The eight boats in the Cadillac Columbus Cup opened fleet racing yesterday afternoon in conditions that left some of the best sailors in the world wondering just exactly when things went wrong -- or for that matter, when things began to go right.
The cause of the confusion, said Chris Law of England, was extreme wind shifts that developed over the course as two breezes fought each other, forcing the skippers to guess which side of the course would be favored.
Buddy Melges of Wisconsin, whose sailing resume reads like a world atlas, won the first of two races yesterday in the weeklong competition that includes eight teams from the United States, Spain, France, England and Canada. Melges had a good start in the second race, but then the bottom fell out and he finished in seventh place.
Marc Bouet of France won the second race, but John Kostecki, a five-time world champion, finished second in both races and leads the standings.
"Obviously the conditions were bad," said Law, who finished third in the first race and last in the second, which were held on the Patapsco River inside the Key Bridge. "But they were the same for everybody, and you just had to deal with them.
"We elected to stay in the middle [in the first race] and it paid off. In [the second race], we took the same tactic, got tacked on two or three times and halfway up the first beat we were out the back door. No matter what we did, it seemed the breeze was taking the fleet away from us."
In past years, bad performances early in this regatta would have been hard to overcome because the competition was a round-robin series of match races with only the top four boats in the semifinal series.
This year, however, the racing format has been changed and the first two days of the regatta are fleet races, in which all the boats compete in one race at a time. The fleet racing will determine a seeding system for match racing that is expected to begin tomorrow.
So the emphasis of the first two days is on getting prepared for the nitty-gritty of this regatta, match racing.
"These are just practice days, really," said Law. "A lot of us have just flown in and there is still jet lag and time differences and everything. We don't know the guys, the boats or the waters.
"We need time to tune in a bit. But when it matters, I think you will see an entirely different style of racing. The tactics will change."
Once match racing starts, the pairs of boats should sail closely together, with the lead boat maneuvering to control the following boat. The trailing boat, meanwhile, will try to pressure the lead boat and force a tactical or sail-handling error.
"It is going to be the best match racer that wins the Columbus Cup," said Kostecki. "Not the best fleet racer."