Every sailor has been through protest situations. Sometimes you are correct, and other times a decision goes against you. Protest hearings are never fun, but can be a learning experience. Some protests fade from memory quickly, while others haunt you for years.
The start of Race Four in the Finn Class was a devastating set back for American Caleb Paine.
The 23 boats in the Finn class were sailing well offshore in winds over 20 knots. Ten-foot seas made maneuvering extremely difficult. In truth, Finn sailors thrive in these conditions. This is when physical prowess makes the difference. After spending the first day of racing in frustrating, fluky winds this was the chance to shine.The port end of the starting line was favored by ten degrees. The angle of the big swells made it difficult to get up on the wind on starboard tack. Recognizing the bias on the left end of the line, four boats set up to start in this arPainea. Three boats approached on port; one boat, Croatia, was on starboard. New Zealand, Australia and the USA approached on port. Paine felt he could cross ahead of Croatia while the Kiwi and Aussie decided to bear off and sail astern of the right-of-way starboard tack boat. Paine had a great start and raced with the leaders. He rounded the first mark in third. Eventually, he was able to grind down Josh Junior, NZL to finish the race in second. Unfortunately for him, Croatia's Ivan Gaspic filed a protest under Racing Rule of Sailing #10 (A port tack yacht shall keep clear of a starboard tack yacht). The five member International Jury found that Paine had crossed too close and was disqualified from the race.
The disqualification added 19 points to Paine's score and dropped him from fourth in the standings to 15th. Caleb Paine has to make up 12 points and pass five boats to make the Medal Race scheduled for Tuesday, August 16. I am sure 26-year old Caleb will replay that foul for a long time, but right now he needs to focus on sailing four great races. He has the skill to be in the Medal Race. It will be a great feat if he can find a way to overcome this adversity. If he does, the experience may someday serve him well in another regatta. Many of America's greatest sailors, like Dennis Conner, Ted Turner, Ted Hood, and Buddy Melges, have come back from crushing defeats. Paine can add his name to that list. I will watch with interest and quietly cheer him on.
Meanwhile, every sailor in Rio is in a steady groove. Any jitters about being in the Olympics have long passed, and the focus is on the task at hand. And that task is a difficult one on these waters. Out in the ocean the wind is strong and the waves big. Closer to land it is a capricious range, from baffling to bewildering. At the start of Race nine in the Men's RS:X, Britain's Nick Dempsey started at the port end of the starting line all by himself; the other 35 boats in the fleet were closer to the starboard. Within a minute he was in 30th according to the GPS tracking system. But, Dempsey committed to heading east because he saw a strong wind line developing. Half way up the leg, Dempsey sailed all by himself into the new wind and took the lead. He looked well on his way to his fourth victory of the series, and then the wind came to a halt. How do you deal with that?
Around the sailing venue, the competitors as a group seem relaxed, but all of them are well aware of the importance of having a good result. The strongest crews will improve race to race. In the Women's 470 Class, Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha are in a tough battle and they are getting stronger with each race. In the fourth race today, the American crew moved up through fleet to finish second. They now stand in sixth, only five points out of the lead.
Evi van Acker from Belgium, sailing in the Laser Radial class, has reported a health issue that may be water related. Reports from the sailing venue indicate she will be back out on the racecourse on Friday. She won a Bronze medal in London. She finished 14-16 yesterday, and stands in tenth. This is the first report coming out of Rio concerning a water quality health issue in sailing. I contacted about 20 people around the venue from several countries. No one reported any other health problems. There are 380 sailors and an equal number of support personnel and race officials. The only other problem with the water was a couple of sailboard sailors who hit some debris, but without any impact on the results. There have been ongoing tests of the water on the racecourse, and independent analysts have declared the water quality acceptable.
On Friday we will broadcast our sailing report on MSNBC at about 4:30 pm Eastern time. We are scheduled to focus on the speedy 49ers that open their series. The Americans, Thomas Barrows and Joe Morris, are relatively new to this class. They have a lot of experience racing in shifty winds in college, and Barrows grew up sailing in windy St. Thomas, USVI, so they are comfortable in strong winds. Paris Henken and Helena Scutt will be racing in the 49er FX.