In come-from-behind fashion on the deciding race of the 2011 Budget Marine Match Racing Cup, New Zealand ace Gavin Brady defeated Virgin Island legend Peter Holmberg today to claim top honorsâ€”and the $5,000 prize for first place in the ISAF Grade 5 match-racing eventâ€”in the lead-up to this week’s St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. Brady’s 2-0 victory in the best of three finals during this third running of the Budget Marine Cup avenged his loss to Holmberg in 2010.
Holmberg, who earned $3,000 for his second-place effort, had won both previous editions of the Budget Marine Match Racing Cup. But Brady, and his all-star crew of Chris Larson and Marc Plaxton, clearly had his number today. In the earlier finals to determine third and fourth place, Colin Rathbun’s Team BVI dispatched veteran U.K. match racer Simon Shaw and his squad, also by a 2-nil score, to earn the $2,000 check for third.
Brady, Holmberg, Rathbun and Shaw advanced to the Final Four in the eight-team field after an earlier round-robin on Simpson Bay conducted in often fluky, shifty winds ranging from 6-8 knots to the mid-teens. Brady was undefeated in the initial ten-flight round-robin series, sailed in Jeanneau SunFast 20s. The other four teams in the series were skippered by Russian sailors Eugeny Nikiforov and Peter Kochnev, Brit Marc Fitzgerald and young, rising star Erik van Poelgeest of Holland, currently serving an internship here in St. Maarten.
However, the day belonged to Brady and his crew. "It was just one of those days, you can’t ask for more," he said. "It was shifty, it was tricky, it was all about sailing. Our goal today was just to get faster and faster because if you get to the finals you want to be confident in your speed so you can focus on the wind shifts because the breeze dies down and it does get tricky."Â From the outset of today’s racing, it seemed inevitable that Holmberg and Brady would be the last men standing, which is precisely how it unfolded. "We raced Peter last year (in the finals) and were ahead in both races," Brady said. "I don’t think we were quite as quick last year. I don’t know why (we were faster this year), because Peter’s quick."
The first race of today’s finals was practically over before it started; Holmberg was flagged by the umpires for a pre-start infraction and was never able to recover.
"Pete likes to be very aggressive in the last thirty seconds before the start," said Brady. "Our goal was to actually be behind him in the final approach to the line so we could control the tempo of the start. We did that with him in all of our starts today, we were always the boat coming from behind. You can control the whole atmosphere and it worked out really well. We pushed him into a position (where he fouled us) and our tactician, Marc Plaxton, did a great job calling the shifts and we stretched it out."
Brady’s winning effort to close out the finals was an altogether different affair, with multiple penalties and a couple of lead changes. In fact, Brady’s team was slightly behind Holmberg at the last weather mark, but managed to overtake Holmberg and crew on the final run.
"It was the same thing as the first race in the finals," said Brady. "We were the back boat and we dictated the tempo again but Pete did a slightly better job of identifying what our game plan was and he came out of that start slightly ahead. But Chris and Marc were patient, and again it came down to boat speed. There were a lot of penalties, there was a lot going on. But you wouldn’t see a better match race anywhere, in Malaysia at the World Championshipsâ€¦anywhere. That race was as good as it gets."
"My hat goes off to our judges," said Budget Marine’s Robbie Ferron. "You can’t have an event like this without a fantastic race committee and judges. They did a great job."
And once it was over, Brady put the entire day in fine perspective. "The most important thing was being in the finals again with Peter," he said. "Both of us have come through the America’s Cup and spent our lives doing this. Now we’re out of the Cup and we’re a couple of the older guys in the sport. But we’re still racing against each other and still having a beer at the end of the day. It was a good feeling to be back at it two years in a row. And tonight we’ll be going out and having a few rums and enjoying the rest of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta."Â
Lastly, one had to ask: Will Brady be back next year to defend his title?
"I enjoy this regatta very much," he said. "Sometimes you fly to Europe with a team of six guys and you do six races. We came today and did nine races. And we’re in St. Maarten, which is beautiful. So I think that’s a no-brainer."