Some mighty battles marked the opening round of the Louis Vuitton Cup Quarter Finals on the Hauraki Gulf, with on the water penalties imposed in the early stages of three matches.
As the day progressed, three matches had the leading yachts carrying penalties and trying desperately to extend enough of a lead to complete their 270 degree turns. OneWorld was the only one to come close to achieving it, but they lost narrowly to USA-76
. With the stakes rising, the racing showed a new edge of aggression and urgency, with some of the most exciting contests of the regatta so far. There were several lead changes and at times the yachts were racing just centimetres apart in fresh conditions.
OneWorld, Stars & Stripes and Prada all incurred penalties and all three led their respective races, but lost in the end.
In the match between the American giants, Oracle BMW Racing and OneWorld, proceedings began with USA-76 flying a red flag, signaling a protest against OneWorld.
The only match with no penalties and no lead changes was between Sweden's Victory Challenge and the French le Defi crew. Sweden led all the way from start to finish.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP QUARTER-FINALS, RACE DAY ONE
Alinghi (SUI-64) Beat Luna Rossa (ITA-74) - Delta 01:18 Alinghi Leads The Best-Of-Seven By 1-0
At the first windward mark, Prada was just 10 seconds behind after a bad tack on Alinghi lost them ground. Prada quickly put Alinghi under serious pressure. Having struggled for pace upwind, Prada was clearly the quicker boat downwind and sat on Alinghi's stern. A misjudgment on the Italian boat, however, resulted in a collision and Luna Rossa received a penalty. Although Alinghi held Prada off, the leeward mark rounding delta was just 6 seconds. By the weather mark just 8 seconds separated the boats with Alinghi still ahead. On this downwind leg, Prada showed her pace again, but this time she managed to roll Alinghi, holding the Swiss out at the leeward mark to round 13 seconds ahead. But, again, Alinghi's upwind speed was telling and the Swiss regained the lead and held it to the finish. There was further drama at the finish when Prada let their concentration slip just seconds before clearing their penalty on the line as they trawled their kite and had to blow the lines to avoid damaging the mast.
USA-76 Beat Oneworld (USA-65) - Delta 00:12 USA-76 Leads The Best-Of-Seven By 1-0
This match featured a rather subdued pre-start with OneWorld helmsman James Spithill tacking away from USA-76 moments before the start gun fired. USA-76, and skipper Chris Dickson took the left side of the course and worked a minor windshift into a slim 10-second lead at the top mark. On the first run, the boats split away several times, and eventually OneWorld closed up, with both boats running down on port tack, OneWorld slightly behind. Spithill gybed onto starboard tack and forced Dickson to gybe in response. The umpires ruled OneWorld hadn't given USA-76 enough room to keep clear and assessed Spithill a penalty. OneWorld went on to take a narrow lead, but could never extend to a comfortable distance to offload the penalty. Finally, approaching the windward mark for the last time, and enjoying its biggest lead of the match, the OneWorld crew executed its penalty turn, allowing USA-76 to take a 14-second lead onto the final run. OneWorld came close to regaining the lead, but Dickson managed to hold on and strike first blood for Oracle BMW Racing.
Orm (SWE-73) Beat Le Défi (FRA-69) - Delta 02:03 Orm Leads The Best-Of-Seven By 1-0
Jesper Bank at the helm of Orm scored an emphatic victory over Le Defi Areva. Philippe Presti, back at the helm of the yellow boat in a southerly wind of 14 - 18 knots, had a close pre-start battle against the Swedes and crossed the line one second ahead. Victory Challenge worked hard to protect the right hand side and started to windward of Le Defi, close to the committee boat and quickly got into their stride to capture the lead. The French boat fought a close fight all the way up the first beat with very similar boatspeed to Orm for the first half of the beat. The Swedes only pulled out a definite lead after Le Defi opted to do a double tack near the windward mark, allowing Orm to lead by 23 seconds around the first mark. Thereafter the Victory Challenge boat extended all the way down the run and by the leeward mark had built up an unassailable lead.
Wight Lightning (GBR-70) Beat Stars & Stripes (USA-77) - Delta 01:00 Wight Lightning Leads The Best-Of-Seven By 1-0
The key to the match was the pre-start, where Wight Lightning got a penalty on Stars & Stripes. Late in the pre-start, Wight Lightning starting helmsman Andy Beadsworth achieved a leeward hook on Stars & Stripes's helmsman Ken Read. Beadsworth luffed and Read kept clear. But Read didn't seem to expect a second luff and was penalized for failing to keep clear. On the race track, the new Stars & Stripes, USA-77, seemed to have good speed upwind. The Americans' best leg was the second beat, where they added 36 seconds to their lead. They may have been able to complete the penalty turn on the leg, but chose not to. Instead, they waited until the final leg. Read and his Stars & Stripes crew led by 31 seconds beginning the run to the finish. They were maintaining that advantage when Wight Lightning, helmed on the racecourse by skipper Ian Walker, rode a puff right up to Stars & Stripes. The American yacht gybed to starboard, as did Wight Lightning. To leeward, the Americans luffed Wight Lightning, hoping to exonerate the penalty and remain in the lead. But the move backfired. They were rolled and still had the penalty to complete.