Match-racing made an all-too rare appearance on The Solent at the weekend, with some of the world’s top stars battling it out in the head-to-head format.
While some yacht racing can appear relatively sedate, match-racing provides the arena for aggressive, tactical sailing combined with expert boat handling.
So when two of the world’s best match-racers meet, the smallest edge can be decisive – and so it proved in the final of the Royal Southern Match Race Cup 2014 on Sunday.
The two top ISAF seeds at the event – Britain’s four-time World Match Racing champion Ian Williams (number two in the world) and rising Australian star Keith Swinton (number seven) – battled it out under leaden skies but with a solid Solent breeze.
And it was the young man from Perth and his Team Alpari FX crew who claimed The Boysterous Trophy with a decisive 2-0 scoreline.
As ever, it was smart tactics and a quick adaptation to the J80 sportsboat which produced an edge in upwind boatspeed.
Just a week ago Williams’ GAC Pindar team had triumphed over Swinton racing Bavaria 40s at Match Race Germany, but found the tables turned on him at the event run by Hamble’s Royal Southern Yacht Club.
‘The first race was a tight one but Keith just figured out a little bit better how to work with the guardrails, which we’re not used to, and the cross-winching, which gave him a little bit of a boatspeed edge upwind – and that was the story of the final,’ conceded Williams.
‘That was the big difference between the teams, but credit to him for figuring it out.’
While the first race of the best-of-three final was a tight-run affair, the second was effectively over when Williams was given two penalties in the pre-start for first clipping the pin-end mark and the being judged as failing to keep clear of his opponent during a dramatic back-down.
‘The two penalties hurt us but that’s the way it goes sometime in match-racing, so all credit to Keith, he got the job done,’ said Williams.
A delighted Swinton agreed that it was speed that won the day.
‘We feel pretty confident in the J80, though it’s been a little while since we sailed them.
‘It was a little different with the lifelines and whatnot, and I think we figured out how to do some pretty good things with the boat.
‘We had enough speed to keep in control and we felt comfortable all the time.
‘Ian wasn’t slow, we just had a couple of better modes on him and were very competitive in the starting, and it went our way.’
Swinton and Williams progressed to the final after defeating New Zealander Reuben Corbett (2-0) and Australian David Gilmour (2-1) in the semi-finals respectively.
With competitors also coming from Denmark, France and Ireland to compete with other British and Royal Southern Academy members, the Match Race Cup – supported by the RYA and Raymarine – looks like a success that is due a repeat performance next year.