Fickle weather on the Hauraki Gulf made it too difficult to set a fair race course on Thursday so the fourth race of the America's Cup Match was postponed.</
Principal Race Officer Harold Bennett tried for over two hours to start racing, but in the end, he decided the wind was just too shifty.
At the scheduled race start time of 13:15, the wind was very light, and although it soon picked up in strength, the direction was never settled with 30-degree shifts regularly sweeping across the course. Racing was called off for the day with the Southwest wind varying from 10 - 15 knots.
At 15:10, Bennett informed both teams that he felt the conditions wouldn't improve in time to get a race in and sought their opinion. Team New Zealand immediately agreed, while Alinghi didn't answer, saying it needed to consult with its weather team.
Under Condition 13 of the Notice of Race for the America's Cup, no warning signal shall be made after 15:30 without the agreement of both teams.
At 15:20 Bennett asked both teams for permission to wait past the 15:30 time limit. Team New Zealand navigator Mike Drummond said the Kiwis felt it would be best to wait another day. Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth was laughing when he told Bennett Alinghi was, 'bitterly disappointed.'
Friday is scheduled as an 'off' day.
Race Four is now scheduled to start at 13:15 on Saturday.
What happened to the Wind?
"It was just a shocking breeze",
was the conclusion of Harold Bennett after trying in vain to get race four away on an overcast day on the Hauraki Gulf. At times, the breeze made it up to 18 knots but lacked totally any consistency, whilst on the other side of the course the wind was down to just six knots.
"At one stage we had Team New Zealand sailing along on starboard and just 200 metres away we had Alinghi on port sailing in the same direction. Work that one out?"
"To start the day we had wind between 170 to 270 degrees and by 1400 we had a wind direction fluctuating between 215 and 260 degrees. It never really settled down, there were holes everywhere. The wind had no real push to it. We always get one day like it in a regatta."
The cause of the recalcitrant wind was due to an area of slack pressure, behind a slow moving cold front to the north of the Hauraki Gulf and a trough line just 200 miles south west of Auckland approaching fast at 30 knots. A layer of stable alto-cumulus cloud restricted the mixing in the lower levels of the atmosphere and the wind never really increased to a level to settle the huge fluctuations.
Large oscillations are always a feature of westerly winds that blow over the East Coast Bays area of Auckland onto the Hauraki Gulf. The wind is initially disturbed by the Waitakere Ranges close to the west coast and agitated further by the many hills and valleys before the wind makes it onto the water.
Occasional low cloud filtered across the race track, bringing sporadic increases in wind speed as faster wind from aloft, tumbled down and fanned out at the surface from the leading edge of the clouds. In light winds, the fluctuations are even greater and further complicated by wind bending round North Head close to Auckland harbour.
When the wind is light it is known to be 'lazy' and often opts to take the easier track over water. Winds from the south west tend to route across the narrow isthmus of Auckland, after channelling across Manakau Harbour and onto Waitemata Harbour prior to accelerating round North Head. This stronger band of breeze or 'river of wind' from the south west further complicated the light fickle winds from the west and made life difficult for Bennett and his race team.
Team New Zealand navigator Mike Drummond relayed to the race committee that his team were not keen to extend beyond the 1530 deadline to try and get a race away in the fickle wind. They can not afford to lose a race and understandably, were reluctant to race when there was a chance of the race becoming a lottery.
Brad Butterworth on Alinghi was slower to respond to Bennett's question 'to call it a day' and colluded at length with his weather team before getting back to the Race Officer.
The Alinghi weather team have had a good week after making a vital late call 'to go for the right' two minutes before the preparatory signal in race three. Headed by multiple 470 World Champion, kiwi Jon Bilger orchestrates seven weather boats to monitor the wind and acts as the voice link to Brad Butterworth and Murray Jones up until the five minute gun.
"It was very shifty out there today. We mainly saw the wind swinging between 210 and 255, 6 to 16 knots." As for getting a start away Bilger added "I guess we would have been happy to race, we always saw the wind filling in later in the day."