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Ian Williams leads pack amid tough conditions in the Monsoon Cup


It’s called the Monsoon Cup, not because it is regional, but because it is real. It rains and rains and rains and when it has done that it rains some more. And it blows. Gusts up to 40 knots of northerly wind whipped up the arena in front of the Ri-Yaz Heritage hotel and marina which hosts the finale of the World Match Racing Tour.

But it can switch off in minutes to create a driftathon and there is also a steady stream of debris being carried down by swollen tributaries into the South China Sea. Watch out for whole fallen tress.

Like watching golf in a blizzard, when it was bad it made a mockery of the current fad for ‘stadium sailing’ but, as this regatta counts for points and a half, the Malaysian monsoon will decide the 2011 world champion and competitors care not a jot about a soaking. Anyway, it is warm rain.

Leading the pack into Terengganu was Britain’s Ian Williams and his UK-founded, Swedish via the Middle East-funded, two American, three British-crewed Team GAC Pindar.

Williams has been world champion twice before but he has seen the mighty tumble and was all too aware of the need to navigate with care the round robin, which selects the eight from 12 which go into the knockout quarter finals.

It didn’t start well as he went down first race in filthy conditions to multiple champion and event impresario Peter Gilmour. Neither could see the top rounding mark, not cold the race officer and nor could the umpires but the Australian, who also played a part in bringing next month’s world championships of sailing to his native Perth, then notched up an easy victory against local representative Jeremy Koo.

In theory out of the running himself for another title, he could affect the chances of the current top three, Williams, Italy’s Francesco Bruni, six points behind and just 0.2 of a point ahead of another W. Australian, Torvar Mirsky, skippering Muscat’s The Wave team.

Early afternoon, the rain had stopped, the breeze was below 10 knots and the track favoured going right. It didn’t last and another squall picked up strength during Williams’ pre-start manoeuvring against Sweden’s Bjorn Hansen. Under pressure Williams fouled Hansen, had to take, immediately, a penalty for the advantage he had gained, and it was raced two, lost two.

Not that many people saw it through the deluge, but the problem for Williams is that he is already losing the chance to be top scorer in the round robin, which brings the bonus of an automatic place in the semi-finals instead of having to fight for it in the quarters.

With less than 2,000 miles to run to the finish of the first leg of the Volvo round the world race from Alicante to Cape Town, Spain’s Telefonica, skippered by Iker Martinez, has hooked into the westerlies and has a 100-mile lead over the second Spanish boat, Camper, skippered by Australian Chris Nicolson but crewed largely by a squad from Team New Zealand. Third, another 200 miles astern, is Franck Cammas of France in Groupama as the other three entries, the dismasted American boat Puma, Abu Dhabi’s dismasted Azzam, and the damaged Sanya of China make their way to the repair sheds in South Africa.

MONSOON CUP: Round robin; Day 1; B Hansen (SWE) 3-0; J Berntsson (SWE) 2-0, W Tiller (NZL) 2-1, P Gilmour (AUS) 2-1; T Mirsky (AUS) 1-0, J Radich (DEN) 1-1, P Robertson (NZL) 1-2; D Iehl (FRA) 0-1; I Williams (GBR) 0-2, M Richard (FRA) 0-2; J Koo (MAS) 0-3.