It has been 21-years since the world's greatest sailboat racers have graced the waters off Newport, but on Saturday afternoon, as if the calendar had been turned back two decades, a start gun fired.
And the Defender of the America's Cup, Team Alinghi, edged across the starting line just inches ahead of BMW ORACLE Racing in the first race of the UBS Trophy.
It was a spectacular day for racing on Narragansett Bay, with a nice 10-12 knot breeze powering the yachts when racing started at 14:10. Hundreds of spectator craft dotted the waters, and several thousand race fans lined the shore to watch these America's Cup Class yachts engage in battle. Fort Adams was a particularly popular spot to watch the racing, where the America's Cup itself was on display as an added attraction.
In the first match of the day, an enormous windshift nearly allowed a dramatic come-from-behind win for the BMW ORACLE Racing team, but Alinghi managed to hang on for an exciting victory.
The wind was stronger for the second match, and had shifted to the west, making for short legs, and close racing. In 15-19 knots, the Alinghi team turned in a second strong performance on the day to build a 2-0 in the Pro-Driver series for the UBS Trophy.
UBS Trophy - Pro-Driver Series - Race One Of 12
Alinghi Beats BMW Oracle Racing - Delta 0:07
Alinghi Leads The Pro-Driver Series 1-0
The action came fast and furious in this match, with Alinghi helmsman Peter HOLMBERG ducking away from a dial-up, and leading BMW ORACLE's Gavin BRADY in a series of close circles in the pre-start. The teams turned for the start line early, with Brady pushing Holmberg towards the line. Alinghi eventually tacked off and the boats split at the start, with Alinghi crossing the start line to the right, and one-second to the good.
BMW ORACLE immediately tacked to converge with Swiss boat, but couldn't cross, and Alinghi used its starboard tack advantage to force BMW ORACLE back towards the shoreline. As the boats closed with the coast, BMW ORACLE called for room to tack. The Umpires judged that Holmberg didn't respond quickly enough, and assessed Alinghi a penalty. Holmberg went on to lead by 24-seconds around the top mark, but was still carrying a penalty.
The BMW ORACLE squad then rounded the first mark too closely, hooking the ground tackle around its keel and rudder, and dragging the mark. The Umpires assessed a penalty for touching the mark, negating the earlier Alinghi foul, and BMW ORACLE lost several more boat lengths on the leg, slowed by the incident. At this point, it appeared Alinghi would romp away to a massive opening victory.
But the American team would be given a reprieve by the wind gods on the second leeward leg, when a massive windshift turned what should have been a run into a tight reach. The BMW ORACLE team spotted the shift and responded well, dropping its spinnaker nearly a minute before Alinghi did and then having a much quicker angle to sail for the mark. Brady nearly completely closed the gap, but in the end, Holmberg was able to cling to a narrow two-second lead around the bottom mark, and held on for a seven-second win.
UBS Trophy - Pro-Driver Series - Race Two Of 12
Alinghi Wins, BMW Oracle Racing Did Not Finish
Alinghi Leads The Pro-Driver Series 2-0
This was another thriller, with the west wind direction making for short legs and plenty of action through the entire race. The pre-start was remarkable for the extended dial-up sequence as Gavin BRADY on BMW ORACLE and Peter HOLMBERG on Alinghi danced with their boats head to wind for nearly four minutes. After drifting backwards for a short time, the boats came too close, and the Umpires assessed Brady, the windward boat, a penalty.
Brady recovered to win the starboard side of the start line, and he was able to protect the right side of the race course up the entire first beat leading around the first mark by 15-seconds. But Alinghi made a nice gain on the first run on the short course and closed to within eight seconds.
On the second beat, both boats sailed to the starboard tack layline early and nearing the top mark, Brady slowed, needing to engage Alinghi to attempt to offload the penalty. But he misjudged his speed, and slowed down too much, allowing Holmberg to simply roll over the BMW ORACLE boat to windward and make the pass. On the short run, Brady, trailing and still carrying a penalty, couldn't close the gap, and Alinghi sailed to its second consecutive win.
Quotes Of The Day
Peter HOLMBERG, Team Alinghi, on his penalty in the first race: The first penalty situation he lee bowed us but we were able to live there. He got to the shore and called for room. I told him to tack…that's my option under the Rules in that situation…we told him to tack, and then the burden is on me to keep clear. He turned very sharply, as I would have in his position, and we got too close, so penalty to us. It was a good penalty.
Ernesto BERTARELLI, Team Alinghi, on the absence of Russell COUTTS as helmsman for Alinghi today: We had Russell on the crew list. We had hoped that he would helm today. I asked him before we left the dock and again on the chase boat, but unfortunately he didn't want to helm. So we'll rely on Peter HOLMBERG and Jochen SCHUEMANN for the rest of the week…We wished we could have had Russell on board. He's a great sailor and has contributed tremendously to the team. When we realised he wasn't going to sail it was a disappointment, but I'm pleased we pulled together and did such a good job. It was a credit to everyone on board to be professional about it and win the races.
Jamie GALE, BMW ORACLE Racing, the composition of his team and the chemistry on board: We're just building on what we achieved in the Moët Cup last year in San Francisco. We've moved on and we've sailed in New Zealand. We didn't get the job done today but we kept it close. We're pretty familiar with each other in our crew and we just want to keep building and getting better.