The Kiwis won their second consecutive race in the 32nd America's Cup Match, beating Alinghi by 25 seconds in a thrilling race that will go down in the books as one of the most exciting matches in Cup history.
Racing was postponed for over two hours on a day of difficult weather conditions on the waters off Port America's Cup. The wind was light, but at 7 to 9 knots it was generally strong enough to race in. However there were massive windshifts over much of the race course area. Finally, just ahead of the 17:00 cut-off for a race start, the Race Committee was satisfied the conditions were as good as they were going to get, and the start sequence commenced.
The Emirates team built a massive lead early, only to see it disappear during the middle portion of the race. The final run to the finish in a dying breeze gave them a second a chance, and this time skipper Dean BARKER (NZL) and his afterguard were up to the task, finding more wind on the right side of the race course and streaking past Alinghi for the win just metres from the finishing line.
It was another aggressive pre-start between Emirates Team New Zealand and Alinghi, but BARKER managed to claim the right-hand side - albeit at a big price. Ed BAIRD (USA) forced BARKER to tack away with 10 seconds to the start, the Kiwis starting very downspeed and a full 8 seconds behind Alinghi who launched off to the left-hand side of the course, 60 metres up in a very short time.
Adam BEASHEL (NZL), windspotter on Emirates Team New Zealand, explained the decision to go right came after a late call from the weather team led by Australian meteorologist Roger 'Clouds' BADHAM, 'Clouds and ourselves on the boat just before entry thought there was a pretty big right-hand shift to come, it was called and it nearly became a 'must-win right' for us. Deano did a good job of winning that right-hand side. It was a little down speed, and it would have nice to be a little quicker but we were hopeful that the right was going to come, and it came as we expected so it all turned well for us.'
However, the slow start proved to be a price worth paying, as the Kiwis found much better breeze on the right side of the race course. Alinghi, still far to the left, had no answer, and could only sit and watch as their opponents stretched to a lead of more than 300 metres. Around the first mark, the Defender trailed by 1 minute 23 seconds.
The Swiss pulled back some distance down the run, and then at the leeward mark the Kiwis made a very messy spinnaker drop. The red cloth got jammed in the jib sheeting system, and trimmer Grant LORETZ (NZL) could not sheet the jib in. Alinghi rounded the right-hand mark behind the limping Kiwis, and sailed up inside their track.
Kiwi strategist Ray DAVIES (NZL), tried to make sense of the chaos in the post-race press conference, 'We had actually decided about a minute out from the gate, and when it turned to custard for us, that we wanted the right hand gate, and we had a pretty good left-hand breeze of about 110 at the time. As we were going to set up to gybe the breeze went right to 135 and we realised we couldn't go there. It was just a terrible rounding to try and get the left from where we were. We were right dead upwind of it and did not have much room to play with. We wriggled around obviously losing a lot but taking the massive bias on the line by the time we got sorted with the spinnaker and primary winch.'
Eventually the Kiwis sacrificed the spinnaker to tack and get across to Alinghi, now just two boatlengths behind. The Kiwis did not close cover, perhaps due to the fickle conditions or due to ongoing equipment problems. A battle of nerves ensued, with massive separation opening up, Alinghi to the left, and the Kiwis to the right. When they met again in the middle, they were neck and neck. BARKER lee bow tacked underneath BAIRD, and eventually bounced Alinghi off to the left again.
The close fight continued, but at the top of the course a late left-hand shift gave Alinghi the lead, 15 seconds ahead at the final mark. Down the run, Alinghi first protected the right, then gybed to the left, allowing the Kiwis to take the right.
Here, again, the massive separation of more than a kilometre put Alinghi at huge tactical risk. It was down to who would find the best of the dying breeze. The wind on the right came good, NZL 92 sneaked into the lead, and when the boats met again just metres from the finish line, the Kiwis were ahead by just two boatlengths. They gybed in front of SUI 100 and crossed the line 25 seconds in front of the Swiss boat; a breathtaking finish to an extraordinary race.
'It probably hasn't happened very often that you see three passes in an America's Cup race. It's a testament to the strength of both teams.'navigator Kevin HALL (USA) explained the choice to go right on the final run, 'It was a shifty run with lanes of pressure and often just staying on the long side is a safe bet and that's what they chose. We flicked over the inshore side of them and towards the end of the run we saw some good pressure and a pretty big shift for the separation that we ended up with.
After the race Alinghi President Ernesto BERTARELLI (SUI) expressd his frustration with what he considered a poor decision to hold the race, 'I didn't come to the America's Cup to do this sort of racing. It's match racing at the end of the day. It's not offshore racing where you just have to see whether the wind decides the regatta. I don't think the wind should decide the regatta, the competitors should decide it on their ability. The wind should be way more stable than it was today for the race to take place. I'm sure for those who are watching it is exciting for sure, but you can go to Las Vegas for that. It's not exactly what sailing should be about.'
Simon DAUBNEY (NZL), trimmer on SUI 100, echoed the sentiments of his boss, 'We had been thinking that was a smart move to postpone it and all of the sudden there seems to be a big rush to get a race off a minute before the time they are allowed to and in those conditions. It is pretty disappointing really after you work so hard for those little gains and to try and improve your performance. On a day testing at any time like that you think 'hopefully we won't be sailing in these conditions' so certainly you wouldn't spend too much time working away at them.'
Emphasising the point, he added, 'As I say we are pretty disappointed that the race even went ahead.'
'But as so often happens in these conditions nothing is ever that simple. The trouble we had at the leeward mark let them back into the race and we paid the price.
'On the second runhead Grant DALTON (NZL) was delighted with his crew, 'The afterguard and weather team was superb. The weather call on the first beat set us up for a win if we sailed well, covered and kept our cool. Alinghi allowed a wide separation and we got a shift and a little more pressure and we were back in the race. It was a stressful day.'
America's Cup Match
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The America's Cup Match and Challenger/Defender Series are designated as ISAF Special Events. For more information on the America's Cup, the Louis Vuttion Acts and the teams competing, visit the official America's Cup website - www.americascup.com.
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