Emirates Team New Zealand came within one second of elimination from the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta today but kept Kiwi hopes alive with a brilliant finish.
Tied 1-1, the host team will sail the third race of their semi-final with Italy's Azzura tomorrow.
The other semi-final went to three races, with the Italian team Mascalzone Latino Audi, representing the Challenger of Record for the America's Cup, defeating Sweden's Artemis in close competition.
The southwesterly breeze was lighter than preceding days, but shifts and lulls and delays in starting several races did not prevent the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Race Committee and PRO Peter Reggio from starting five of the six scheduled races. They tried for a sixth race but abandoned it at 19:15 in a fading breeze and the fading light of dusk.
Although it was Friday in Auckland and a business day, a respectable-sized spectator grew in size as the afternoon wore on.
For its last two races, Artemis carried a distinguished 18th man. John Bertrand, the Aussie skipper who in 1983 lifted the America's Cup from the clutches of the New York Yacht Club, rode on the stern of the Swedish boat, forbidden from offering advice but clearly enjoying the experience.
(USA), skipper of Artemis, was philosophical about his team's dismissal. "We're assembling a new team here, and we've got a lot of America's Cup experience on board, and we need to get that all glued together," he said. "We made a huge step forward here in Auckland, and we're really happy with how we sailed."
Asked about the quality of umpire calls, he added, "I think the umpires actually made good calls there, I think we slightly tacked in the last start and it was a fair call. All in all, the umpires are doing a good job and that's part of the race.
(NZL), tactician for Emirates Team New Zealand described the penalty before the start that almost cost them their second race against Azzurra as "a bit of an unforced one." He said, "we were in a real strong position, and we looked to gybe with them, but as they gybed, our jib just hit their sticks [wands] as we bore away. We were able to keep control of the start. It was a bit of a trade off.
After carrying their penalty all around the course, Emirates unloaded it on the finish line in a tight, foaming turn around the pin end as Azzurra bore down on them. The Kiwi boat had a 135-metre lead and Davies grinned as he estimated they needed a margin of 134 metres to pull off the win.
"That would be our absolute limit," he said. "We couldn't have done it with any less. It's always pretty hard to slow down and try to do that. We talked about it at the top mark and we thought we were rounding in quite good pressure with a chance to extend, which we did. We sailed really good from there on."
(USA), tactician on the winning Mascalzone Latino Audi, noted an extra layer in the competition between his boat and Artemis. "Terry Hutchinson and Gavin Brady are neighbours in Annapolis, so there was quite a bit on the line, more than we all know."
Race One: Mascalzone Latino Audi def. Artemis, 00:11 - Trailing all the first leg after losing the start, Gavin Brady
(NZL) and Mascalzone Latino Audi, rode a big right wind shift into the lead as they closed the top mark. Paul Cayard
's (USA) Swedish Artemis took the fight back to the Italians on the first run, pressing bow to stern into the gate, but ML Audi overcame a messy chute takedown to lead the rest of the way. "It was a split breeze up there," said Cayard who had benefitted from left shifts throughout the beat. "He had a lot more rightie than we did. It's hard to do two tacks in 25 seconds in these boats so you've got to live it out. We've been living and dying by the shifts all week. All the teams have and so far it's worked good for us but, you know, we lost one."
Race Two: Azzurra def. Emirates Team New Zealand, 00:18 - The host team sailed a brilliant first leg, winning the start and controlling Italy's Azzurra through a punishing 18-tack duel on the 1.3-mile leg that took both boats above the mark. Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies
(NZL) had the scenario planned as they got closer. "We're gonna park it up here," he said. Park it they did, and in the subsequent head to wind luffing match the Italians were penalized for failing to keep clear. Emirates led around the top mark by 21 seconds but Azzurra came at them again. Francesco Bruni
(ITA) tacked hard around the leeward mark and got out to the left of Kiwi skipper Dean Barker
(NZL) and into an advantageous left shift that put him ahead. Closing the weather mark, Bruni had a 200 metre lead and the margin for a 360 degree turn that cancelled his penalty. The Italians still led by 26 seconds at the top mark and were never seriously threatened.
Race Three: Artemis def. Mascalzone Latino, 00:21 - Pushed over the line early by Terry Hutchinson
(USA) on Artemis, Brady was forced to restart and trailed by nearly five boat lengths just minutes after the start. Hutchinson had pounced with just 30 seconds remaining in the pre-start. Both boats were leading in on parallel starboard tack courses with plenty of separation when Artemis bore off and hooked under ML Audi pushing them up and over the line. Hutchinson hit the line at the gun, with speed, while Brady went back. Artemis was out to a five boat-length lead and never surrendered it.
Race Four: Mascalzone Latino def Artemis, 00:24 - It was pay-back time for Brady in this pre-start. Thirty seconds before the gun, he risked a close quarter tack on port, before tacking back onto starboard and squeezing Hutchinson above the starboard layline. Artemis tacked away and the umpires flew a blue penalty flag for failing to keep clear. From out to the right of the committee boat, Mascalzone Latino Audi led back in, a boat length and a half clear ahead and with the penalty advantage. On the run, a gybe set by Artemis put her on the right side of the course downwind and Hutchinson drew level, only for Brady to again hold him out above the leeward mark. Artemis got to the mark with a 270 deg. turn that negated the penalty but the third mark delta was 34 seconds and ML Audi had her berth in the finals.
Race Five: Emirates Team New Zealand def. Azzurra, 00:01 - Saddled with a penalty before the start and facing elimination from the series, the host team sailed out to a 135 metre lead over four legs and nailed a heart-stopping victory by one second as they completed a turn to offset it. After a relatively sedate dialup, Azzurra ran off deep into the start box on port and as she rounded up, Emirates Team New Zealand turned inside her with protest flag flying. It was green flagged. Azzurra bore off, Emirates turned to follow and her bow touched the safety wand on Azzurra's stern. The umpire's flag went up. Beginning the beat, the Kiwi boat crossed ahead of the Italians on port with about eight metres clearance and then slowly extended over the following legs.
Full results, video, photos and more at www.louisvuittontrophy.com