Saturday, 14 March 2009

WMRT: BlackMatch Begins 2009 Tour

Adam Minoprio and his ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing crew members David Swete and Dan McLean. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/World Match Racing Tour.

by David Swete

The first match racing event of the 2009 World Match Racing Tour kicked off today in Marseille, signalling the start of BlackMatch's 2009 campaign. Since securing our 'Tour Card' that guarantees us entry into 9 of the 10 world tour events with our 4th placing on the tour last year, we have been training and doing various regatta's over the New Zealand summer.

BlackMatch returned home to New Zealand in January taking the opportunity to be involved with Emirates Team New Zealand's emphatic win over Alinghi, in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. It was a great privilege to be part of such an awesome event and to get an insight into how a world class America's Cup team is run. We were also involved in the inaugural Antigua 600 mile offshore race, sailing the canting keeled Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, to overall honours against a magnificent fleet that included the 100 foot maxi Leopard.

The Marseille International Match Race is a new addition to the World Match Racing Tour and was scheduled to start yesterday, however the infamous 'Mistral Breeze' of the Mediterranean put a hold on proceedings, delivering 40 knot winds that delayed action until today. Racing got underway in very light airs this morning and the race committee did an excellent job to get away 8 flights,5 of which we were involved in. In unfortunate circumstances our bowman Nick Blackman, badly injured his arm while training last week and we have had to call upon 'super sub' Dan McLean to fill Nicks big shoes for this regatta.

We finished the day with 2 convincing wins over Torvar Mirsky and World Champion Ian Williams, however we lost 3 very close matches to defending champion Mathieu Richard, fellow Frenchman Philippe Presti and Paolo Cian. With 9 of the top 10 teams in the world competing here along with Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird, this regatta is definitely one of the best line ups we have seen at a tour event and although we already have 3 losses, we were happy to come away with two wins against such tight competition.

Adam Minoprio makes a protest - with trademark tongue out concentration. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/World Match Racing Tour.

Our loss against an unbeaten Paolo Cian came in very exciting fashion and was down to the wire. Paolo had an excellent day today and things were definitely going his way. After forcing the feisty Italian to start slow at the pin end of the line, we managed to hold him to the port layline and have a 3 boat length advantage at the first top mark. The talented team pounced on a mistake of ours when we gybed for pressure that didn't quite deliver and they made enough of a gain to be overlapped with us as we approached the bottom mark.

We then fell victim to a new rule change that came into affect this year, 'mark room at the bottom mark'. We were deemed to have not sailed directly to the mark and were in fact only about 2 metres away from it. The old rule states we can take room on the approach to the mark, however the new rule states that once overlapped you must sail directly to the mark. The penalty was handed to us in a complete reversal of how we interpreted the situation and although we still had the lead, we had a penalty to complete.

The next upwind leg saw us stretch out to a 5 boat length lead as a fierce tacking duel ensued and we managed to complete our penalty turn and take a small advantage going into the final downwind leg. However Paolo and his team were hot on our tail and showed their experience with asymmetrical spinnakers in light airs to roll us downwind and hold on to a narrow victory.

It is very early days in the regatta but we are very happy with how Dan has fitted in and are confident we are sailing well enough to progress through to the later stages of the event. Tomorrow should see the completion of the first round robin where the top 8 teams will go through to a quarterfinal knockout stage and we need a few more hard fought wins under our belt to get us through.

We like to say a special thank you to our sponsors: FedEx Express and Ross Munro from Line 7 who have decided to stick by us for our 2009 campaign. Their ongoing support has made this opportunity possible for the BlackMatch boys and it is a great honour to have the support of such great companies. To the RNZYS, Emirates Team New Zealand and everyone else, thank you for your support.

BlackMatch Racing
World Match Racing Tour

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