(This article was originally published on SLSailing.com on June 3rd, 2008)
Over the past six weeks of Fizz Cup sailing, we’ve all watched as nearly 6 dozen sailors competed in hundreds of races spread over four large sailing communities. The size and global expanse of the competition truly merits the title of “World Fizz Cup.”
So much great sailing took place, that I fear many truly great races got blurred in memory as soon as the next start gun went off. One took place this past Sunday morning, in the semi-final match up of Stuart Choche, Yuu Nakamichi and Takeshi Schnyder.
All three skippers are truly excellent sailors and each had repeatedly proved it through the relentless series of qualifying matches that earned them a berth in the Gold cup Semi’s, which makes what happened all the more astonishing.
The semi-final races were in “expert” mode, demanding a high degree of technical proficiency from the skippers. The race was even more challenging, however, since the competition used a new course released just a few days before the race; the skippers had little chance to practice. Under those incredibly stressful conditions, Yuu Nakamichi proved flawless and overpowering in the matchup. His amazing performance not only won him a place in the Gold Cup Final… in my opinion it raised the level of serious Fizz competition for all future sailing.
But let’s back up a bit… That outcome wasn’t yet evident when the start gun went off in the first race. Stuart Choche actually led the pack off the line in Race One, crossing at +00:02, with Yuu two seconds behind him, and Takeshi bringing up the rear with +00:06. Takeshi had momentum, however and pulled ahead of Yuu into the middle spot behind Stuart as they continued on the first leg.
To reach the green mark however, the three boats needed to beat to windward and try to make a mark in only two tacks. In third position, Yuu made a daring move; he broke early from the pack, tacking south toward green by pinching windward on starboard. That bold gambit proved brilliant, as Yuu rounded the first marker well ahead of his competition. I was standing next to joepie Korobase for much of the race; joepie won the Silver Cup and will race for the Gold on June 8. As the crowd on the platform gave out a huge shout and people exclaimed “He must have a jet engine!” joepie smiled and cooly observed “(He) just sailed closer to the wind.”
Yuu never looked back, extending his lead to what joepie called a “comfortable‘ margin as he made it around the rest of the course. Yuu’s finish time was 04:34, a full thirty-six seconds ahead of Stuart, and more than a minute ahead of Takeshi! Mothgirl Dibou couldn’t hold back, exclaiming “YAY!!!! Thats how to sail this boat!!!!“ Joepie remained a bit more reserved as she continued to size up her possible opponent for the finals… “Big differences” she concluded.
In the second race, Yuu had a perfect start, crossing the line with a valid +00:00. Takeshi was on his heels with a +00:02 start, but Yuu was unstoppable. He relentlessly expanded his lead over the other boats, ending with a +04:17 finish, a full half minute ahead of Takeshi, and the fasted run by any of the six semi-finalists in the ten races on FFCB3 that day.
Takeshi and Stuart then rose to the occasion in Race #3, with the best start I’ve ever seen in SLSailing. It may be worth commenting that I’ve made a few posts here and in the Forum about pre-start tactics, noting that Fizz racers used them less than Tako skippers in my experience. Liv Leigh replied that, for a variety of reasons, she thought an aggressive start in a Fizz could be “suicidal.” Well, sportsfans, Race #3 began with Yuu and Takeshi simultaneously hitting the line at exactly +00:00, and both starts were valid. Stuart was hardly more conservative, crossing at +00:01!!! It’s mind-boggling to consider the skill (and, frankly, audacity) it takes to get a valid +00:00 start in such a high stakes race… but in this case two of the skippers did it… and Yuu in fact even did it in back-to-back races.
Stuart and Takeshi played the first half of Race #3 well; they stayed in front of Yuu on the first leg. Yuu again tried to tack early and beat them to the Green Mark, but the lead boats had learned their lesson and timed the tack wisely. First Stuart, then Takeshi rounded the green with Yuu two boat lengths astern.
That wouldn’t last long, however. Yuu relentlessly inched forward, and by the far mark was again in control. Takeshi fought back with strength and determination, but Yuu was unstoppable. In his worst performance of the day, Yuu finished first with 05:14, a scant four seconds ahead of Takeshi.
Race #4 was again amazing, but for a totally different reason. Just as the boats reached the start line, a powerboat came onto the course, cutting right in front of the racers. Stuart was closest to the griefing boat and ended up over-early; Takeshi however remained steadfast, slicing the line AGAIN at +00:00. Yuu held back with all the confusion, crossing at +00:06. Despite the slow start, however, Yuu relentlessly pushed forward. Continuing the pattern set in the prior races, he gained the lead while reaching for the far mark and built on it on the Run home to Hollywood. He finished with +04:46, again twenty-three seconds in front of Takeshi.
The Fifth and final race was a tribute to all three sailors. They crossed the line together with a mere one second separation, and for much of the first leg the three boats sailed in tandem, with Stuart and Takeshi holding Yuu sandwiched between them. It couldn’t last though, and Yuu finally broke out into clean air, taking the green mark in front of the other boats and never giving up the lead again. The race was wonderful to watch, however. Those of us on the deck saw all three boats appear on the horizon at the same time with their spinnakers flying and Yuu in the lead. It was a triumphant, confident lap for three of the best skippers in SLSailing.
Yuu’s incredible perfomance won him a spot in the Finals on June 8, where he’ll race against Kei Cioc and joepie Korobase for the Gold Cup.
As we watched Yuu’s semi-final scores add up, I turned to the person next to me at the viewing box rail and said “Joepie? You should be worried…”
With no hesitation she laughed and shot back: “Why? Girls are better sailors! EVERYBODY know that!”
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