Crossed swords between Oman and Switzerland

By on 02 Aug. 2019

Some hair-raisingly close crosses between Oman Air and Alinghi summed up just how tight the battle for supremacy is between these two top-flight teams duelling each other at the 38 Copa del Rey MAPFRE, third event of the 2019 GC32 Racing Tour. Adam Minoprio might have again steered the Omani boat to three victories from five heats today, but Arnaud Psarofaghis notched up a cleaner set of results to close in on their rivals by a single point on the leaderboard.

With five races held in a moderate breeze of around 10 knots, on two occasions Oman Air and Alinghi found themselves on a collision course as they screamed in towards the leeward gate at a combined speed exceeding 45 knots. They foiled past each other, just centimetres apart on opposite gybes and speared out to opposite corners of the final windward leg.

The first time they crossed swords in such dramatic fashion, Alinghi came off best as they narrowly beat Oman Air across the finish line. In the final race, the two boats couldn’t have been more even at the top gate for the last blast downwind.

Oman Air’s Pete Greenhalgh explained: “We were bow-to-bow at the top mark and split different ways down the run, and then came back no more than two boat lengths ahead at the finish line. We didn’t know we’d won that race until maybe the final 20 seconds.”

Psarofaghis mirrored Greenhalgh’s feeling about the close contest: “A really nice day of racing, and a really good fight at the leeward gates. I prefer the upwind starts over the reaching starts because they give more opportunity for the fleet to play the whole course. In the reaching starts, the order is more or less decided at the first mark and there is less opportunity for overtaking.”

He was pleased to have won the day, but Psarofaghis knows Alinghi will have to be at the peak of their powers to recover their three point deficit on Oman Air. Greenhalgh hinted at some match racing for the final outing on Saturday: “We tried to camp on Alinghi and help the Spanish get through to second [in race 14]. Upwind we reached off and gave Iker [Martinez, skipper of M&G Tressis Silicius] as much of a good lane as we could, to help them where we could, but Alinghi got them by one or two lengths on the finish line. I’m sure Alinghi have done a little bit of the same to us, but that’s the game. Tomorrow we’ll see a bit more of that.”

Red Bull Sailing Team started the regatta looking like genuine contenders for the top spot, but have fallen away from the leading two on the points board. Meanwhile Zoulou have upped their game and matched Roman Hagara’s Austrian team for performance today, both crews coming away with 18 points from the day. After winning the last race of Thursday’s session, Erik Maris was quick out of the blocks this afternoon, coming second in the first race and third in the next. With just a day of racing remaining, however, it will be a tall order for the French to overcome the 10 point advantage still held by Red Bull in the rankings.

M&G Tressis Silicius bounced back from their gear failure problems on day two with some encouraging moments, particularly the third place that was so nearly a second place in front of Alinghi, as Greenhalgh mentioned earlier. Martinez is a pedigree sailor who will be doing everything to upset the pecking order on the final day, particularly when he’s playing in front of his home crowd in Palma.

Black Star Sailing Team are having their moments, particularly with some strong starts for new helmsman, match racer Keith Swinton from Australia. Team owner, Christian Zuerrer, is frustrated they’re not able to convert good starts into good finish positions, but is still focusing on the areas where they’re improving: “It was great sailing, but we didn’t have our best day. Our starts are good, but we struggle a bit with trim in these choppy waves. Sometimes we find the power, sometimes we have no power. In the smaller breezes when you make a mistake the bigger teams are gone, but in the stronger wind there is always a chance they could still make a mistake. So I hope for more breeze on the final day.”

Today’s conditions were perfect for some GC32 Racing Tour guest entertainment and one of the VIPs who went for a ride on Oman Air was 14-year-old María Perelló, a triple world champion in the Optimist who was enjoying her first time on a foiling boat. “The GC32 is more than four times faster than an Optimist. It is a much more complex boat, much more physical and the loads on a GC32 are enormous. That was an amazing experience that I will never forget.”

The 38 Copa del Rey MAPFRE concludes on Saturday afternoon and then closes out with a lavish prizegiving hosted by King Felipe VI of Spain at Palma’s Ses Voltes.