Shifting breeze causes havoc on second flight

A report after day one of the America's Cup racing in Trapani

Thursday September 29th 2005, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: Italy
There was sun and wind for the first day of the Trapani Louis Vuitton Acts, the two most important ingredients for successful racing. Add in a big spectator fleet, plenty of crowds on shore in the America's Cup Park and a few upsets on the race course, and the final regatta of the 2005 season is off to a grand start.

Early in the day, it appeared it might be difficult to start racing as there was no wind over the race area. But close to start time, the wind began to build and 12-knot southwesterly breezes allowed racing to get underway. Towards the end of the first flight however, the wind had eased and had become much more shifty and fluky and this was the dominant trait for the second flight of the day.

Luna Rossa was the star among the three Italian teams on the first day. Skipper Francesco de Angelis led his team to two wins over China Team, and then past the Sicilian favourites, +39 Challenge. The Sicilians had a more difficult start to the regatta, falling as well to Victory Challenge. The third Italian team, Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team had a day best forgotten, losing to K-Challenge and then sailing into a dreadful shift during its second match to fall by a large margin to the German team.

A beneficiary of the tricky conditions was the French K-Challenge team. Thierry Peponnet's squad had a hard-fought battle in the first flight to squeeze past Mascalzone-Capitalia and then took advantage when Emirates Team New Zealand sailed into a hole to slide past the Kiwis, earning an important victory over one of the top teams in the Cup. This is the type of start the French needed, after earning just three wins in the Malmö match races. At the end of the first day in Trapani, Peponnet already has two victories to his credit.

Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing came through the tricky conditions unscathed, while Victory Challenge looked much happier sailing SWE 63 again. These three teams join Luna Rossa and K-Challenge at the top of the table with two wins from two starts. The presence of tennis star Juan Carlos Ferrero as 18th man didn't help the Spanish, who didn't score a point on the first day.

Flight One

The most exciting match of the first flight was the mid-table battle between K-Challenge and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team. Interestingly, both these teams left their Kiwi tacticians ashore, with Cameron Appleton giving way to Sebastian Col on the French boat, and Hamish Pepper unlisted on the Italian boat. Early advantage went to K-Challenge off the start line - this was despite their primary winches breaking - and Thierry Peponnet held just a 10-second lead around the first windward mark, with the Italians close enough to keep the pressure on. The Italians never gave up and a 13-second gap at the finish shows just how evenly matched these teams were today.

Local team +39 Challenge harried Victory Challenge in the pre-start, but as the gun fired both teams got away perfectly on opposite tacks. A left-hand shift brought an early lead for Magnus Holmberg and the Swedish team, and after a number of tacks they managed to get across +39's bow. The Swedes held a four boatlength lead down the first run but around the leeward gate, Iain Percy seized the chance to split away from Holmberg. An early shift to the left brought +39 back on level terms, but only for a moment, as Victory found a right-hand advantage to eke out a small lead it would hold to the finish.

Jesper Bank and United Internet Team Germany looked unfazed by the might of BMW Oracle, and the Germans controlled the American team nicely during the pre-start. However, all their good work came undone when they crossed the start line fractionally too early, and as Bank spun the boat back towards the start, Chris Dickson sailed off to an easy lead he would never relinquish.

“Our coaches told us we had 20 metres per minute of tide running to the south and when we actually accelerated to hit the line we thought we were three, four or five seconds late for the start but we didn't count the current that sent us 10m further upwind," Bank explained later. "We had the information, we just didn't use it.”

Emirates Team New Zealand led Shosholoza off the line and was never seriously threatened by the South Africans. That said, with American Dee Smith hired in to call tactics, Shosholoza looked a tidy unit and kept the Kiwis' lead to a respectable 1 minute 49-seconds.

Desafío Español got the better of Alinghi in the pre-start, Karol Jablonski taking the fight to Ed Baird. Leading off the line by a boatlength, Spain held the advantage - but not for long as the pace of SUI 75 became too much for ESP 67, which this week is using a lighter and stiffer Version 5 mast. Alinghi was soon on level terms with Desafío and were leading by the windward mark. The Swiss gradually stretched away from the Spanish to win by 50 seconds.

Luna Rossa led China Team by two boatlengths off the start line, and any hopes of an upset disappeared when China's genoa broke just minutes later. By the time Pierre Mas's team had replaced the broken sail, the Italians had more than 10 boatlengths in hand. By the finish, Luna Rossa was over 700 metres ahead of China Team.

“Luna Rosa controlled us at the start and then on the first upwind leg the D-ring of the genoa broke," explained China Team's Jean Marie Dauris later. "The sails look better after the modifications we made to them and the crew work is getting better each day. We just have to keep working on crew work and making the boat go faster.” For Trapani two Chinese are sailing on board - Peirui Wang and Guangyi Liu.

Flight Two

In a flight full of upset, the biggest shock came in the match between K-Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand. Both teams started perfectly at opposite ends of the line on diverging tacks. However, Dean Barker soon took advantage of the right-hand side to take a comfortable three-boatlength lead up the first beat. NZL 82 extended her lead over FRA 60 to five boatlengths down the first run, but failed to shadow the French who gybed away to the left. When a massive windshift came through, Thierry Peponnet was perfectly placed to capitalise on the change while the Kiwis were left floundering. K-Challenge surged into the lead and was never challenged again.

“On the first leg, we had a tacking dual where ETNZ forced us toward the left side of the course," K_Challenge's skipper Thierry Peponnet explained later. "We did not give up and rounded the first mark close behind them. On the run, we chose to go for a major wind shift. ETNZ did not follow, which gave us the opportunity to pass.”

Dean Barker gave his explanation: “We wanted to be able to match them in the gybe. We went to gybe and there was a bit of a crew mistake and we were forced to gybe back. That forced us into a dying breeze that was already heading. We never wanted to be there. We can't blame our result on the conditions.”

Jesper Bank sailed another solid pre-start phase against Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team, putting United Internet Team Germany ahead of the Italians off the start line. A big right-hand shift brought further advantage to Germany who led by two boatlengths down the first run. Vasco Vascotto's team were still well in touch with the Germans, just 32-seconds behind at the leeward gate. But the Italians read the windshifts badly on the second beat and the Germans surged away to a lead of over 1 000 metres on the second beat, extending further on the run to finish well ahead.

For a while up the first beat, it was neck and neck between BMW Oracle Racing and Shosholoza, the South Africans getting good speed out of their Version 5 hull. But the Americans soon brought their experience to bear on the match, easing away from Geoff Meek's team to lead by 40-seconds at the first mark. Chris Dickson sailed a straightforward race to win by a comfortable margin.

“I’m just trying to make sure we don’t have the meltdowns, keep positive, go the right way, make sure we don’t do the stupid thing, eliminate mistakes, and get more aggressive on the race course," said Dee Smith, the South Africans latest hired gun. "You try to do the little things right, and the little things add into big things, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to teach the team, to get the little things right.”

A big left-hand shift at start time saw China Team seize an instant four-boatlength lead from Alinghi. It would prove to be a fleeting moment of glory for the French/Chinese team however as Ed Baird wound SUI 75 up to pace. Within minutes the Swiss had taken up their familiar place in front of the opposition and Alinghi cruised to victory over CHN 69.

“We wanted to start left of the Chinese, but the time we chose to come back into the line was just a little too early, so in order to gain some time I tacked over," said navigator Juan Vila later. "From that point, I made a couple of communication errors that led me to have a very bad start. After apologizing for my embarrassing mistake, I realized that I learned a lot about how we have to talk to each other in that situation, so it was actually very valuable and fortunately didn’t affect the outcome of the race for us.”

In an impromptu practice race two days ago, Victory Challenge beat their sparring partners Desafío Español in light winds. And so it proved today, with the Spanish failing to match the Swedish for pace. Magnus Holmberg picked up the first shift and stayed ahead the rest of the way.

In the Italian derby that completed the first day's racing, +39 and Luna Rossa scored perfect starts off opposite ends of the line. For a while these two raced side by side, with little to choose between them. But Luna Rossa looked more comfortable in the light winds, eking out a 36-second lead by the first mark. Francesco de Angelis's team kept it tight for the rest of the course and beat their compatriots by 1 minute 47 seconds.

Racing is scheduled to continue on Friday, with the forecast calling for Northwesterlies of 10 to 15 knots.

Results and Points Leaderboard

Flight One

Alinghi (SUI 75) beat Desafío Español (ESP 67), delta 0:50
Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA 74) beat China Team (CHN 69), delta 3:45
Victory Challenge (SWE 63) beat +39 Challenge (ITA 59), delta 1:13
BMW Oracle Racing (USA 76) beat United Internet Team Germany (GER 72), delta 2:12
K-Challenge (FRA 60) beat Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team (ITA 77), delta 0:13
Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL 82) beat Team Shosholoza (RSA 83), delta 1:49

Flight Two

Alinghi (SUI 75) beat China Team (CHN 69), delta 2:47
Victory Challenge (SWE 63) beat Desafío Español (ESP 67), delta 1:01
Luna Rossa Challenge (ITA 74) beat +39 Challenge (ITA 59), delta 1:47
United Internet Team Germany(GER72) beat Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia(ITA77), delta 9:46
K-Challenge (FRA 60) beat Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL 82), delta 1:45
BMW Oracle Racing (USA 76) beat Team Shosholoza (RSA 83), delta 1:40

More photos on the following pages...

Pos   Sailed Won Points
1 Alinghi  2 2 2
1 BMW ORACLE Racing 2 2 2
1 Luna Rossa 2 2 2
1 K-Challenge 2 2 2
1 Victory Challenge 2 2 2
6 Emirates Team New Zealand 2 1 1
6 United Internet Team Germany 2 1 1
8 Desafío Español   2 0 0
8 +39 Challenge 2 0 0
8 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team 2 0 0
8 Team Shosholoza 2 0 0
8 China Team 2 0 0

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