Cats are back with an adrenaline rush in Olympic sailing

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Catamarans are back in Olympic sailing, with the kind of adrenaline rush that only a double-hulled boat can bring to the regatta.

The Nacra 17 catamarans made a wild Olympic debut on a rainy Wednesday. There was a capsize and a breakdown in the first race. Boats flew hulls in the breeze coming off Sugarloaf Mountain, and crews hoisted spinnakers adorned with country flags that made them easily identifiable for spectators watching from Flamengo Beach.

“Catamarans are back with a vengeance,” said Louisa Chafee of Warwick, Rhode Island, who serves as crew for U.S. skipper Bora Gulari of Miami.

Catamarans disappeared from the Olympics when the Tornado class was dropped before the 2012 London Games. The Nacra 17 class was introduced specifically for Rio. It’s the first time men and women have sailed together in the games.

“They’re the fastest and most exciting to watch,” Gulari said. “Without a doubt. Nobody else flies out of the water like we do. Catamarans have to be in the Olympics.”

The American crew was 11th after two races. Switzerland’s Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger won the opening race and were seventh in the second race in tough conditions to take the overall lead. The third race was postponed due to shifting wind.

The heavily favored French crew of Billy Besson and Marie Riou of France were 17th after finishes of seventh and 19th.

In the first race, the Greek boat capsized on polluted Guanabara Bay. Brazilian fans cheered as their country’s boat closed the gap behind Argentina, then fell silent as something broke, bringing the home country’s catamaran to a halt.

The conditions “were pretty tricky, shifting all over the place,” Chafee said. “Everyone was all over the place. You’re up, you’re down. It’s just the nature of Rio.”

The race committee did the best it could, Gulari said.

“This was just a really tough direction on this course for the race committee. Normally it’s a great place to sail and a great course.”

While the cats had their share of mayhem, order was restored in the heavyweight men’s dinghy, the Finn.

Britain’s Giles Scott took a second and first to jump into first place. Favored to win the gold medal, Scott was 10th after the first two races on Tuesday.

The two Finn races were sailed on an ocean course in huge seas and in the kind of wind that, as the Australians say, blows dogs off chains.

“It was incredibly windy, the top end of what we’d race in, 20-25 knots, big seas,” Scott said. “It made for really full-on racing. To come away with a second and a first, yes, it’s a lot more pleasing.”

Scott had finishes of 17th and third on Tuesday on the course near Sugarloaf, where the catamarans sailed Wednesday.

“It couldn’t have been more different,” Scott said. “We went from racing underneath a mountain in very light and fickle winds, to being out to sea in strong breezes and a big seaway. It was a big change in racing and approach, and fortunately it came good for me today.”

He knows he has to handle both the pressure of following countryman Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, and the varying conditions Rio offers.

Britain has dominated the Finn since Iain Percy won the gold in 2000. Ainslie won the gold in Athens, Beijing and London to finish his Olympic career with four straight golds, as well as a silver. Now comes Scott, making his Olympic debut at age 29.

American Caleb Paine of San Diego, making his Olympic debut, is seventh after going 21-3.

In the men’s Laser class, Brazil’s Robert Scheidt had a good day with finishes of 11-2 to jump into fourth place. He’s trying to become the first sailor and first Brazilian to win six Olympic medals.

In the women’s Laser Radial, Ireland’s Annalise Murphy had finishes of fifth and second to jump into the lead. She dominated the early portion of the London Olympics regatta before failing to medal. Paige Railey of the United States is seventh overall.


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