Walker goes to max to advance in Bermuda
source by: Sean McNeill
Bermudian Blythe Walker kept alive the hope of a Royal Bermuda Yacht Club member winning the $100,000 King Edward VII Gold Cup when he won a five-set quarterfinal match against Brian Angel of the U.S.
Walker, who finished third last year, trailed Angel 2-0 before running off three straight for a 3-2 victory.
“We wanted to provide max spectator value,” said Walker. And he did, crossing the finish line in the last race to a cacophony of horns, whistles and screams on a rainy day in Hamilton, Bermuda.
Walker advanced to tomorrow’s Semifinal Round where he’ll square-off against Björn Hansen of Sweden. Hansen continued his incredible run from yesterday’s near elimination.
Hansen won the Repechage Round with a 5-0 record and then claimed a 3-1 victory over fellow Swede Johnie Berntsson in the quarterfinals. After starting 2-2, Hansen has won 10 of 11 races and stands a formidable challenge for Walker.
“He’s one of the more aggressive match racers,” said Walker.
In the bottom half of the ladder America’s Cup winner Ed Baird of the U.S. will meet Frenchman Mathieu Richard. In the quarters Baird defeated Italy’s Paolo Cian 3-0, the same score which Richard, last year’s runner-up, defeated Bermudian Glenn Astwood.
Astwood, the Bermuda National Match Race champion, had threatened to have Richard run off the island if he lost his match, but he called off the hunt.
“We got used to looking at him from behind and he’s not a bad guy,” said Astwood. “It’s been a great week for us because we didn’t expect to get this far.”
Walker quickly fell behind 2-0 in his match against Angel. In the first race he was penalized for what he deemed a questionable call. In the second Angel simply outsailed him. After that, Walker and crew regrouped.
“We said we were faster than him,” Walker said. “So we wanted to get an even start and sail clean on the racecourse. Except for the last race, we did that.”
In Race 5 Angel forced Walker to circle around the pin end with about 40 seconds to the start. As Walker sailed back towards the committee boat on port, Angel, on starboard, forced him to sail to leeward. Angel held a three-boatlength lead early in the race, but no lead was safe in this match.
“I’m not sure it was racing or riding a rollercoaster,” said Angel. “Every race had a lead change. The boat that led off the start line lost each race.”
So it would happen to Angel. The turning point in the match came upwind on the fifth of six legs. Walker trailed around the leeward mark, but was less than one boatlength behind. Halfway up the leg Walker put in a fake tack that Angel bit hard on. Although Walker didn’t gain much in the next cross he was able to get to the right side of Angel.
At the top of the leg Angel approached the windward mark on port while Walker came in with the right-of-way starboard tack and speed. The two were basically even, but Walker had an adroit plan to draw a penalty on his opponent, and it worked.
“I was ahead on port but not laying, and he’s coming in fast on starboard,” said Angel. “My thought was to slow down and hope he’d go behind us, but it didn’t work.”
Walker said, “We came in on starboard and he luffed on port thinking we’d go around the mark. We didn’t. We just held on starboard. I wasn’t sure we’d get him, but once he stayed on port I knew we had him.”
The Hansen-Berntsson match was another close one. Berntsson led at the windward mark in each race, but could only convert one for a win. In the fourth and deciding match he was penalized twice, although he disagreed with the second call at the finish.
“I did exactly what I planned,” said Berntsson. “When we were luffing he came down and crashed into us. But Björn and his team did an excellent job. They hunted us all over the racecourse.”
Although the Baird-Cian match was decided 3-0 in favor of Baird, it was much closer than that. Cian, like others today, felt he let some chances get away.
“I think we sailed well every first beat and every start. We had a big lead in the second and third races,” said Cian. “I’m not disappointed by our overall performance, but I’m disappointed by the fact that we didn’t win one of those races. That’s why they’re the defenders of the America’s Cup. They put pressure on us very well.”
Racing today was conducted in a blustery south wind between 2 and 20 knots that shifted through 50 degrees at times.