A grey day in Trapani

BMW Oracle holds one point lead after first day of Act 9 fleet racing in Trapani PLUS photos of the action

Friday October 7th 2005, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: Italy
The eagerly anticipated fleet races of the Trapani Louis Vuitton Act 9 delivered on their promise, with great action on the waters off Trapani on Friday. Hundreds of spectator boats crowded around the edges of the race course ahead of the first starting gun, to enjoy the spectacle of 300-tonnes of carbon fibre charging across the starting line.

Racing was postponed for nearly 90-minutes to allow the wind to build and settle. But it was still a gusty, shifty day when racing started, with plenty of dark clouds over the race course bringing pressure and shifts to different parts of the course, along with the occasional rain shower. The wind steadily increased during the first race and as a squall passed over the fleet on the final run, the wind gusted well over 25 knots, causing numerous spinnaker problems across the fleet.

Principal Race Officer Peter Reggio waited for the squall to pass before setting the course for the second contest. In the meantime, K-Challenge had a problem with the head of its mainsail. In attempting to fix the problem, crewman Sean 'Doogie' Couvreux injured his arm - later found to be bruised but not broken - , which was well up the course when racing started. The team returned to start the race, and then retired immediately. The French were flying a red protest flag when they crossed the starting line.

On the race course, BMW Oracle Racing and Shosholoza were the standout performers of the day. The Americans with a first and second were always at or near the front of the fleet, while the Africans kept up with the leaders. Two consistent fifth place finishes see Shosholoza end the day in fourth place - massive progress from their first races just one year ago.

Fleet Race One

Having pulled off the best start of Louis Vuitton Act 8 in their final match against Desafío Español, K-Challenge started a little too well in race one of Act 9. Thierry Peponnet nosed over the line just a fraction too early, and was forced to restart. Meanwhile, +39 Challenge had claimed their favourite spot off the left-hand of the line, but it was the Spanish who enjoyed an early lead off the starting line. Gradually however, the big guns moved to the fore, with Alinghi popping out of the middle and then BMW Oracle on the right-hand side as the eight to nine-knot breeze oscillated from side to side.

By the windward mark, however, Victory Challenge had charged in from the left and tacked around the first mark 19 seconds ahead of the Americans. But Victory's glory would be short lived as the Swedes lost their spinnaker in the water during the hoist. It was all hands on the foredeck to retrieve the wayward sail, which the team eventually left for the chase boat to pick up, and Magnus Holmberg could only watch as nearly the whole fleet swept past him.

This opened the way for Chris Dickson and BMW Oracle to take the lead just ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand and Alinghi. Dickson led around the leeward gate, opting for the right mark while the Kiwis claimed the left. The American boat's afterguard played the shifts and the fleet to perfection, extending to a 45 second lead by the final mark. All the while, the wind had been building, 16 to 18 knots up the second beat, and gusting to over 25 knots by the top of the leg.

Alinghi lost the most up the second beat, falling from a close third all the way back into the hungry pack. +39 and Shosholoza rounded in third and fourth behind the Americans and Kiwis, but as spinnakers went up on the final leg, a squall burst over the fleet, causing chaos. The rapidly building wind caught out many of the teams flying lighter-wind spinnakers, and no sooner did sails go up than they broke into pieces. At one point only five spinnakers could be seen flying in the 12-boat fleet.

There were big winners and losers on this final leg. BMW and the Kiwis were never challenged for the top two places, but Alinghi played a tight game on the final run to snatch third by a matter of metres from United Internet Team Germany, with Shosholoza a short way behind in fifth. Falling back were the three Italian teams, not least Luna Rossa and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team, exploding two spinnakers each, and relegating them to 11th and 12th across the line respectively.

Fleet Race Two

After the hair-raising charge downwind at the end of the first race, the fleet was slow to get going for the second race, with a number of teams late to hoist sails and get into position. Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia, however, had different problems as they sheeted in early and were a full boatlength over the start line as the gun fired. They returned to restart while the fleet sailed away in 13 knots of wind.

The Big Four teams favoured the left-hand side, and Luna Rossa led the charge to the first mark, rounding a couple of boatlengths ahead of Alinghi and BMW Oracle. These three had a big lead on the Kiwis, with Shosholoza not far behind.

The big drama at mark one occurred when Victory Challenge tried to tack in from the left. Magnus Holmberg tacked so close to Desafío Español that when he spun the wheel back up into the wind, the black boat stalled and lost control. The Swedes drifted on to the windward mark and fouled Mascalzone on the way past. By the time SWE-63 had spun through its penalty turns, she was a long way behind and would never catch up again.

Meanwhile the Swiss had worked their boat to perfection down the first run, just sneaking through the leeward gate in front of Luna Rossa. Up the next beat, the Kiwis made a bid for the left and for a while the strategy appeared to be paying off. However the wind swung back to the right and Alinghi had extended to a 40 second lead over BMW Oracle at the final mark rounding. Luna Rossa lost out badly on this leg, falling back to fourth behind the Kiwis, while Shosholoza held a very safe fifth place on the chasing pack.

Chris Dickson challenged hard on the final run, closing to just 17 seconds behind the Swiss across the finish.

“It was a day when you had to be really patient and have faith in your calls," said BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler. "There were times when it wasn’t looking so good for us. It is hard when you are taking an obvious short-term loss, but our tactician Bertrand Pacé did another fantastic job of getting the long-term picture right. He gets player of the day again.

“When the squall went through on the final leg of the first race, we hit a top speed of 19.5 knots and we crossed the finish line doing 18 knots. We feel sure that is some kind of America’s Cup record. It was scary, but fun as well.”

On concerns that the top of the mast was bending dramatically under the gusts, Isler continued: “Everything was safe. It is amazing how much load these carbon-fibre spars can take and how far they can bend and come back. We will have a very good look over the mast tonight. Our biggest concern on that leg was that the spinnaker would blow, but luckily it hung in there.

“Our weather team did a good job of advising us on the conditions and making sure we made the right sail selections. We changed our mainsail between races to a higher wind-range sail. That was a real scramble to get the sail changed in the time we had.
“In the second race, our big move came when we made the call to go around the left-hand mark in the downwind gate. That is where we made a big gain and were able to overtake Luna Rossa.”

More photos on the following pages...

Results after two races:

Pos Team Helm R1 R2 Tot
1 BMW Oracle Racing Chris Dickson 1 2 23
2 Alinghi Ed Baird 3 1 22
3 Emirates Team New Zealand Dean Barker 2 3 21
4 Team Shosholoza Ian Ainslie 5 5 16
5 United Internet Team Germany Jesper Bank 4 7 15
6 Desafío Español   Karol Jablonski 6 6 14
7 Luna Rossa Challenge James Spithill 11 4 11
8 +39 Challenge Iain Percy 8 8 10
9 China Team Pierre Mas 9 9 8
10 K-Challenge Thierry Peponnet 7 DNF 6
11 Victory Challenge Magnus Holmberg 10 11 5
12 Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team Flavio Flavini 12 10 4

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