Runner-up status was on the line during the final day of the 2017 SAP 5O5 World Championship. Having clinched the championship with a tremendous performance on Thursday, Mike Holt and Carl Smit were able to watch the last race from the comfort of a powerboat – no doubt thrilled they did not have determine the title on a light and fluky day.
After a few false starts, Race 8 got underway in a six knot zephyr that was just barely above the class-mandated minimum. Maneuverability was difficult and principal race officer Sandy Grosvenor had to declare two general recalls because so many boats got trapped on course side.
When racing finally got underway, it was the American team of Matthew Barry and Thomas Barrows that figured things out the best – going wire-to-wire to win Race 8. Former teammates with the Yale intercollegiate sailing team, Barry and Barrows sailed a brilliant race in difficult conditions.
“We were able to get off the line with a clean start and hit the first couple shifts. We were holding even around a bunch of boats that were all pretty good, then all of a sudden we realized that we were in pretty good pressure while the other boats were not,” Barry said. “We were able to gap out a little bit and rounded the top mark with a nice lead.”
Barrows, who skippered the United States entry in 49er class at the 2016 Olympic Regatta, made sure the tandem extended the lead on the run.
“Thomas does downwind tactics for us and did a really nice job of understanding where the next shift was coming from and where we could get lifted,” Barry said. “Keeping your head out of the boat in these conditions is so important.”
This was the fourth SAP 5O5 World Championship for Barry and Barrows, who almost never race the boat otherwise. They finished fourth in the third race on Thursday to close out the regatta in strong fashion, placing 12th in the overall standings.
“We’re super excited. We had a couple really good races going yesterday that didn’t come to completion so it’s really nice to end the event on an up note like this,” Barry said.
Andy Smith and Roger Gilbert of Great Britain entered the final day in second place, three points ahead of Americans Edward Conrads and Brian Haines. Those two teams posted double digit results, opening the door for defending champions Mike Martin and Adam Lowry to make a major move.
After struggling in light to moderate winds earlier in the week, Martin and Lowry found their form on Friday and finished third in Race 8. That allowed the St. Francis Yacht Club members to discard results of 25th and 21st, absorbed on Tuesday. That left Martin and Lowry with all single digit results and catapulted them into second place in the finals standings – 11 points behind Holt and Smit.
“If you told us beforehand that we were going to wind up second here we probably would have been okay with that,” said Martin, who has always excelled in the heavy air he is accustomed to off Santa Cruz or on San Francisco Bay. “It’s tough losing to Holtie because we’re such rivals, but second in the world isn’t too bad.”
On Thursday, Martin had lamented not performing better in the light to moderate conditions. Friday’s result was a vindication of sorts and showed that and Lowry could put up a good result in extremely light air.
“We’ve been deemed as heavy air specialists so it’s nice to kind of redeem ourselves from that stigma,” Martin said with a smile. “It was a tough tactical race so we’re obviously pleased with our result. I thought we sailed a good race.”
Asked what he learned about sailing in light and shifty conditions during a week on the Chesapeake Bay, Martin did not hesitate.
“Keep your head out of the boat. This race course is set up in such a way that you were getting multiple breezes all the time and you just had to be constantly aware,” he said. “Adam summed up perfectly before the start whe he said that we just had to sail the shifts and try to piece them together. It’s all about playing shifts and finding pressure.”
Smith and Gilbert had to settle for third, three points astern of Martin-Lowry and four in front of Conrads-Haines. Britons Ian Pinnell and Dave Shelton rounded out the Top 5, edging Americans Tyler Moore and Rob Woelfel by two points.
One of the great stories of the regatta was the superb performance of Nikola Birkner and Angela Stenger from Germany. Birkner steered and trimmed the main while Stenger hiked and trimmed the headsails as the Starnberg residents sailed Bikini Atoll to 10th place overall.
Birkner and Stenger became the first all-female team to win a race at the SAP 5O5 World Championship when they got the gun in Race 3. They closed out the regatta with another tremendous result, taking second in Race 8.
“Annapolis is good. We love it!” Birkner declared. “To finish Top 10 in a fleet this competitive is amazing. We are totally happy. We couldn’t believe it when we heard.”
Birkner-Stenger displayed outstanding speed in the light air, which should not be a surprise since they are accustomed to such conditions.
“It was very strange out there today on the water – very, very shifty. We got a good start and just sailed a smart race,” Birkner said. “You just had to keep the eyes open and take a good look around. These conditions are a lot like like our lakes in Berlin. We love sailing on our lakes and were able to use that experience here in Annapolis.”