The organizers of this year's Cadillac Columbus Cup have made much of the balance of talent among the eight skippers from the United States and four other countries who are competing on the Patapsco River this week. After yesterday's racing, that balance is evident.
With one flight of four races left to decide which four boats will advance to the semifinals, seven boats remain in contention, with Chris Law of England in first place and six other skippers tied for second.
"It has been an amazing regatta in that sense, in that there are so many people so close," said Team Chesapeake skipper Jim Brady of Annapolis. "But it is because the conditions have been so fluky that you are not necessarily getting the best match racers winning every match, and because of it you have everybody in the middle of the run."
Only Marc Bouet of France has been eliminated. Bouet has won two races and lost four, including matches with John Kostecki of San Francisco and Law yesterday.
Law (4-2), who won all three of his races Wednesday and won only one yesterday, will be matched with Kostecki (3-3) today. Kostecki won all three races he sailed yesterday after losing all three on Wednesday.
In his final race of the day, Kostecki drew Buddy Melges of Wisconsin, who had won his first two starts yesterday and could have moved into a tie for first with a victory. The race, Kostecki said, was over almost as soon as it started.
"We had a little more wind," said Kostecki, who opted to sail out the river toward Key Bridge on the first leg while Melges sailed off on the opposite tack. "Then the wind backed a little to the left and we were able to tack and cross him by 100 yards -- and that was pretty much the race."
Melges, however, already had worked a little magic of his own to set up the match with Kostecki.
In his first race of the day, Melges was matched with Antonio Gorostegui of Spain, who on Wednesday had sailed well while winning two races. For a while yesterday, it appeared that Melges was no match for the younger Gorostegui.
But at the bottom of the second leeward leg, Melges was able to steal the inside position at the mark and squeeze into the lead. Gorostegui was unable to recover.
"What happened is that the wind just turned off on Gorostegui and gave us a big break," said Melges. "I don't think it was a matter of skill and cunning.
"Old age and treachery, that's what it was."
J.J. Isler started the day by defeating Law, but then lost to Gorostegui and Brady, who seemed to sail in bad luck most of the day.
"There were huge puffs and lulls out there today," said
Brady. "But in both races we lost, at one stage, we were easily one-third to nearly one-half a leg ahead -- and we lost both of them."
A downwind duel between Isler and Brady provided some of the closest action of the day until Isler encountered problems with tactics and a jib halyard rounding the mark and fell well behind.
"We were protecting our inside overlap [controlling position] at the mark, and they were trying to force us to the left side and get inside of us," Brady said. "But we didn't let them do it.
"We had very good boat handling, getting the jib up and our spinnaker down. We just performed our maneuver a little bit better than they did."
Isler ended up rounding the mark and sailing for a while without a jib up, while Brady pulled away.
"Know what our comment was about 10 seconds after that, when they were about the farthest distance behind us?" Brady said. "Keep trying guys. We have been further ahead than this all day and we still lost."
Law is the only skipper guaranteed a spot in the semifinals, and if he loses to Kostecki he will fall into a tie with three other boats at 4-3. In the event of such a tie, a series of tie-breakers will be used to determine the pairing in the semifinals.
The first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition, so Kostecki may be able to take the top seed by beating Law. To this point, it will be the match of the week.
"Going into this regatta, I felt that [Law] was going to be one of the top guys," Kostecki said, "and obviously with his record he is sailing very well. I think he is going to be toughest one to beat."