Slow going at World Match Racing Finals

Published on December 14th, 2023

Light winds have plagued the 12 teams competing in the FarEast 28R keelboats at the 2023 World Match Racing Tour Final being held December 13-17 in Shenzhen, China. After two days of the qualifying round robin stage, Bjorn Hansen (SWE) leads at 5-0 with Chris Poole (USA), Nick Egnot-Johnson (NZL), and Gavin Brady (NZL) next at 4-2. The top eight advance to the knock-out stages.

Report from December 14, 2023:
The start was delayed with a postponement due to light winds until the breeze filled in, and racing began at about 1300 local Shenzhen time.

Sweden’s ‘Master of Marstrand’, Björn Hansen, and his crew of Philip Kai Guhle, Mathias Bredin, and Nils Bjerås maintained their dominance over the fleet today, notching up an additional two wins for an undefeated score of 5-0. There is a lot of racing left, but consistency like this in these conditions has proved difficult.

A highlight of the day was a photo finish between veteran match racers Ian Williams from GBR and Chris Poole from the USA. The thrilling finish saw Poole narrowly edge ahead, crossing the line just half a meter in front. Both Williams and Poole are likely favourites coming into this event, with Williams being a six-time world match racing champion and Poole holding the current number-one rank in world match racing.

“it was pretty light air against Ian,” explained Poole. “We had a close match the whole way; he did a really good job on the downwinds to keep closing it up. On the final run, we had to do some defensive maneuvring, and coming into the finish, I had a plan to match his gybe, and Joachim had a plan to go for the pin end, and it was a little tighter than we would have liked, but we were happy to take the win.”

Brady and his True Blue Racing USA team saw significant improvement from the start of the regatta. Brady, who is making his return to match racing this season, surprised even his own crew with his aggressive moves, which don’t come naturally.

“It’s me adapting to the new rules and my muscle memory from when I was match racing before,” said Brady. “My natural instinct is to not go for the aggressive move, which has been a tendency over this last year. I’ll decide to get the clean start and not go for the kill.”

Luckily, his crew have been fueling his fire and encouraging him to take risks on the course. He surprised them today by going in for the kill. In his race against Berntsson, he flipped his natural 50/50 decision and went for the penalty rather than a clean bottom mark rounding, to the pleasant surprise of his crew.

Brady recalls the moment as “totally outside of my comfort zone. We made a pass, gybed onto starboard, and instead of just going to the mark and getting a clean rounding, which instinctively was what I wanted to do, get that clean rounding, we actually went for the penalty, and Johnie got the penalty.”

Ireland’s Ruairi Finnegan and his Craic’n Racing are getting their first win on the board today as they make their debut at the WMRT Final. Finnegan had a strong 2023 season, which gained him an entry into this week’s prestigious regatta.

“Our goal this year was to get to the final, so we’re happy with that,” said Finnegan. “Everything else from here is a plus for us. It’s challenging, shifty, light winds, but it’s providing a lot of exciting racing. We’re hoping to take some wins off of some very good competitors I used to watch on YouTube.”

The forecast predicts a strong breeze is on its way.

“I think the bigger breeze will suit us a bit better. Back in Ireland, we generally get a lot more breeze, so we look forward to the bigger breeze,” says Finnegan. “The changeable conditions are pretty fun for match racing; you can overtake in different spots and get yourself back into it.”

With eight flights completed, the round-robin stage will resume tomorrow at 1000 local Shenzhen time.

The winner of this event will be crowned 2023 Match Racing World Champion and be awarded a portion of the USD 200,000 purse. Racing will run from December 13 to 17.

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Founded in 2000, the World Match Racing Tour (WMRT) promotes the sport of match racing around the world and is the longest running global professional series in the sport of sailing. The winner of the WMRT each year is crowned World Sailing Match Racing World Champion.

Previous champions include Sir Ben Ainslie (GBR), Taylor Canfield (USA), Peter Gilmour (AUS), Magnus Holmberg (SWE), Peter Holmberg (ISV), Adam Minoprio (NZL), Torvar Mirsky (AUS), Bertrand Pace (FRA), Jesper Radich (DEN), Phil Robertson (NZL), and Ian Williams (GBR).

Since inception, the World Match Racing Tour and its events have awarded over USD23million in prize money to sailors which has helped to contribute to the career pathway of many of today’s professional sailors.

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