A third consecutive day of confounding weather challenged the tactical mettle of 711 sailors guiding 535 boats from 64 countries through the winds and waters of Biscayne Bay in Sailing World Cup Miami. A gray haze shrouded the downtown skyline as 12 fleets were teased by a patchy breeze.
“The conditions were very difficult again,” said Fort Lauderdale’s Erika Reineke, who is competing in the Laser Radial class. “The boats were closer together, and every inch counted toward your next move.”
The first two days of the six-day event were characterized by dwindling winds, forcing the postponement of some races in the 10 Olympic and two Paralympic classes. The breeze on Wednesday was steadier, although still light at 4-10 knots.
In men’s 470, Miami’s David Hughes followed Tuesday’s double victory with finishes of 2-5-5 to slip to second place behind Spain. Hughes’ helmsman is three-time Olympian Stuart McNay.
“A game of chutes and ladders, so to speak,” said Hughes, who lives in Coconut Grove. “We maintained good position. If there’s any advantage, there’s a bit of comfort in being at home. It’s always nice to be racing and sleeping in your own bed.”
The event, which concludes with Saturday’s medal round, is like a dress rehearsal for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but some nations’ Olympic teams are still being decided. It’s the first stage of the selection series for the U.S. Olympic roster. Extra pressure is on the Americans in the men’s 49er, women’s 49erFX and RS:X (boardsailing) classes, because World Cup Miami is their last chance to win a berth in Rio for the U.S., which has already qualified in the other seven classes. At the 2012 Games, the U.S. qualified in all classes.
“The stakes are higher because Olympic qualifying is on the line both for countries and individual athletes,” said Josh Adams, managing director of U.S. Olympic sailing. “Our sailors have to perform against the world’s best.”
In men’s RS:X, training partners Raul Lopez of Miami and Pedro Pascual of West Palm Beach are working with U.S. teammates to finish ahead of Canada and Aruba.
“The wind was really shifty on both sides of the course,” Lopez said. “I think it’s the toughest class in the Olympics and by far the most physical. I’m one of the heavier guys so light air doesn’t favor me. We were pumping hard all day.”
The city’s new Regatta Park was a big hit with athletes and fans. It was parking lot, workshop and showcase for boats, and helped consolidate the venues along Bayshore Drive.
“People are walking through the park, talking to the athletes and when they hear what’s happening they get excited,” said Meredith Brody, Olympic manager for U.S. Sailing and regatta co-chair. “This brings Miami onto the world stage in an Olympic year. In the park’s debut, we’ve had some hiccups. It will become the perfect venue with the evolution of the master plan.”
Local sailors had mixed results on Biscayne Bay courses they know well.
Miami’s Sarah Newberry and crew Matthew Whitehead fell to 27th place in the Nacra 17 catamaran.
The husband-wife team of Miami’s Mark and Carolina Mendelblatt were in 17th place in the Nacra.
“We didn’t have good boat speed,” said Mendelblatt, a two-time Olympian in the Laser and Star classes and former Bacardi Cup champ. Carolina competed for Portugal at the 2004 Athens Games. “Turned out to be light and mealy, and that doesn’t suit us as one of the bigger boats.
“I enjoy sailing with my wife. She’s a great crew. I’m just not getting the job done. I should have picked an easier boat.”
Daniel Evans, part of the three-man Sonar, was in seventh place. Reineke, coached by ex-Miamian and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Anna Tunnicliffe, was in 24th.
“There were not a lot of passing lanes,” said Tunnicliffe, who recently competed in the Cross Fit Games. “If you didn’t get a good start or were on the wrong side of a wind shift, it was hard to catch up.”