For the first time this week weather conditions at the scheduled start time were suitable for a race. With the match racing series finishing yesterday, only the last fleet race remained to be sailed.
The America's Cup International Regatta started with a fleet race over a reduced size America's Cup course on Monday, but today's 20-mile course was really for the cameras and spectators both on the water and along the many vantage points on Auckland's North Shore and Waitemata Harbour.
The start saw six boats line up in a seven knot North Easterly wind and flat water. The four boats involved in match racing all week were joined by the second GBR Challenge boat (GBR-44) and the old NZL-40, a 1995 vintage design that has never competed in Cup competition and has been converted to a charter boat with an engine and a roller furling headsail.
At the start it was Victory Challenge and Team New Zealand that showed the way off the line, tacking quickly onto port for a long speed test for the one-sided three-mile weather leg.
Half way up this leg it was obvious that these two were once again proving the fastest boats in the fleet with OneWorld Challenge next in the rankings ahead of the better of the two British boats GBR-52. But at the top mark, with the wind temporarily dropping away the fleet bunched up again. Team New Zealand, rounding first ahead of Victory Challenge, immediately set its code zero headsail for the tight reach to the next mark, laid off Brown's Beach. OneWorld rounding fourth behind GBR Challenge (GBR-52) set a small flat asymmetric spinnaker and sailing a few degrees lower than the rest managed to get past the British boat before the second mark.
The run from here down through the Rangitoto Channel to Number Four Buoy saw the first three boats stretch out again with Victory Challenge passing Team New Zealand to take first place as the leading pair rounded the last mark. A tight spinnaker reach in shifty winds and a falling tide gave a stop and start nature to the rest of the race. The first two boats eventually having to drop their spinnakers off the Devonport Navy Yard, sailed under headsails close along the shore, whilst OneWorld chose to change to its small flat spinnaker again and sail a deeper course. This tactic ultimately allowed the American boat to sail through the lee of this first pair and into the lead as they crossed in front of Bayswater.
With just boatlengths left to sail to the finish line the wind died again and OneWorld, all but stopped, changed its spinnaker to a genoa and coasted over the line under the Harbour Bridge to win. Although caught up in the spectator fleet, now numbering hundreds of boats, the following pair managed to anticipate the situation a bit better and closed down on the leader to finish overlapped, just seconds later. Second place went to Victory Challenge by just one metre from Team New Zealand.
The spectacle was huge with people lining the Auckland Harbour Bridge watching the action below on this late summer day. A reminder of what can be expected in less than eight months when the Louis Vuitton Cup starts in Auckland with ten challenger syndicates entered.