Even before everyone arrived in the Algarve for round 2 of the GC32 Lagos Cup, forecasts were predicting big conditions for Saturday. Anticipating this, yesterday the race committee made the call to start racing three hours early at 10:00.
Out on the water at that time, the wind was already into the low 20s. Nonetheless, three exhilarating races were successfully held, with upwind starts and reefed mainsails, in the big, gusty, flat water conditions that saw all the boats hitting speeds into the high 30s. While Ernesto Bertarelli’s Alinghi made a modest increase to her lead going into tomorrow’s final day, just three points now separate the next three boats, jostling for the two remaining podium positions.
Heroes of the day were certainly Christian’s Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team who toughed it out in the big conditions to score two bullets in the first two races, including a photo finish with Alinghi going their way in today’s first.
“We’d talked about the modifications we needed to make to the boat in breeze,” explained New Zealander Chris Steele, Black Star Sailing Team’s helmsman. “We liked the upwind starts – that levels the playing field – and the guys did a good job to get the boat around the track. It was nice to get a couple of wins on the board early and then we had a bit on in that last race on the last run, but then so did everyone.”
According to Steele, making the difference for them was keeping a cool head in manoeuvres, especially the bear-aways at the top gate and starting on port. The latter would save them a tack up the beat, potentially keying into some favourable right shifts coming off the shore at the top and giving them right of way coming into the top mark. Black Star, like several others, also tried to use their jib, rather than their gennaker, on the downwinds – potentially a faster, less draggy set-up in the big breeze, but forcing them to sail higher.
All of the crews registered near record speeds of 37-39 knots, especially as the wind built further in what proved to be the day’s final race. “We saw 29-30 knots [of wind] and it felt like that at the time. We were running out of ways to depower the boat…” said Steele, who suffered a minor injury on the final run when they had stuffed the bows in, causing him to fall into a winch. “We were a bit man down for the last downwind and lost a place.”
Getting more on their game, despite the hostile conditions, was Red Bull Sailing Team, which finished second in both the latter two races. “It was interesting doing the upwind starts because I haven’t done those in a while. The racing was really good,” said Nathan Outteridge, the London 2012 Olympic 49er gold medalist turned America’s Cup skipper, who is standing in for Roman Hagara at this event. “We felt it was important to be on the lifted tack out of the start and then just try to sail in phase – that was the priority of the day. We did a pretty good job of that in the second two.”
“We did the last race with no Zero [genniker] downwind. Alinghi was just ahead, but we got a little high on the foil and did a bunny hop and crashed and they sailed away.” Their top speed was 37.7 knots. “It is pretty loose at that speed, holding onto the tiller as it’s rattling around!”
The immaculate Alinghi suffered a minor blemish on their scorecard when in today’s second race they, for the first time, didn’t feature in the top three. Foil trimmer Timothé Lapauw explained that this was due to losses on the upwind and then a crash on the downwind. In his five years racing GC32s with Alinghi, he reckoned this was the windiest day they had ever seen. “For the last race, we saw 32 knots in a gust on the start line. Today we were racing only because it was flat water. For sure the wind was a bit strong, but we still managed to sail as fast as we could. The only thing which was pretty hard was the bear-away at the top mark because it was pretty shifty and gusty.”
The hardest part said Lapauw (who sails with the French SailGP team) was the giant variations in the wind which could be 25 knots at one moment and 15 knots – the next. As a result, it was definitely an ‘eye out of the boat’ day. “The helmsman responses with the gusts and you have to make big changes too,” he said.
Tomorrow the intention is to start racing early, once again with a first start at 10:00 local time.
The GC32 Lagos Cup is proudly sponsored by local event partners the City of Lagos, Marina de Lagos and Sopromar with additional supporting partners; Marina Club Lagos Resort, Club de Vela de Lagos, Lagos Avenida Hotel, Aviworld, Multirental, Engel and Volkers, Cheetah Marine, Highfield Boats and Ostra Select.
Photo Credits: Sailing Energy / GC32 Racing Tour