HomeAmerica’s CupAMERICA’S CUP : OFFICIAL PRACTICE DAY IN VILANOVA I LA GELTRÚ

AMERICA’S CUP : OFFICIAL PRACTICE DAY IN VILANOVA I LA GELTRÚ

There is simply no spectacle on earth, and certainly nothing like it in the sport of sailing, than the America’s Cup. With the famous and revered trophy on stage at the Opening Press Conference, suddenly the sailors became focussed. It all became real as the sailors, the most outstanding of their generation, showed their game-faces and the journey to what is one of the ultimate sporting trophies in the world began.

The early morning calm brought, bang on cue, a veering south-westerly from 195° delivering 7-9 knots of breeze atop a crystal, twinkling, early-afternoon light chop at 0.3m with temperatures nudging 28 degrees. The sailors would probably wish for more wind, and they may well get it over the coming days, but for the start of the first Preliminary Regatta of this America’s Cup cycle, it was perfect. In sailing there’s plenty of folklore around practice races – winning is often seen as a precursor of demise – but for the professionals of the America’s Cup, the folklore was firmly parked to one side. Gloves were off as the warning signal started and for the first time since March 2021, racing in the Cup got underway.

© Alex Carabi / 37 America’s Cup

Race 1: The tale of the race was ‘win the start, win the race’ and as Pete Burling led a pack of boats back to the line from the starboard marker buoy with 30 seconds to go, the line opened up for him and he could reach down to the far end of the line and start, unopposed at full tilt. With great time on distance, Emirates Team New Zealand snatched the initial lead and with clear air could dominate the middle and let the others settle. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli initially offered the early challenge, but the surprise package was Orient Express Racing Team who elected to start on port tack and headed out to the right hand side of the course where the pressure was building. NYYC American Magic muscled into the top four and elected to mix things up at the top mark.

The Kiwis rounded first at the starboard marker with Luna Rossa second and Orient Express third, whilst American Magic headed out to the port marker buoy on a good layline and split the run. Hedging their bets, Emirates Team New Zealand kept an eye on the fleet down the middle of the run as Tom Slingsby having initially gone far right (looking down the course) gybed and headed to the far left.

Again, at the bottom mark, Slingsby and Goodison rolled the dice and as Burling and Outteridge rounded the port marker, American Magic rounded the starboard with Luna Rossa taking the port gate. Orient Express came off their foils dramatically and dropped out of both the podium places and the race.

The second beat was a marked by a great boat-on-boat tussle between the Italians and Americans with American Magic holding a slender lead and covering tenaciously whilst Emirates Team New Zealand started to pick their windshifts with a loose cover and casually stretched their lead.

A poor layline call by the Italians at the final windward mark saw them miss the port gate and forced a tack back to the starboard rounding buoy thus releasing American Magic to try and close the gauge to the Kiwis. With a massive lead, and the Kiwis able to pretty much pick their puffs down the final run, it was never going to be a gap that could be broached, and Emirates Team New Zealand scored the first win of the 37th America’s Cup cycle with consummate ease.

American Magic were second, Luna Rossa third, Alinghi Red Bull Racing who bettered INEOS Britannia on the second beat having been behind after a poor start, were fourth and the British ended up in fifth. The French managed to get going again and will be scored sixth. Fabulous opening race where the sailing rich got richer.

Race 2: Well we didn’t see this one coming. In marginal foiling conditions as the wind eased to around 7 knots, Orient Express Racing Team showed brilliant racecraft to stay on their foils as the countdown hit zero, approaching high on a reach above the line and came smoking off the start-line at the pin end and stole an enormous lead whilst the others struggled to get pace. The French hit the left boundary and tacked across to cover the fleet who had all played the right where the perceived better breeze was and looked for all the world like they were in full control of the race. Luna Rossa gave chase with Emirates Team New Zealand just behind, but half way up the beat, the French race was done when a poor exit on a tack to starboard saw them come off the foils after missing the power-up pump on their mainsail. It was fatal for their race and try as they could the French just couldn’t get started again and watched the fleet sail through. Frustrating times after a terrific piece of initial sailing.

Luna Rossa and ETNZ kept well clear of the wallowing French and headed out to the left boundary with the Kiwis forcing the Italians off after going into their super high mode. The Kiwis kept on and then tacked back to port as the Italians clicked into a tiny bit more breeze and held to cross with Nathan Outteridge, port helm on ETNZ, doing a sensational VMG duck on Luna Rossa and gaining vital position to their right for the starboard advantage on the return. Exactly as they expected, when the two boats converged again, it was ETNZ with the advantage, and they face-slammed the Italians on the layline to the starboard marker. From there on it was a masterclass of light air precision and power generation from Andy Maloney and Blair Tuke, the Kiwi trimmers, whilst Nathan Outteridge and Pete Burling just picked their angles on the pressure. By the leeward mark, the Kiwis were hundreds of metres ahead and rounded up to a second beat where they would lap the back-markers still struggling with flight. This was front-running at its finest and by the final top mark, ETNZ rounded the starboard marker and opted for the left-hand side of the course, playing the puffs, keeping the power on and scoring another outstanding win.

Luna Rossa crossed in second, astern by a distance, whilst confusion reigned with American Magic seemingly stopping mid-way down the run and being passed by INEOS Britannia.

Race 3: A request to delay the start as American Magic fought to clear a line from their foils was denied and the starting sequence got underway with a reduced fleet. Taking advantage of the lack of traffic, Emirates Team New Zealand and INEOS Britannia opted for a port tack start with ben Ainslie hitting the committee boat end bang on the gun with ETNZ up to windward. Luna Rossa opted for a starboard tack start and absolutely aced it with power and pace, heading out to the left-hand boundary. The Kiwis spotted the Italian threat quickly and tacked up the middle of the course to give chase whilst the British held on to the right-hand boundary and ultimately a poor tack in marginal 6-7 knot conditions saw them fall back.

The race now was almost a match-race with Luna Rossa in the commanding position. Having gone out to the left boundary, a complete change of thought took the Italians almost out to the right boundary and by the final third of the beat, the gap was closing at an alarming rate.

A slow tack to the starboard gate at mark 1 whilst the Kiwis held on a beautiful layline to the port gate saw the gap close further but the Italians were in the lead down a split run which by the leeward gate saw ETNZ take the right hand starboard gate (looking down the course) whilst the Italians rounded the port gate and headed out to the right side of the course (looking upwind). Almost immediately the Kiwis looked to have seized the lead whilst behind, a remarkable recovery from American Magic saw them overtake INEOS Britannia on the downwind leg after the British spun out and crashed off their foils on a gybe mid-leg.

A superb windward leg of real pace and control in the light, saw the Kiwis extend into a lead and once these ultimate front-runners were ahead, they were never getting beaten. A split gate decision at the final windward mark kept things interesting with the Kiwis going to the starboard gate, the Italians taking the port and for a moment it looked like Luna Rossa had gained a little.

However, Emirates Team New Zealand stuck to the process, trimmed accurately and kept left to left middle, before calling a brilliant layline on starboard gybe into the finish line to score three wins from three races. Luna Rossa made it three second places from three whilst American Magic will be hoping that the opening practice racing is where all their bad luck for the regatta has been expended. Fantastic recovery from the American team who are super rapid and a real threat in this regatta.

 

 

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