It was a tricky afternoon with 10 to 14 knot northwesterlies churning up the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea for the first set of matches. Tough windshifts and gusty conditions made this a difficult day for the afterguards, and with the wind increasing to 15 to 18 knots by the end of the day, with heavy swells, the pressure extended to the front of the boat as well.
The sea state started out slightly more benign than on Friday, but a considerable swell still lingered. Racing started on time on the Northern race course, tucked up near the Egadi Islands, but extremely shifty breezes closer to shore caused a postponement on the Southern race course.
Two of the Italian teams suffered early on Saturday, with Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team forced to retire from its match against Emirates Team New Zealand just moments after crossing the start line. The problem - a damaged jib track. The team was able to effect repairs and won its match in the second flight of the day.
For +39 Challenge, the problem was a broken boom, but the team had the advantage of a long postponement on its race course. This allowed +39 to race against China Team. The final set of three races started just ahead of the time deadline, with Alinghi defeating Luna Rossa. The Swiss defender is the only unbeaten team this evening.
Emirates Team New Zealand won this start, and shortly after the gun Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia bore away and retired from the race with a broken jib track. The Kiwis sailed the course without incident to collect the point.
Shosholoza very nearly managed to shut United Internet Team Germany's Jesper Bank out at the start. As it was, Germany escaped South African clutches and made a clean, but slow start. Bank was forced to tack away to the right, while Ian Ainslie continued on starboard tack into better wind. By the windward mark Germany had closed the gap to just 11 seconds, but a slow spinnaker hoist allowed the South Africans to break away. But then Shosholoza's spinnaker pole snapped. Germany was closing the gap rapidly when a big windshift turned the run into a tight reach, enabling the South Africans to maintain a slim lead at the leeward gate. Up the next leg, Germany played the shifts well to stay close. South Africa led around the final mark by just 8 seconds, and executed a perfect gybe-set. Spinnaker problems on both boats made for an exciting final run, with the outcome in doubt until the very end.
K-Challenge sailed an untidy pre-start against BMW Oracle, and Chris Dickson seized the advantage, leading by a boatlength off the start line. The American boat looked faster all the way round the track and went on to win by a comfortable margin. "Our start against BMW Oracle Racing was not good," admitted the French team's strategist Tanguy Cariou. "They are faster and we have been having some difficulties controlling the boat under the weather conditions we’ve seen over the past two days - the strong wind and waves. The start left us with few choices for the remainder of the race."
Victory Challenge faced a tough match against Alinghi, made even harder when the Swedish broke the start line a fraction too early. They returned to restart while the Swiss sailed away unhindered. The Swedes maintained good pace around the track as the breeze built to 20 knots, but the Swiss won without trouble, crossing 1 minute 14 seconds ahead.
A long postponement suited +39 Challenge perfectly, because the Italians broke another boom before the start today. The shore crew rushed a replacement out to the blue and orange boat, and +39 were ready for battle against China Team. +39 were leading by over 200 metres after the first lap of the course when disaster struck. Crewman Andrew Simpson was thrown overboard during a late and sloppy spinnaker drop. Because the crewman was recovered by an Umpire boat, +39 was given a penalty. This was academic to the result as by now Pierre Mas and China Team had swept to a 600-metre lead over the Italians which they would hold through the finish for their first win.
“We wanted the right hand side of the course so it that was good at the start but we just didn't have full speed," described China Team helm Pierre Mas later. "We kept fairly close to them until the downwind leg where we couldn't jibe for a long time because of technical issues. We lost a lot of ground because of that. When +39 ran over their spinnaker we passed around them just as we were rounding the leeward mark. We just stayed conservative after that. During the races we had to switch a crewmember because of a injured finger. We couldn't sail the next planned match because of an technical incident.”
Desafío Español sailed a very messy pre-start and were late back to the line while Luna Rossa started much more smoothly. The Italians seized an early lead and sailed away from the Spanish, winning by 1 minute 36 seconds.
It was a fairly uneventful pre-start between Luna Rossa and Alinghi and both teams got off the line cleanly. The Swiss brought their usual speed advantage to bear on the Italians and they led by four boatlengths at the first mark. Around the leeward mark, Luna Rossa were still in touch with Alinghi, just 26 seconds behind, but then the Italians' outhaul broke and they fell further behind. Luna Rossa lowered their mainsail and retired from the race, handing an easy victory to the flawless defenders.
It was a tense pre-start between +39 and Desafio Espanol, with Karol Jablonski almost closing Iain Percy out at the committee boat end of the start. But +39 squeezed through the gap and accelerated over the top of Spain. The Italian boat pulled out a small lead to round 16 seconds ahead at the first mark. The Spanish hoisted smartly but then blew out their spinnaker, although their recovery was impressive, with a replacement up and flying less than a minute later. A poor leeward rounding from the Italians put the Spanish well back in contention. Just as the race was getting close, the Spanish genoa exploded at the head, and +39 were able to post their first race win on home waters.
Victory Challenge collected a point when China Team failed to start this match due to mast problems. The Swedes started, and sailed for the required 10 minutes, before being awarded the win.
Chris Dickson won the right-hand side at the start, and sailed BMW Oracle to an early lead over Emirates Team New Zealand. Around the first mark, the Americans were ahead, but the Kiwis, looking faster in the windy, wavy conditions downwind, surfed past Dickson's team and claimed the inside advantage around the left-hand leeward mark. BMW Oracle rounded less than a boatlength behind and a fierce tacking duel ensued.
By the top mark, BMW Oracle had regained the upper hand, with the Kiwis very close behind. Dean Barker held a high line out of the mark and worked to get between the Americans and the wind. Again showing superior downwind pace, the Kiwis surfed past the black and white boat. But Dickson never gave up and threw multiple gybes at Barker in the closing stages of the race. The American aggression very nearly paid off as they closed rapidly on the Kiwis, but NZL 82 squeaked across the finishing line ahead, with Dickson's men just three seconds behind.
“We took a lot of positives from the race," commented Dickson later. "Our weather calls were great, our afterguard got the tactics spot on, we won the start, we had excellent upwind speed and we out-tacked them twice. We were disappointed we did not come away with the point. We felt we had a 90% good day. We were slick in nearly every department. Team New Zealand had 91%, so good on them. They passed us on the two downwind legs. We had some problems with both of our spinnaker sets and one of our gybes, which put us on the back foot. Once we recovered, we caught some good waves and had good speed and we nearly got back in front. We probably gained 12 seconds and only needed one more wave. We had good surfing conditions, which we don’t often see. When you get it right, there are big gains to be made. We felt we got all the important things right. A couple of things we would normally take for granted, we slipped up on. They turned out to be very important. We had no breakages or gear problems. A big thumbs up to the shore team. All that leaping through waves and crashing and banging puts the boat through a real test and it has come through with flying colours.”
For a while it looked as though the match could go either way between K-Challenge and United Internet Team Germany. Jesper Bank took an early advantage but as the boats diverged, Thierry Peponnet picked up a good shift from the left. The French sailed to a small lead which they extended for a while. But later in the race, Germany came back strongly, reducing the deficit to just 20 seconds by the finish.
After difficult first days at this Louis Vuitton Act, the pressure was on Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team to put its first score on the board. Shosholoza are developing into a tough team to beat however, and a close battle ensued up the first beat. But the Italians read the shifts a little better and pulled out a good lead to earn its first win of the series. The relief on Mascalzone was evident, the team slapping each other on the back at a job well done.