The repechage round of the 69th Argo Group Gold Cup was expected to produce close-quarter racing as eight teams fought for one of four spots in the quarter-final round. And it delivered.
With a gusty and shifty northeasterly breeze changing headings nearly every second, skippers Chris Poole of the United States, Lucy Macgregor of the United Kingdom, Ettore Botticini of Italy and Eric Monnin of Switzerland led their crews to the quarter-finals of the $100,000 match-racing regatta hosted by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.
It is the second consecutive year that Macgregor and Botticini have forged this path to the quarter-finals.
Poole won the round with a 5-2 record and was largely unscathed in his seven races. Macgregor also finished with a 5-2 record but had one half point deducted from her score for a collision in her final match. Botticini and Monnin both advanced after a three-way tiebreaker.
Monnin, the runner-up at the 2014 Argo Group Gold Cup, might have summed up all four skippers’ emotions the best.
“It would’ve been nice to advance to the quarter-finals after the round robin, it would mean that you’re sailing well,” he said. “But I also think the repechage is good to get extra practice.
“I think we are much more ready for tomorrow now than if we had been that lucky in the round robin.”
Previously Ian Williams of the UK, Torvar Mirsky and Harry Price of Australia and Johnie Berntsson of Sweden advanced to the quarter-finals by placing in the top four in the opening round robin.
By winning the initial round robin Williams earned the right to choose his opponent in the quarter-finals and he selected Botticini. Berntsson selected Poole, Macgregor and Monnin will race each other and, in a surprise, Mirsky selected Price.
Common theory suggests that the first four qualifiers select a skipper from the repechage round because they might not be at the same level of skill. But they do come in with more practice, seven more races to be exact.
Mirsky advanced to the semifinals last year through the repechage round and that experience led in part to his decision to race the world No 3-ranked skipper who blazed through the opening day in Bermuda.
“We wanted to sail someone who didn’t race today,” he said. “We didn’t want to sail someone who had the extra practice of the repechage.”
For Botticini, advancing to the quarter-finals is cathartic. Last year’s winner of the Jordy Walker Award for most improved crew at the Argo Group Gold Cup lost his way this year on day one after a significant collision with Poole. Botticini thought Poole altered his course, as evidenced by Poole’s bow riding into his boat between the boom and the deck. Botticini was further upset when the international jury penalised him 0.33 points for failure to keep clear.
The incident rattled Botticini and he lost his focus. But after finishing the repechage at 4-3, he feels back on track.
“We had some unlucky events during this week but have been strong enough to come back,” said the 23-year-old skipper who’s the reigning youth match-racing champion.
“Today we improved a lot and beat the best teams in the repechage. We’re happy to be back in the game. This time we will do better than last time.”
The fine line of living to race another day or having to book an earlier plane ticket home was never more evident than in the match between Macgregor and Pauline Courtois of France in the final flight of the round.
Macgregor held a 4-2 record and Courtois was at 3-3.
If Macgregor won, she would advance. If Courtois won, they both would drop into a five-way tie and have to rely on countbacks to advance. Courtois led around the first windward mark but only by half a boatlength and with a penalty in hand.
According to the on-water umpires Macgregor had scraped the Frenchwoman’s transom during a tack early on the upwind leg.
The pair went around the right-hand mark of the leeward gate in similar fashion, with Macgregor close on Courtois’s transom.
After a succession of about three tacks Macgregor was able to unload her penalty when she luffed Courtois and the Frenchwoman did not respond quickly enough. Macgregor then got to the right side of Courtois and took the lead. Macgregor would hold onto that lead to win the race and ensure advancement.
While defeat is a bitter pill advancement is elation, as Poole described.
“We’re feeling good. We took five wins and our two losses were on mistakes that we could’ve avoided,” he said. “This is a new crew for me, but we’ve been getting more in sync every day.
“We’re coming off the water and happy to have the extra seven races of practice. We’re happy where we’re at and excited to see what happens in the quarterfinals.”
Racing resumes today on Hamilton Harbour with the quarter-final round. The winner of each match will be the first to score three points.