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Then There Were Four

Russell Coutts and his team (at right) on their way to dispatching Magnus Holmberg in Friday's action.

The fleet at the Colorcraft King Edward VII Gold Cup Match Race in Bermuda is being winnowed down. After Friday’s action, there are only four sailors remaining who can win.

It was a very difficult day on the water, with southerly winds from five to 18 knots. From this direction, the wind blows directly across Hamilton Harbor the shortest distance, so the shifts and puffs were regularly changing the fortunes of everyone involved. Because of that, nerves ran high as no lead was ever big enough.

Advancing today were two of the teams who arrived here unseeded, but made their way through the qualifying rounds, and two of the original seeded teams. In the top half of the draw, New Zealander Chris Dickson advanced by beating fellow Kiwi Murray Jones 3-0, and Aussie James Spithill defeated Virgin Islander Peter Holmberg, the fourth seed, by a score of 3-1. In the rest of the draw, New Zealander Russell Coutts, the seventh seed, defeated Sweden’s Magnus Holmberg, the second seed, 3-1. And our team, which started out as the sixth seed, went head to head against Australian Peter Gilmour, the third seed, finally beating his team 3-2.

In all but our last race there were lead changes as the winds swirled around the harbor. On the first beat of our last match, we were looking at rounding the windward mark several lengths behind, but with 20 lengths to go, we rode a lifting breeze that neutralized Gilly's advantage and left us ahead by a yard at the mark. From there it was tough duty to defend, but we hung on to claim our spot in the semifinals.

Peter Holmberg was not so fortunate. In what became his last race, the former member of the Stars & Stripes afterguard led young James Spithill to the finish line with Spithill owing a penalty due to an incident earlier in the race. But the cliffs of Hamilton Harbor threw Spithill a private puff and brought him up equal with Holmberg. Before it was over, Holmberg had fouled Spithill, who then crossed the line ahead to earn his place in the semis. All in all it was truly a wild day on the racecourse!

Tomorrow's match-ups should produce great racing. We go against Coutts, a five-time winner of this event, and three-time champion Dickson squares off against the young gun, Spithill.

I'll post a full report on SailNet on Monday after the racing is completed.

Ed Baird is offline  
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