The competitive lineup for the 2017 Chicago Match Cup did not waste any time carving up the Lake Michigan racecourse during fleet racing today, with few points separating nearly all the teams in each of the three groups – surely, all the skippers will sleep anxious for the final flights tomorrow.
The future venue of the 2018 M32 World Championship served up near-perfect conditions for the morning with sunny skies and 10-12 knots of breeze filling in off Navy Pier for the start of racing.
Group 1 began the day with a convincing race win by reigning Match Racing World Champion Phil Robertson only to then devolve into a bitterly contested fight with two sets of teams ending tied in points, one of which is staving off the dreaded sixth place sail-off.
The competitive grouping meant that current Group 1 leader Yann Guichard has much to be wary of after only notching one race win on the day.
However, despite the cutthroat racing, local Chicago favorite Sally Barkow still found room to continue her upward momentum from the M32 North American Championship this past weekend, finishing the day tied on points with third place Jonas Warrer.
Of the conditions presented on Lake Michigan today, Sally said, “It’s beautiful blue skies, flat water, it’s really perfect sailing. The only tricky part of it is sailing so close to the city, sometimes that makes the wind tricky.” And continued, “We had the same team racing last week at the M32 North America Championship which has longer courses and that was really an opportunity for us to work on boat speed in the M32s. Now if we can just connect the dots on this race course here we are gonna be right up there.”
While Group 1 began the day with uncertainty, Chris Steele made certain that Group 2 would continue the day with strong statements as the Kiwi skipper thrashed both the group, and second-ranked World Match Racing Tour skipper Ian Williams, with a dominant string of first and second place finishes.
Finishing the day with a six-point lead over closest challenger, Nicklas Dackhammar, Steele now hands the rest of Group 2 a challenging day tomorrow with only 10 points separating the remaining teams.
“We’ve been here in Chicago a week now doing the M32 North America Championship but as crew, so pretty stoked to get back on the helm this week.” Said Steele. “We have the new addition of Garth Ellingham to the team which is good and great to kick off with some wins and set us up nicely for tomorrow. These first couple of days are always a bit of a shake down to get things going but the boys did great today. PG and Fred did a great job to make sure the boat was up at good speed and then Garth making sure we were heading the right way around the track. We’re just really excited to build on it for tomorrow.”
As conditions lightened and the breeze made a massive shift to the northwest, a bit of local knowledge seemed like it might pay dividends as Group 3 took to the course bringing local hero, Taylor Canfield back to his home waters.
However, a sixth-place finish in the first race, followed by a third in the next, meant Canfield would need a little more help from the local wind gods.
Sure enough, help arrived. The wind began to build as Canfield went to work, hunting down Pieter-Jan Postma on the final upwind leg of race three to take his first win of the day. Two more bullets followed with the U.S. Virgin Island skipper digging himself out of the hole to finish four points ahead of Australian Sam Gilmour.
“It got a little funky when we first got out there with the wind but that soon settled down. We got a little excited in the first race, over early. Then an incident with Postma at that top mark where he got the penalty but it still slowed us up. We just had to shake it off and move on and were able to recover and happy with the day ending on three wins.” Said Canfield of his first day of racing.
The US Virgin Islander considers Chicago his ‘home away from home’ and continued, “Its great to be back in Chicago, its one of my favourite cities in the world. I worked at the Chicago Match Race Center, I’m a member of the Chicago Yacht Club, I’ve got a lot of supporters here who will be cheering for US One this weekend which hopefully will be enough to take us all the way.”
The Qualifying Session fleet racing continues tomorrow at 0900 CST (GMT -5). For live updates of all the action and live streaming of racing, visit wmrt.com.