After three days of weather delays, the Louis Vuitton Cup quarter final repechage at last got under way today - and provided enthralling racing with come-from-behind wins in both matches.
The two higher seeded teams, OneWorld and Prada, both trailed in the opening stages of their matches against Team Dennis Conner and Victory Challenge respectively. But, both OneWorld and Prada justified their higher seeding by managing to overtake and take the victory guns in the vital opening matches.
The best-of-seven repechage has a distinct life-or-death edge, because the two losing teams will exit the regatta, leaving only four challengers still in the game.
In the light north to north-easterly breeze, all four yachts on the course had men up the mast searching for the best breeze lines on the water.
In the OneWorld vs Team Dennis Conner match, Stars & Stripes led around the first three marks, but then failed to cover on the second downwind leg as OneWorld split away and gained in a 30 degree windshift to the left.
In the second match away, Victory Challenge led the whole way up the first windward leg, but Prada came back and, right at the mark, squeezed into the lead to round the mark 8 seconds ahead, stretching away from there to a commanding lead.
Racing took place against a backdrop of on-shore activity as Team Dennis Conner has initiated a Rule Two (Fair Sailing) protest against OneWorld, over design information from rival teams and related issues, The protest will be heard from 6pm tonight by the Louis Vuitton Cup International Jury. A similar case was jointly submitted to the Arbitration Panel by Team Dennis Conner and Prada last Sunday.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP QUARTER FINAL REPECHAGE
ONEWORLD (USA-67) BEAT STARS & STRIPES (USA-77) - DELTA 01:16
An uneventful pre-start saw both boats heading back toward the line with 45 seconds to go. Stars & Stripes went for a late hook with less than 30 seconds remaining, but couldn't get it and was forced to tack to port with 22 seconds to the start. OneWorld crossed the line on starboard with speed near the pin end while Stars & Stripes was on port at the committee boat. The two boats sailed the first beat virtually neck-and-neck. But Stars & Stripes, to the right of OneWorld, gained the lead near the top due to a right shift. They rounded the windward mark with a 26-second advantage and added to the lead on the run, rounding the leeward mark 55 seconds ahead. But OneWorld dragged the match to the left side of the second beat and a left shift halfway up the leg allowed OneWorld to halve its deficit. OneWorld rounded the second windward mark 15 seconds behind. OneWorld performed a jibe-set to starboard and selected its asymmetric spinnaker around the mark, while Stars & Stripes held port. When Stars & Stripes jibed to starboard OneWorld already was in a header and steaming down the course. OneWorld rounded the leeward mark 13 seconds ahead and then sailed away on the last beat, opening a huge advantage sailing in localized lifts with pressure and extending out to an unassailable lead.
LUNA ROSSA (ITA-74) BEAT VICTORY CHALLENGE - DELTA 01:31
This race was decided near the first windward mark, when Italian skipper Francesco de Angelis managed to squeeze past Orm, after trailing for most of the leg. Victory Challenge helmsman Jesper Bank built a slim lead on the right side of the race course, taking advantage of a favourable windshift. Nearing the starboard tack layline for the first weather mark, Bank tacked, and crossed ahead of Luna Rossa, before tacking again to windward of Prada. The Italians tacked away underneath Orm, and by the time the Swedish boat tacked again, it had wasted a couple of boatlengths as a right shift allowed Prada to squeeze up to the layline, and lead around the first windward mark by 8-seconds. From there, the Italians exploited superior downwind speed to build a 43-second lead at the end of the first lap of the course. Prada covered well through the minefield of big wind shifts and pressure differentials across the race course and protected its position the rest of the way to earn the first win of the series.