The French ALEPH team dolled out the first defeat to the hosts Emirates Team New Zealand in the only action on a weather-curtailed day at the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Auckland.
Menacing black clouds hung over the Waitemata Harbour at the start of day six of racing at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta today and settled over host team Emirates Team New Zealand while allowing a ray of sunshine for the struggling French sailing team.
Strong and gusty southwest winds forced a cancellation to the day's competition but not before previously unbeaten Emirates went down in defeat to France's seventh-placed ALEPH.
Milder weather is expected tomorrow and racing will resume with flight seven, the last of the round robin. With an earlier start scheduled, the remaining matches of today's abandoned flight six will be squeezed into the schedule tomorrow, or on subsequent days.
Four teams crowding the top of the points table were slated to square off today. Britain's TEAMORIGIN, placed second-equal, was circling in the start box against Sweden's third-placed Artemis with just two minutes to the start when the race committee signalled a postponement. The Italian teams Azzurra and Mascalzone Latino, each placed second-equal, were waiting in the wings for the third race of the day.
The Synergy Russian Sailing Team, winless in Auckland despite a good race record in Nice last November, was scheduled to race the German and French All4One, which is the other team in second-equal place.
After sending the race boats back to the dock, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron race committee, headed by American Principal Race Officer Peter "Luigi" Reggio, remained on station monitoring the weather conditions until 17:00 before cancelling for the day.
Emirates weather man Roger "Clouds" Badham had cautioned this morning that early strong winds would gust over acceptable limits later in the day and curtail racing but the first match started without incident in 19-20 knots from the southwest with gusts to 23.
The race featured two old team mates, each with a good read on the foibles of the other. In 2003 before the America's Cup in Auckland, Emirates Team New Zealand's skipper Dean Barker
(NZL) trained with ALEPH's skipper Bertrand Pacé
(FRA) as the B-Boat helmsman. Later Pacé was Barker's tactician.
At the five-minute gun Barker led deep into the start box, pursued closely by Pacé through a series of circles, before they broke away and lined up to start on starboard with the French boat to leeward and bow out. Barker, who wanted the right, got it, but was forced to tack away into an unfavourable shift.
The Frenchman led by two boat lengths at the first cross and continued to extend. "We wanted to play the shifts but we had to be patient," Pacé said.
Emirates strategist Adam Beashel
said afterwards "it was one of the worst races we've sailed in a long time."
Beashel explained: "We were on the wrong side of the first two shifts of the first beat. ALEPH did a great job sticking to their game plan and staying in the left and doing well out of that and putting a bit a pressure on us. Then, unfortunately in our gybe-set hoist, we had a little tear in the chute. It was touch and go whether it would hold.
"Just a minute or two later it was a bit too big and the whole thing blew out and there was a little bit of a hiccup too with the pole and that ended up in the water."
Observers rated it as a moderate to major hiccup. Emirates bowman Stuart Bettany went overboard too and joined the pole in the water as the firedrill on deck intensified. Extra crew rushed forward to retrieve Bettany, while others restrained the pole, which was still secured to the mast, to stop it sweeping aft and becoming the fourth snapped pole of the series.
Prevented by the tangle from hoisting a second spinnaker, the Kiwi team finished the run under jib and then began to steadily close with the French boat over the remaining two legs. "We fortunately picked up a little on the second beat on some shifts to the right of them, and we were able to put a bit of pressure back on, but they just made it pretty simple down the last run."
Race One: ALEPH def. Emirates Team New Zealand, 00:38 - The day belonged to Pacé as he took the fight to his former sparring partner. Barker fought for the right side and got it, helped no doubt because Pacé wanted the left. After multiple circling duels they broke away and came to the line on starboard, with ETNZ in the weather berth. The French boat was bow forward and Barker was quick to tack away. The Kiwis trailed into the mark on port, five boat lengths astern. Disaster struck as they trimmed their spinnaker to chase the French. The clew exploded out of the chute, taking metres of sail cloth with it and the Kiwis were forced to dump the halyard and jettison the sail, leaving their chase boat to pick up the debris. They lost about 100 metres, finishing the first run under jib and then clawed back distance on the remaining two legs to finish a very respectable 38 seconds astern.
(After flight six, partial)
1. Emirates Team New Zealand, 5-1, 5 pts
2. All4One, 3-2, 3 pts
2. Azzurra, 3-2, 3 pts
2. Mascalzone Latino Audi Team, 3-2, 3 pts
2. TEAMORIGIN, 3-2, 3 pts
6. Artemis, 2-3, 2 pts
7. ALEPH Sailing Team, 2-4, 1 pts *
8. Synergy Russian Sailing Team, 0-5, 0 pts
* Penalty point deducted
Full results, video, photos and more at www.louisvuittontrophy.com