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Bob Merrick
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Olympic Reportó9/20/00

SailNet’s Olympic correspondent Bob Merrick, the US Men’s 470 crew, reports from Sydney on the first two races of the regatta, while spectator Martha Mason offers her view from the sidelines in Sydney


Follow the Olympics with Bob Merrick's reports and photos along with our primers and commentary from spectator Martha Mason.

Olympic Report—09/26/00
Olympic Report—09/25/00
Olympic Report—09/22/00
Olympic Report—09/21/00
Olympic Report—09/19/00
Olympic Photos—Opening Ceremonies
Olympic Photos—Miscellaneous
Let the Games Begin
Getting to Know Olympic Sailing
The Olympic Primer
Olympic Report—08/03/00
Olympic Report—06/30/00
Olympic Report—05/29/00
Olympic Report—05/06/00


"To start the Olympic Regatta, we raced on Course E today. That’s out in the ocean just south of the harbor entrance. The forecast was for a cold front from the south to arrive in the late morning and blow out of the southeast, going to the east by the end of the day.

We got towed out to the starting line, about a 45-minute tow, and arrived at 11:00 a.m. for a noon start. We had no wind initially, but we could see it coming. The wind arrived at 11:15 and slowly built to 15 knots. We did some tuning up and got ready.

Race 1     This race was an outer loop course with the yellow "pumping" flag up (that meant we got to pump the sails and rock the boat as much as we wanted). The first start was a general recall, a good thing because we did not quite make the pin end and had to tack and duck.

On the next start, we won the pin and went left. Our speed was OK, and we tacked short of the lay line and crossed everyone. By the weather mark, the guys on our hip had gotten more wind and had passed us. We rounded fifth, but fouled the Israeli boat at the mark and had to do a 720. To make matters worse, we also fouled the Australian boat while doing our 720 and had to do another one—*??@#*&+*/%!

Well, that put us back in the pack in 13th. We passed one boat on the remaining reach, then passed two more boats on the first run. At the leeward mark, we tacked right away and headed to the favored left, which put us in front of the Greeks and French and into eighth place. But we didn’t catch anyone on the last run and that was our finish.

The 49ers were back on the water today after a day off and the US sailors scored a 5-1-5.

Race 2   
 We had a few postponements while the race committee tried to catch up with the left-shifting wind. The first start try was a general recall. On the second one, we got off in the middle of the line but not well enough to hold our lane. We had to tack out, but came back left and ate dirty air into the left corner. This was probably the best we could do, so we rounded the top mark in 14th. No fouls this time though. The reach was pretty tight, so most people did not set spinnakers. We held off our spin set until midway down the reach, then had a good set and passed Finland to leeward and Estonia and Italy to windward.

We went down the run and had to defend high and got passed by five boats that went low, but we stayed clear on the last part of the run and passed three back.

We tacked left again once we were going upwind and went past the lay line. This worked better and we passed three boats to move into 10th. On the last run, we worked past the Spanish and finished ninth. All in all a pretty poor day. We hope things change. The schedule calls for us to sail on the offshore course again tomorrow. That’s it for now.

Martha Mason's Olympic Commentary

This may be the Olympics, but you'd hardly know it from the amount of excitement outside the sailing venue. There are no food stalls, no T-shirt vendors, no one selling pins or hats, no parking lots, no obvious spectator boats—in fact, nothing to imply that this is one of the world’s most high-profile sailing events. Even out on the water, the kind of hype that TV viewers are seeing in the swimming and biking events just isn't present for the sailing. Yesterday, in perfect viewing conditions, there were only about 10 or 15 spectator boats watching the Solings, along with about 30 individual inflatables holding coaches and officials, and a small handful of police boats.

Interestingly, security seems a bit looser than expected, as well. Certainly at the compounds it is impossible to get access without a pass. The individual country areas are screened from the street by fencing covered by stretches of blue nylon fabric that is visitor-proof but is in no way bomb-proof. Although there are plenty of blue-shirted volunteers, real security guards are nowhere to be seen. And out on the water, team support boats were seen passing beers to their Olympic representatives after the race, which would be normal sailing practice on an average Saturday race, but is somehow unexpected here at the Olympics.

It’s also surprising that not all the sailors are staying in the Olympic Village. A few do stay there, but the sailing venue is on the eastern side of the city near the Cruising Yacht Club of Sydney (the well-known CYC), and the Village is a good hour's drive away. Consequently many of the sailors and coaches have taken apartments near the docks, moving them easily accessible to the public as they walk home after a long day on the water.

While the sailing may not be drawing crowds by the thousands, it is definitely colorful and entertaining. The facilities include a large area of temporary docks where there are seemingly dozens and dozens of red inflatables—clearly the choice of boat for coaches, officials, and country support boats. The Mistrals (sailboards) in particular have very bright, colorful sails, and the spinnakers on the Solings sport large, bold graphics that are representative of their countries in an "artsy" way. The New Zealanders, for example, have a huge black fern on their spinnaker, and the Australian kite is covered with the stars from their national flag.

After the day’s racing, everyone converges on the CYC for an after-sailing libation and some race analysis, and the mood is very upbeat. Yesterday's main topic of discussion was the fault in the spinnaker material for the 49er class. The sails are brand new and were imprinted with the flag of each country. Unfortunately, something in that printing process is breaking down the resin material in the sail, and the races have been postponed until new spinnakers are either found or made.

So, there are lots of spirit and lots of color, and the quality of the sailing is of course excellent, but the buzz is just not as big as expected. Perhaps as the week goes on, and we get to the match racing finals, the wind will pick up and the number of spectators will increase as well. For now, it's just the serious business of racing and winning at the Olympic level.

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