Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spithill, Ashby grab early lead in C Class cats

After two days of shoreside postponements while stormy weather moved through New England, the fleet contesting the International C Class Catamaran Championship took to Narragansett Bay today for three races in a gusty northwesterly.

Jimmy and Glenn show fine form on the wires of the C Class cat Alpha

BMW ORACLE Racing skipper Jimmy Spithill and the team’s sailing coach Glenn Ashby are the overnight leaders after finishing 1-1-2 aboard the borrowed Alpha.

The Aussie pair had never raced C Class cats before, but today lit up the racecourse – even scoring a come-from-behind win in Race 1 – to take the early lead.

Second is held by defending champions Fred Eaton and Magnus Clarke aboard their slick new Canaan, a second generation development of Alpha. Eaton and Clarke served notice that they won’t go down easily with a scoreline of 2-2-1.

Beyond the top two, the fleet is jumbled. Team Invictus of Britain holds third and the French aboard Patient Lady VI fourth, but neither boat seems to have the pace to compete with the top two.

Two other cats – Aethon and Orion – were forced out of today’s racing when their wings broke.

The Americans Steve Clark and Oliver Moore aboard the newly launched Aethon were considered contenders for the championship, but their wing was damaged beyond repair when they capsized moments after the start of Race 1.

Orion, crewed by Canadians Dan Cunningham and Rob Paterson, was forced out shortly after rounding the first windward mark in Race 1. Doing the “wild thing” downwind, the starboard chainplate ripped out of the hull and the wing went overboard to leeward.

For the BMW ORACLE Racing crew, Day 1 couldn’t have gone better. Spithill and Ashby had only practiced for 30 minutes prior to this event, but looked like old hands in winning the first two races.

Jimmy does the "wild thing," sitting inboard on the downwind legs to induce heel

“We’re still not sure of our settings,” said Spithill, the team skipper now cat crew who does the wild thing to leeward. “We pushed hard in the first two races.”

“It was absolutely satisfying,” said Ashby, the seven-time A Class cat world champion. “The boats are enjoyable. I liken them to an A Class or Tornado. They all have similarities and little idiosyncrasies.”

Ashby and Spithill took the action to Eaton and Clarke right from the start of Race 1. With the start line slightly biased to the pin end, the Aussies nailed the start on port tack and were gone. They wanted the right side of the beat and got it.

“By starting on port you don’t have to do an extra tack to get to the right side,” said Ashby.

It looked like Ashby and Spithill would lead at the first windward mark, but then confusion set in. The racecourse marks are yellow tetrahedrons, but in the area of the racecourse on Narragansett Bay north of Gould Island there also are round yellow marks that are maintained by the U.S. Navy for torpedo practice.

Today, there was also a cylindrical yellow mark that was in place for two J/80s practicing for the upcoming world championship in October. Ashby and Spithill rounded the cylindrical mark, to their disadvantage.

“We were laughing about how average we looked,” Ashby said.

That allowed Eaton and Clarke to take the lead, but not for long. Ashby and Spithill were hot on their transom at the third windward mark, setting up a thrilling run to the finish. Within the final quarter-mile of the run it still looked like Eaton and Clarke would take the bullet, but Ashby and Spithill nipped them by 2 seconds at the pin end.

Ashby and Spithill started Race 2 on port tack again about mid-line. They sped off to the right side and this time opened a lead that would not be relinquished.

“The right side of the course had more breeze. It was paying upwind and downwind,” said Ashby.

Off the start line of Race 3, Canaan leads Alpha

In Race 3 it was Eaton and Clarke’s turn to get the jump off the start line. The Canadians started on the Aussies’ lee bow on port tack and led off to the right side. Ashby and Spithill were living on their hip, but then made a sudden move to leeward.

“That was my fault. I let go of the mainsheet,” said Spithill.

After the 1-1-2 day and the loss of two other boats, the Aussies are well placed to advance to the championship. A maximum of four fleet races are planned tomorrow before the top two crews in the standings advance to the match racing final. 

At this point it looks like it’ll be the Aussies versus the Canadians but, as demonstrated today, plans can go awry in a hurry.

“They’re fast,” Spithill said of the defenders. “Their boat and wing are a little lighter. We’ve got to work on our twist settings, how we control the third element.”

(All photos courtesy Christophe Launay)