Drama marked the opening races of the Louis Vuitton Cup semi final in Auckland today, with lead changes and broken equipment providing plenty of excitement as the yachts raced in south westerly breezes of 16-20 knots.
As expected, the clash between Oracle BMW Racing (USA-76) and Alinghi (SUI-64) provided a highly charged pre-start, full of action and aggression. Peter Holmberg, steering USA-76, gained a slight advantage off the line, but Russell Coutts at the helm of SUI-64 had the right hand side and used it to advantage.
Soon after the start, the Swiss team gained the edge and then sailed a classic match race, relentlessly covering and playing the windshifts to slowly extend to a comfortable lead - ending the 11-race winning streak enjoyed by USA-76 since Chris Dickson took over the skipper's role.
In the match between Luna Rossa (ITA-74) and OneWorld (USA-67), the Italian yacht, skippered by Francesco de Angelis, gained the upper hand in the start. But, a pattern soon emerged where OneWorld, helmed by James Spithill, had better speed upwind and Prada had the pace downwind. The lead changed five times during the race.
Prada's de Angelis drove hard downwind, working the boat down every wave trying to gain every ounce of speed. Drama struck on the second downwind leg when Prada luffed OneWorld and broke their spinnaker pole in the process.
OneWorld powered into the lead and extended up the third windward leg, only to break its spinnaker on the final run. Prada closed up, but not enough to threaten the American yacht.
LOUIS VUITTON CUP SEMI FINAL
ALINGHI (SUI-64) BEAT USA-76 - DELTA 01:11
Alinghi leads semi-finals over Oracle BMW Racing by 1-0 An enthralling pre-start saw both boats sail deep into the starting box on entering, Then Russell Coutts steering Alinghi did a false 'dial up'. Oracle BMW responded and Coutts' quickly bore-away behind Oracle into the leeward position. Peter Holmberg at the helm of Oracle then led the boats away from the start line and did well to control the 'lead in' to the line in the last 30 seconds. Holmberg guided the American boat over the line two seconds ahead with better speed, leaving Alinghi to have to tack off towards the committee boat, with only five seconds to go to the start gun. But, Alinghi had gained the favoured side of the race course. Both boats initially seemed very evenly matched in a drag race to the right hand side, but it was the Swiss boat that picked up the right shift first and converted it into a small gain, which they protected to lead round the first mark by 14 seconds. Both boats remained neck and neck downwind, with Alinghi gaining just one second on the second leg, but really pulled out a big lead on the next beat. Tactician, Brad Butterworth initially vigorously protected the left side of the race track and duly guided Alinghi into a gain on the left and then crossed over to the right to make a huge gain on the right, getting 'in phase' with the wind shifts perfectly to lead at the next mark by 41 seconds. Thereafter Chris Dickson's team struggled to get back into the match and will also be concerned to lose 39 seconds on the final run to the finish and suffer their first loss since Dickson took over the reins at Oracle BMW.
B>ONEWORLD (USA-67) BEAT LUNA ROSSA (ITA-74)- DELTA 00:48
OneWorld leads semi-finals over Luna Rossa by 1-0" OneWorld came out for the Semi Final swinging, determined to put its legal problems behind it, but it was Prada's Rod Davis who looked strong in the pre-start. Davis eventually pushed OneWorld helmsman James Spithill out above the Committee Boat layline, forcing the American boat to start five-seconds late. But OneWorld was on the favoured right-hand side, and it didn't take long before the American boat had neutralised Prada's early advantage. Prada skipper Francesco de Angelis kept coming back, trying to cross to the right hand side of the course, but Spithill protected, always forcing Prada back to the left. After 21 tacks, OneWorld carried a 10-second lead around the first windward mark. Prada demonstrated great speed on the first run, initially closing up right behind OneWorld before gybing first and gaining separation. When OneWorld gybed and then luffed to protect its lead, the Italians were able to roll over the American boat to gain a slender lead around the bottom mark. But immediately after rounding the mark, OneWorld was able to force Prada to tack away and made a nice gain on the left. The first time the boats converged, OneWorld wasn't quite able to cross, but the next time the American's passed slightly ahead and switched sides, carrying that slender advantage around the windward mark. On the second run, Prada again showed good pace, eventually passing OneWorld. But nearing the bottom mark, it was OneWorld's turn to attack. As Prada luffed, the spinnaker pole broke. Prada then saw its spinnaker break. OneWorld went on to lead around the bottom mark and extended the rest of the way. There was an anxious moment when the OneWorld spinnaker exploded immediately after hoisting on the final run, but the Americans raised a replacement in time to hold on for the win.
" Following the America's Cup Arbitration Panel decision of 9th December 2002, OneWorld Challenge must win five races to advance.