The final leg of that first contest became a race against the clock for the leaders, BMW ORACLE Racing, who had to beat the leg time limit of 40-minutes to make the race stand. According to Principal Race Officer Peter REGGIO, the Race Committee was timing the boats from the offset mark and the American team just squeezed in ahead of the rapidly expiring time limit.
For the start of the second contest, the wind was up again, with the fleet starting in close to seven knots of wind. But as with the first race, the breeze eased off over the course of the match, with the leading boat, Alinghi, feeling the sense of urgency that engulfed the American team in the first race. The Swiss weren't so fortunate however as time expired with Alinghi adrift, less than 200 metres from the finishing line.
Fleet Race One
It may have been a light air race, but the huge changes in fortune up and down the race course made for compelling viewing.
After a perfect start for the fleet in seven knots breeze, the oscillating win made for regular place changes, the lead going first to Emirates Team New Zealand on the right, then to +39 on the left. At the windward mark, Luna Rossa tacked in from the left to take the lead, just inches ahead of Alinghi. These two played a game of cat and mouse down the first run, but ignored +39 who came into the leeward gate at a hotter angle and seized the lead.
+39 maintained that lead out to the left of the course for some time, until Emirates Team New Zealand found more wind further to the right. Desafío Español also gained from this right-hand shift, and the race for the lead was now nip and tuck between four teams - Luna Rossa, Spain, New Zealand and +39. These four rounded the final windward mark in close formation, while Alinghi had dropped off the back of the pack.
Meanwhile, BMW ORACLE had held sixth place for most of the race and had never been in touch with the front pack. Over half a kilometre behind at the final rounding, Chris DICKSON'S crew had little to lose by trying an alternative route down the last run, and they held on to starboard gybe while the leaders had gybed off to port. By this stage the breeze had died to virtually nothing, but the Americans found the slightest sniff of wind to draw level with the Spanish, who were still leading the original gang of four.
A bad gybe and hourglass spinnaker by the Spanish allowed BMW ORACLE to sneak away, but the new enemy became the time limit, with the Americans looking nervously at their watches as time was ticking down. With a maximum time limit of 40 minutes on any single leg of the course, the American boat crossed so close to the limit - a matter of seconds - that many spectators were unsure whether they had won or not. There were no celebrations aboard BMW ORACLE, just relief after a tense two hours. Behind them, fortunes had altered dramatically, with Alinghi rescuing a second place while former leaders +39 plummeted to ninth across the line. It was a memorable race, but one that the Swedish will choose to forget, with Victory Challenge trickling across the line in last place.
Fleet Race Two
This race appeared to belong to Alinghi who started with good pace near the middle of the starting line. The Swiss, led by Jochen SCHUEMANN, were able to use that fabled Alinghi boatspeed to just poke their nose forward of the rest of the fleet, and used the clear air they earned to extend away from the fleet. Alinghi dominated this race, with Emirates Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, Desafío Español, and Shosholoza all exchanging the next four places amongst each other.
However the Swiss couldn't beat the time limit for the final leg, as Peter REGGIO was obliged to abandon the race with Alinghi within several boatlengths of the line. Both the Spanish and South African teams will be encouraged by the day, despite the abandonment. Both teams punched above their weight on the day, finding themselves among the leaders in both contests.
Racing is scheduled to resume on Saturday beginning at 12:10.