Fantastic racing conditions dominated the waters off Valencia on the first weekend of competition at the host city of the 32nd America's Cup.
Stronger winds, clear blue skies, and a record-breaking schedule of 12 America's Cup matches made for an exciting day on the Gulf of Valencia and the local spectator fleet numbered into the hundreds. The 15 to 23 knot West winds, blowing offshore, proved hard on the boats, with many equipment problems spread across the fleet. The offshore breeze was also very challenging for the afterguards, with numerous shifts and puffs making for a tactically difficult race course.
There were two standout Matches of the Day on Saturday - a couple of tremendous duels, one amongst two teams further down the points table, and one match between two of the 'big four'.
While many observers may not have rated the duel between Team Shosholoza and K-Challenge based on their respective forms so far this week, in the event, the match itself was spectacular for all the right reasons. After a big windshift just before the start gun, K-Challenge appeared to be in a strong position, starting first, and steaming up the course while Shosholoza struggled to cross the line, albeit on the side the windshift favoured. K-Challenge skipper Thierry PEPONNET used the power of the right-hand side of the course to maintain a slim advantage up the first beat and led around the top mark by 16-seconds.
But Shosholoza skipper Geoff MEEK and tactician Andy GREEN, showing great faith in their crew, called for a gybe-set of the spinnaker - a difficult move for an experienced crew in the gusty 18-knot wind, let alone a new team still learning the ropes. But their faith was rewarded, and the crew performed a flawless set, catching Peponnet and his team off guard. The French immediately gybed to cover, but it was a hasty call, and poorly executed, and the South Africans were able to make the pass on the downwind leg.
At the final windward mark, the South Africans were up by 28-seconds and appeared to have the race sewn up. But K-Challenge made an early gybe, and found a favourable shift and stronger pressure on their side of the course. Shosholoza could only watch as their hard-earned lead dwindled away, metre by metre. With K-Challenge clearly more powerful, with an enormous bow wave breaking over the deck, the finish line came too late for South Africa, and the French team earned a narrow five-second victory.
Late in the afternoon, Luna Rossa prevailed over BMW ORACLE in a spectacular race where the American team couldn't start or finish properly, but sailed a tremendous match nonetheless. BMW ORACLE helmsman Gavin Brady started prematurely and by the time he had restarted, Luna Rossa, with James Spithill on the wheel, w as off and running with a 46-second lead. But right away, Brady and his team began chipping away, and by the top mark they'd reduced the margin to 17-seconds. At the final windward mark, they still trailed by 21-seconds but, like K-Challenge in the earlier match, with an early gybe they immediately began to soak up the margin between themselves and the Italians.
The race appeared to finally be BMW ORACLE's to lose a moment later when the spinnaker on Luna Rossa burst in the strong wind, and the American team surged ahead. But the Italians set a replacement immediately and began the chase. As the boats approached the finish line, with Luna Rossa to leeward, both boats appealed to the Umpires that their opponents weren't sailing a proper course, but they found no sympathy. Three boat lengths from the finish mark, Luna Rossa was obliged to gybe, to give BMW ORACLE room to squeeze on the correct side of the finish mark - USA 71 had apparently won the race by two-seconds. But t he Americans dragged their spinnaker sheet over the pin, hitting the mark, and incurring a penalty, thus handing the race to Luna Rossa. It was a spectacular conclusion to a hard fought match.
The heavy conditions meant that five of the 12 matches involved just one boat, with one team either retiring after the start, or unable to finish the match due to equipment problems. Nevertheless, it was a day of memorable matches, and the newer teams certainly had plenty of 'educational' moments on the race course in the tough conditions.
At the conclusion of Round Robin One, Luna Rossa, making its debut at the Valencia Louis Vuitton Act, held the honour at the top of the points table, equal on points with Emirates Team New Zealand, but ahead by virtue of winning their match earlier in the week. Helmsman James Spithill continues to have outstanding starts, giving his team every opportunity to win from early in each match. Team Alinghi and BMW ORACLE Racing were in unfamili ar territory, further down the table, each with two losses in the opening round.
At the conclusion of racing on Saturday, the Italians continue to lead, while further down the table, the two French teams, LE DEFI and K-Challenge, each sit on three wins, with LE DEFI ahead having won both matches between the two rivals.
Racing continues on Sunday with Flights 2 and 3 of the second Round Robin. Racing is scheduled to start at 12:40..
Louis Vuitton Act 2 - Provisional Results and Leaderboard
Round Robin One - Flight 7
Match 1 USA 71 beat SUI 64, delta 1:15
Match 2 NZL 81 beat FRA 69, delta 4:15
Match 3 FRA 57 beat RSA 48, delta 0:05
Match 4 ITA 74 won, ITA 59 did not finish
Round Robin One - Flight 4
Match 3 SUI 64 beat RSA 48
Match 4 ITA 74 won, FRA 69 did not finish
Match 1 NZL 81 beat ITA 59, delta 1:14
Match 2 USA 71 won, FRA 57 did not start
Round Robin Two - Flight 1
Ma tch 3 SUI 64 won. ITA 59 did not start
Match 4 ITA 74 beat USA 71 delta 4:45
Match 1 NZL 81 won, RSA 48 did not start
Match 2 FRA 69 beat FRA 57 delta 1:03
Team Name: (Points) Matches Won / Sailed
Luna Rossa (7) 7 8
Emirates Team New Zealand (7) 7 8
Team Alinghi (6) 6 8
BMW ORACLE Racing (5) 5 8
LE DEFI (3) 3 8
K-Challenge (3) 3 8
+39 (1) 1 8
Team Shosholoza (0) 0 8