by Rich Roberts
Take Olivier Backes' word for it: Winning isn't everything. But it helps. The French sailor and crew Matthieu Vandame from Marseille took over first place from Switzerland's Billy Besson and Jeremie Laguarrigue Thursday in the Globaltech Formula 18 World Championship with a relatively modest scoreline (1-3-(6)-6-3-2-1-3-4) but no finish worse than sixth, one of which he discarded.
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Backes, who won the F18 Worlds off his native shores in 2010, said, 'Our goal is to be consistent. Winning races is not our goal.'
Still, they are one of only two entries among 118 from 16 countries in the event hosted by Alamitos Bay Yacht Club to win two races, along with Besson and Laguarrigue, who dropped four points off the pace after finishing 24th in the day's last race, a result they tossed to count a seventh place Wednesday.
The second throwout kicks in with the 11th race Friday. Thursday's noon start was delayed a few minutes as competitors searched for the course in a thick layer of fog off Seal Beach, but then the curtain lifted to open a show of strenuous sailing marked by several capsizes in the choppy seas of 4 to 5 feet churned up by two days of southwest winds to 15 knots.
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It was a day to test the best monohull sailors on the globe. After two days of six qualifying races, the fleet was divided evenly into Gold and Silver groups for the final nine races through Saturday.
'We like medium wind,' Backes said, 'although it was a little stronger than medium today.'
The French made their move in the first race around the 1.5-mile long trapezoid course challenged only by the Swiss, who finished about 30 meters behind.
Mischa Heemskerk and crew Bastiaan Tentij of The Netherlands are in third place 14 points off the pace, while defending champion Darren Bundock and crew Jeroen van Leeuwen are another point back after a so-so 5-5-9 day.
'The French had a great day,' Bundock said. 'It seemed a lot bumpier out there today.'
It was the first day the contestants were split into Gold and Silver fleets with separate starts, based on their results over the first two days. Bundock liked it what way.
'It's always better when you're in the Gold fleet because you know who you're racing against,' he said.
He knows he's racing against Backes, who placed fourth in the Tornado class in the 2008 Olympics, although the 39-year-old electrical engineer isn't a regular on the F18 circuit.
'I sail maybe 30 days a year,' Backes said. 'That's it. I need to work most of the time.'
The veteran race jury is led by Ralph Roberts of New Zealand, joined by Don Becker and Bill Stump of the USA, Noel Allen of Australia and Francisco Jauregui of Mexico. Most of the submissions so far have concerned requests for redress, not the usual protests.
The racing is being tracked on the Kattack website by courtesy of the title sponsor.