Most observers were expecting some close racing in this contest and the two finalists did not disappoint. The final run to the finish saw Luna Rossa make a small gain on the left hand side of the race course. With the boats just a few hundreds metres from the finishing line, ITA 94 helmsman James SPITHILL (AUS) threw in a final gybe that put his team charging at the line.
But Kiwi squad held its nerve, executing a precision gybe just moments before crossing the line, with Luna Rossa nearly overlapped behind them. Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean BARKER (NZL) and his team draw first blood, leading the series 1-0.
Conditions were ideal for racing, with a southeasterly sea breeze of between 10 and 14 knots. Racing was postponed for a short time to allow the Race Committee to re-set the starting line after a 10 degree wind shift. An enormous spectator fleet was on hand to enjoy the close racing.
Having won the coin toss yesterday, Luna Rossa selected the starboard entry into the start box for its match today. In the pre-start, however, it appeared the Italians preferred the left-hand side of the start as they happily conceded the starboard advantage to Emirates Team New Zealand.
Off the start line, BARKER launched NZL 92 into a small lead to the right of SPITHILL, but after a minute the Kiwis tacked away. The Italians soon followed, and then both boats sailed for some minutes on port tack, with nothing to choose between the teams for speed or tactical advantage.
However, when BARKER eventually tacked back, he accelerated well while the responding Italian tack looked a little slower. The New Zealanders gained a small advantage which they held to the top mark, although considering the breeze had swung slightly to the right, perhaps by not as much as they would have liked. The Italian boat had the speed to hang on to NZL 92 even if it was on the disadvantaged side of the course.
Once BARKER had carried the match beyond the port layline, he tacked for the windward mark and led the Italians by 12 seconds around the first mark. Downwind the boats looked very evenly matched for speed, so Torben GRAEL (BRA) called for a gybe away from the Kiwis. It was not long before Terry HUTCHINSON (USA) called for a gybe on NZL 92 but when the boats converged again, ITA 94 had made a two boatlength gain on the subtlest of windshifts.
By the leeward gate the deficit to the Kiwis had reduced to just 9 seconds, Luna Rossa rounding the right-hand mark behind Emirates and both boats rolling straight into a tack. With the course axis having shifted 10 degrees to the right, HUTCHINSON was determined to keep to the right of GRAEL and kept on bouncing the Italian boat out to the left. After numerous tacks at the top of the course, the delta at the final turning mark was still only 11 seconds.
With the right-hand side of the final run favoured, the Italians played a waiting game, shadowing New Zealand down the course and gybing only after many minutes of sailing. The Italians always looked dangerous, and on the final gybe to the finish they executed a great manoeuvre while the Kiwis had a short delay in getting their spinnaker to fill out of the critical gybe. But BARKER took the Kiwis across the finish line 8 seconds ahead of the aggressive Italian team. This was high-quality match racing of the highest order, the outcome of the race decided on the tiniest of details.
Louis Vuitton Cup - Final
|Luna Rossa Challenge||0||0|
|Emirates Team New Zealand||1||1|
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