Gyeonggi, Korea  - After a day of semi-finals that grew in pace and excitement, today started flat, grey and uninteresting, and looked like staying that way.  Yesterday commentator Martin Tasker defined it neatly, saying “the breeze is in, the boats are hot, and so is the action.”

Both semis produced edge-of-the seat sailing. Bjorn Hansen went down 0-3 to Ian Williams, and Paolo Cian defeated Ben Ainslie 3-0, but the scorelines don’t reflect the closeness of the racing, with penalties a-plenty, boats OCS, collisions, crew overboard, breathtakingly close calls, luffing matches and lucky break shifts that produced multiple lead changes. In fact, just about everything that could contribute to seriously hot and entertaining match racing.

The start of the finals match between Williams and Cian was scheduled for 1400 hrs, but the race course at Jeongok Harbour was just a grey glass-out with no sign of any breeze at all – not even the small shifty zephyrs that had allowed the 5th-8th place sail-offs go through. “We’re missing that vital ingredient – wind” came the commentary as we watched replays of yesterday’s action-packed semi-finals.

Playing a waiting game out on the water, Cian was working hard to stay optimistic – if the finals were canned due to lack of breeze then the Korea Match Cup would be decided on the performances in the Round Robin – handing a win to Ian Williams (8 pts) against the Italian’s five wins that allowed him to just squeak into the quarter-finals. In the quarters, Cian came back from 0-2 down against Adam Minoprio to win 3-2, then rolled past Ben Ainslie 3-0 in the semis, so was feeling pretty much on form, and definitely keen to sail.

At 1450 hrs there was some sign of sunshine – an ingredient that might, just might, encourage a little sea breeze. And then a breath of wind. Cian put up a spinnaker and sailed around slowly, as if to demonstrate to the Race Committee that there was enough breeze to get things started, and at 1530 hrs racing did indeed get under way.
The crews went into the pre-start walking on eggshells. There just wasn’t enough wind to allow fireworks, so “softly, softly” was the order of the day, gentle wide-radius turns, keeping everything as smooth as possible until both boats hit the line together for a split-tack start with Cian going to the right.

First cross went to Cian just below the top mark, but Williams gybe-set for a separation, found some pressure on the right and smoked into the bottom pin, overlapped and going round the inside. But Williams then earned a penalty to taking to much room at the mark – Cian crossed behind Williams and led away from the pin, and just had to stay out of trouble to have the race in the bag.

Williams crossed ahead of Cian on the upwind leg, and then sailed him past the mark, gybed round his transom to clear his penalty, and went into the mark with Cian in the lead… just. But this time the gybe-set probramme didn’t work for Williams, and Cian sailed gently down to his seventh win in a row. With this being a first-to-two match, it was now regatta point to the “light air maestro” from Italy.

Race 2 began with a slow motion dial-up and a good deal of tiptoe-ing around the start area. With a minute to the gun there were small signs of a building breeze, and both boats started together on port, Cian at the boat end. Williams started to stretch out a lead, but Cian got lifted coming back on starboard, and Williams went for a leebow tack coming into the windward mark – only to find a rapidly-reversing fishing boat pretty much in line with the mark. There was a lot of yelling between the boats as well as directed at the fishermen, and the obstruction may have been as much psychological as physical, but the net result was Cian getting his nose inside before at the mark, Williams shutting the door and Cian calling for a penalty but being shown a green flag in reply.  

Williams went right once again, and led all the way down the run – soaking low into mark 2 while Cian came in quick from the left, but not quick enough: delta 12 secs to Williams.  Upwind again, and Williams ran classic match racing tactics on Cian, tacking to cover, and leading at the top by 13 secs. This clearly wasn’t close enough for Cian to attack, and Williams crossed Cian from the right coming into the finish and gybed into the line. Match squared at 1-1.  

“It’s one-all, sudden death now, and it’s going to be tough from the port end,” said Wiliams to the on-board camera, “but be sure we’ll come out fighting.”  Cian calmly controlled most of the pre-start, with Williams wriggling to get away, and with 45 sec to go both boats were on starboard with Cian to leeward at the pin end and Williams bow down and going for speed.  Williams started with pace, and split away to the right, followed by Cian. First cross went to Cian, still on port, who tacked on Wiliams and led round the first mark by 14 sec. In a softening breeze (these things are relative!) both boats were obliged to sail shallow angles down the run, with Cian gybing well early and soaking down to the mark to watch Williams cross behind, overstand the mark, and round a full 35 secs behind.

That was enough of a lead to allow Cian a stress-free beat, and he rounded still 34 sec in the lead. Williams went for the gybe-set split-and-come-back-from-the-right option, but just couldn’t find enough breeze to make it work, and watched the soft-touch Italian ghost across the line 15 secs or so in the lead.

It has been a shaky start to the series for Cian, and his position in the quarter-finals wasn’t assured until the last moment. But after losing the first two matches of the best-to-five quarters to Adam Minoprio, Cian was on fire, reeling off 7 wins in a row, dropping one to Ian Williams, and then coming back in the last one to win the final. It was definitely celebration time on the Italian boat – champagne was spraying everywhere, and Cian executed a stylish back-flip into the water. Well, who wouldn’t, with KRW75,000,000 (US$60,000) about to come his way?

At KRW300,000,000 (US$240,000), the Korea Match Cup is the richest purse on the World Match Race Tour. A good deal more champagne was soon sprayed on stage in front of the Closing Ceremony crowd, and the giant cheques were presented by the Governor of Gyeonggi Province, Kim Moon-Soo. It had been a desperately slow start to the day, but it finished in cracking style with a great demonstration of light-air precision from The Quiet Italian, Paolo Cian.

1st Paolo Cian (ITA) Team Shosholoza
2nd Ian Williams (GBR) Bahrain Team Pindar
3rd Ben Ainslie (GBR) Team Origin
4th Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Team Onboard
5th Adam Minoprio (NZL) ETNZ/BlackMatch Racing
6th Peter Gilmour (AUS) YANMAR Racing
7th Torvar Mirsky (AUS) Mirsky Racing
8th Mathieu Richard (FRA) French Match Racing Team
9th Sebastien Col (FRA) French Match Racing Team/K-Challenge
10th Laurie Jury (NZL)
11th Philippe Presti (FRA) French Match Racing Team
12th Byeong Ki Park (KOR)