Giant shifts, hellfire and brimstone

A lively day on the waters off Trapani

Monday October 3rd 2005, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: Italy
Dark, ominous skies, with squalls bringing rain and gusty winds, whipped the Mediterranean Sea into a frenzy off Trapani, signalling a change on Monday from the relatively idyllic weather on the weekend. The wind generally ranged from 12 to 17 knots, with gusts in the squalls in excess of 20 knots.

The second flight of races was delayed, allowing the weather front to pass through, and took place in shifty and gusty conditions under what were initially clearer skies. But the rain returned as the wind eased late in the afternoon.

The tough conditions wreaked havoc on the America's Cup teams, with breakages throughout the fleet. The South Africans were the first to fall, unable to raise a mainsail in time for their match against Alinghi.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking failure was on K-Challenge, in the middle of an extremely close race with Victory Challenge. Some trouble on the second beat saw the headsail fall to the deck and a man go up the mast in an effort to effect repairs. Meanwhile, the Swedes simply sailed away, closing to within a point of the French. The afternoon grew worse for the French when they pulled out of their second match against Luna Rossa.

In the second set of matches, Alinghi had an excellent start over Emirates Team New Zealand, going on to sail a much better race than the Kiwis, who never threatened in this heavyweight match.

Flight eight

Team Shosholoza was unable to hoist the mainsail prior to the match against Alinghi, handing a walkover victory to the Swiss defender.

The eagerly awaited Italian derby was spoiled when Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team started fractionally too early as they led Luna Rossa off the line. The grey boat sailed away unchallenged up the first beat. Luna Rossa's spinnaker exploded down the first run, allowing the red boat to steam up behind them and turn this match into a race again. However, Francesco de Angelis had his boat going fast up the next beat and any hopes of a Mascalzone turnaround faded when spinnaker problems saw Vasco Vascotto's team sail much of the last run with just a mainsail.

Both boats started perfectly, Desafío Español to the right of United Internet Team Germany, but the Spanish dominated the Germans in the early stages. The Germans ripped the jib up the first beat, and then had problems hoisting their spinnaker on the first run, dropping a long way behind. With no prospect of fixing the problems, Jesper Bank retired from the match, handing the win to Karol Jablonski's team.

+39 Challenge engaged in a dial-up with BMW Oracle, but the Italians failed to control their position and were given a penalty for coming too close to the American boat. The Americans went on to win easily although there was a red protest flag flying from the Italian boat, suggesting +39 had an argument to make with the Race Committee.

K-Challenge pre-started aggressively against Victory Challenge, and the French tactics appeared to pay off as they crossed the line half a boatlength ahead and to the right of the Swedes. Thierry Peponnet led up the first beat, but down the first run the French had spinnaker problems, allowing Magnus Holmberg to surf past FRA 60 and into a narrow lead. The boats peeled out of the leeward gate at the same time on diverging tacks, the Swedish winning the more favoured left-hand mark by virtue of holding the inside position on the approach. This was looking set for a classic duel up the second beat until genoa problems forced K-Challenge to turn away from the wind momentarily. The lashing holding the genoa to the halyard shackle had broken and it was necessary to lower the genoa and bowman Sean Couvreux had to be sent aloft to recover the halyard. It was then necessary to make a new lashing on the spot and rehoist. This took three minutes, but by the time they were going again, the Swedes had stretched to a 700-metre lead, and they went on to win this crucial match.

Emirates Team New Zealand accelerated faster off the line, although China Team did a great job of almost matching Kiwi pace. Things were looking straightforward for the Kiwis until a small hole appeared in the mainsail. A man was sent aloft to deal with the problem, and NZL 82 came home a comfortable distance ahead, but with China Team sailing a strong race in tough conditions.

Flight nine

K-Challenge was so late entering the start box that Luna Rossa was able to hand the French an easy penalty on a clear port/starboard incident. Problems with her jib put the French team out of the race just 30 seconds after crossing the start line, leaving the Italians to sail all the way round the course in isolation. K-Challenge later reported structural problems, and they made an early decision to head back in for overnight repairs, in a bid to get ready for Tuesday's matches.

Dimitri Nicolopoulos, Coordinator of K-Challenge's Design Team, gave his view on what had happened: “FRA 60 is an old boat and is starting to show her age after the difficult wind and sea conditions we’ve seen in Malmö and Trapani. We will thus make repairs to her hull so we can be back on the starting line tomorrow.” The team have not said exactly what the structural problems are.

+39 Challenge gained control of the pre-start to lead Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team by two boatlengths across the line. Down the first run the blue team led the red team by six boatlengths, with the wind having shifted so far that they port-reached all the way to the leeward gate. +39 extended its lead for most of the rest of the race, whilst down the final run Mascalzone saw its second spinnaker of the day explode.

Desafío Español did well in the pre-start against BMW Oracle and appeared they might be able to bounce Chris Dickson off on to the other tack. Dickson stuck to his guns however, with USA 76 looking much steadier through the lumpy swell while ESP 67's bow smashed through the waves. The Americans began to roll over the green boat, sailing to a 34-second lead by the first mark. USA 76 extended its advantage the rest of the way.

"In our pre-match discussions this morning we talked about how Spain were good in the pre-starts, so we expected a battle there and we got one. Our boatspeed was excellent," said BMW Oracle Racing navigator, Peter Isler. "Coming off the line just to windward of the Spanish team was a good example of the edge we have come to count on upwind in a breeze and rough water. We were able to live there and extend into the lead. Even when the wind went a bit lighter, we had good speed upwind. “The wind was very unstable, but that makes it fun once you have established a solid lead because you can stay in phase with the shifts and make gains. We were also going well downwind. We have found that the waves off Trapani are big enough that you can pump the sails and catch a wave every now and then, which was something we did not see in Auckland, New Zealand in 2003. It’s fun when it happens.”

Team Shosholoza had Victory Challenge tied up in knots before the start, but an excruciatingly slow tack just before the gun allowed the Swedish to accelerate through South African dirty air and out the other side. Magnus Holmberg's Swedish team played the shifts well to take an eight-boatlength lead by the first mark. Victory Challenge looked very comfortable around the course and were never challenged by Shosholoza.

An aggressive pre-start in the heavyweight bout between Emirates Team New Zealand and Alinghi saw both boats late back to the start line, but the Swiss accelerated much better and led the Kiwis off the line by more than a boatlength.

“Our game plan was: must have the right," explained Peter Holmberg, on board today in Jochen Schuemann's strategist role. " The wind had shifted right so the committee boat end was heavily favoured and we also thought there’d be more shifts to the right. On the entry because of that favoured end side, we thought they were going to cross us, but in that much breeze it’s not a bad thing to let them and gybe right on their tail. So we were feeling pretty good about it all. Several circles, and they set up to lead back and we were happy with that because we wanted to be the pusher rather than the leader and Ed counted down the time to kill and at a certain time we put our bow down and they had to react and go bow down with us. What we were looking for was to get to that right hand layline so they couldn’t close us out and there was a little mistake on their part, had they turned up about 5 seconds earlier it would have made our job a little harder. A little blunder on Emirates Team New Zealand’s part but a good job on ours to get what we wanted - a good job by Ed and by the navigator.”

Dean Barker rolled into a down-speed tack right after starting and a short tacking duel ensued, but Ed Baird maintained the early advantage to lead around the first mark by 28 seconds. The Kiwis chased hard down the run, but all that good work came unravelled in an uncharacteristic boathandling error, when a corner of red spinnaker caught the water just as they were exiting the leeward mark. The sail was whipped out of the forehatch and after a brief battle to get it under control Emirates Team New Zealand elected to jettison the sail over the side. But the damage was done and Alinghi now held a commanding lead, and they sailed to a surprisingly easy victory.

China Team and United Internet Team Germany sailed off the line on opposite tacks, but with Pierre Mas claiming the favoured right-hand side of the course. China sailed a very solid race and stretched away from the Germans. Jesper Bank used the shifting wind to fight back to within three boatlengths of the Chinese up the final beat, and pulled past the red boat on the final run to the finish. Despite two losses today, China Team acquitted themselves admirably in some tough conditions.

"We got a good start on the second race on the favourable side with UIT Germany," said China Team's Philippe Mourniac. "Every time they tacked we tacked to take their wind. We stayed ahead of them until the last leg. They gybed right after they raised the spinnaker and we waited to late. They headed straight to mark and passed us.”

The final two flights in Act 8 are scheduled for tomorrow.

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