Spectators ashore on vantage points like North Head and a fleet of waterborne watchers were treated to some close racing in winds that quickly built to 18 to 20 knots. The last race of the day was abandoned as the breeze went over 27 knots.
Ashore afterwards, Kiwi Mike SANDERSON who is Team Director for the British said, "Ben did a fantastic job, giving them [Alinghi] a little push. It made it pretty tough for them to get back behind the line." SANDERSON acknowledged the expertise of the two-time America's Cup champion team, pointing out that the Swiss have set the benchmark in sailing Version 5 Cup boats. "We've got a long way to go," he added.
The closest race of the day saw Italy's Damiani Italia Challenge overcome a determined challenge from France's Pataugas K-Challenge. Helmsman Francesco BRUNI (ITA) led at every mark although the leg changed at least once on the first weather leg. Sébastien COL (FRA), skipper of the French boat and the top-ranked match racer in the ISAF World Match Race Rankings, took the fight back to the Italians on the run, working into a position where the French were overtaking their opponents, only to be penalized for failing to respond to a luff.
A penalty played a role in the third race when China Team, sailed by Ian WILLIAMS (GBR), the reigning ISAF Match Racing World Champion, was flagged by the umpires for sailing too close to BMW Oracle Racing, skippered by Russell COUTTS (NZL). After that WILLIAMS did a good job of staying in contact with his opposition but a gennaker that blew out on the last run put paid to any hopes of redemption.
The last race of the day between South Africa's Shosholoza and Italy's Luna Rossa was initially delayed because of headfoil problems on the South African boat, and then abandoned because of strong winds. The race will be sailed tomorrow.
BARKER Beats COUTTS
The headline from Saturday's racing on Waitemata Harbor was Dean BARKER (NZL) getting the better of his former mentor and three-time America's Cup winning skipper COUTTS. Sailing the BMW Oracle Racing boat USA 87, BARKER led Emirates Team New Zealand to victory over the COUTTS-led BMW Oracle Racing American crew in USA 98 by 28 seconds in the first race of the day.
At a press conference in the Race Village afterwards and in front of a big public gallery, COUTTS was asked what it felt like when the apprentice beat the master. COUTTS answered dryly and with a smile, "It's happened before!" He added, "We would have been happier with a different result but they won that one pretty convincingly."
Saturday brought a shifty, gusty southwest breeze averaging 16 knots, delivering challenging racing conditions as the boats raced twice-around 1.7-mile legs from a start line off Rangitoto to a windward mark just off the Orakei Basin. The racers took a break after the third race while commercial ships and a barge moved through the area.
In the first race the promise inherent in the series was realized with a tough, tight race between old rivals Emirates Team New Zealand and BMW Oracle Racing. The Kiwis got the right after a pre-start battle and COUTTS fought back, rounding the first leeward mark only two seconds behind. COUTTS enjoyed a brief lead, only to see BARKER use the leverage of the favoured right hand side and kill any chances of an American victory.
Gavin BRADY, the Kiwi skipper of the Greek Challenge, and his mixed Greco-Kiwi crew had something to prove after suffering a penalty from a collision yesterday that put them in minus scoring territory. In the second race BRADY pounced on the South African boat Shosholoza in the pre-start and the umpires had landed a penalty on his opponents before the start gun had fired. Braady started in front and worked to a clear 56 second win over South Africa's Italian skipper and helmsman Paolo CIAN (ITA).
In similar fashion BRUNI at the helm of the new Italian team Damiani Italia Challenge put his stamp early on the third race. He shut out two-time World Match Racing Tour Champion WILLIAMS aboard China Team, forcing him above the start boat just before the gun. The Italians won by 1 minutes and 17 seconds in a race when the deltas were never less than one minute and the lead at times as much as 500 metres.
In the last race of the day, Alinghi won handsomely by 50 seconds over Virgin Islands match racer Peter HOLMBERG (ISV) at the wheel of the Italian boat Luna Rossa. HOLMBERG mistimed his last minute manoeuvres approaching the start line and in an effort to win clear air he conceded 40 metres to BAIRD on Alinghi as they crossed. The Swiss were never threatened again.
After three days of racing in Auckland, Emirates Team New Zealand and Damiani Italia Challenge lead Pool A on two points, whilst Alinghi and TEAMORIGIN head Pool B, also on two points.
Results at www.louisvuitton-pacificseries.com