The second elimination round of the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta was crunch time for two more of the remaining eight teams and unfortunately one of those to be knocked out was Sir Keith Mills’ TeamOrigin, falling to a wind shift that went against them, despite otherwise dominating their race against Sweden’s Artemis.
The wind was light and fickle for the first part of the day causing the race committee to make a long delay and, significantly, also forcing them to reduce the programme, making it a 'sudden death' knock-out race for the two matches when the wind did finally appear.
Eventually TeamOrigin was first up against Artemis in a match that everyone anticipated would be highly aggressive following their last dust-up in the round robin on Tuesday, a race that saw five lead changes and four penalties.
The draw last night saw Ben Ainslie choose the perceived quicker boat for race two and ultimately the third if required, giving up starboard entry for the first and third races. However as the schedule was reduced to just one race this resulted in TeamOrigin having neither the favoured end nor the theoretically faster boat.
The start sequence got underway at 1330 with around 12 knots from the south, on a course was set in the Rangitoto Channel.
Following the entry the pair dialled up and held head to wind for some time. The TeamOrigin afterguard had become aware of a significant port end bias on the line and in a highly unorthodox end to the pre-start both boats found themselves outside of the layline to the pin end, TeamOrigin squeezed out. To weather, Artemis tacked away, tacking back on to starboard just before crossing the line. Meanwhile unable to lay the pin TeamOrigin had tacked back on to port and, incredibly, thanks to good pace, the favoured pin and the Swedes' double tack, the Brits just managed to squeeze across the bow of Artemis shortly after crossing the start line - a very ballsey move by Ainslie and the first time we have seen a port tacker win the start of a match race. Artemis protested, but the umpires found in the Brits’ favour.
When the pair came back together again, with TeamOrigin on the right, the Brits possibly tacked away too late, again causing Cayard to raise his protest flag on Artemis. Again the umpires deemed ‘no incident’. 2-0 to TeamOrigin.
The race remained tight up the first beat, both defending their respective positions. The shallow water obstruction on the left hand side of the course played a significant role in the British afterguard's tactics, using this to block any opportunities Artemis may have found on that side, with both boats way outside the port layline into the top mark. Artemis were left with no option other than to trail TeamOrigin into the top mark losing ground in their dirt.
Both boats did regular bear away sets at the top mark, with Artemis instigating the first gybe. Following lessons learned on Tuesday, TeamOrigin paused before they responded, resulting in a incident-free run but cleverly setting themselves up ahead of Artemis so the Swedes were forced to follow them around the same port gate mark (looking upwind), albeit still close.
On the second bet Artemis immediately tacked off to the right, as expected, to get clear air, while the Brits waited to get more into phase with the shifts. However the shifts and period of oscillations were hard to predict and this proved ultimately to be the Brits’ undoing, perhaps overly bold, when they chose to split from their opponent rather than keep it close. While the Brits headed out to the left and Artemis the right. When the boats came together the Swedes were on a major lift, causing all TeamOrigin’s hard work on the previous legs to evaporate instantly. A last minute attempt was made to nose into the top mark with the starboard advantage, but on this occasion TeamOrigin was just too far behind and could only watch as Artemis rounded 28 seconds ahead. Some small hopes remained for the Brits when Artemis lost a short length tape along the foot of their spinnaker, but this held to the finish line where Artemis were able to take the win by 30 seconds. Artemis therefore goes through to tomorrow’s semi-finals, while TeamOrigin is out of the competition.
Mike Sanderson, Team Director, commented emotively on the day’s racing: “We are bitterly disappointed in today’s result. At this stage of the event, having it all count on one race is very tough. We had high hopes for this competition and the guys did some great work, especially in the starts and up the first beats. Today we went from having a comfortable lead to being a length behind, which goes to show the level of the competition here. For sure we need to be much better than this, we have a really talented team, we must be positive and not stick our head in the sand. Its all about reviewing, learning and moving forward to the next event in La Maddalena.”
Navigator Ian Moore added: “Its been a real rollercoaster of an event. We had high expectations, a really good build-up, felt organised and in control and came in feeling strong. Unfortunately we just weren’t able to fully draw on our core strengths. We started well, sailed well especially up those first beats but then we did not perfect certain executions and that makes all the difference. A small error here means you can get hammered by the other teams. Its been a great event for us and we are looking forward to the next one.”
Skipper and Helmsman, Ben Ainslie summed up: “A disappointing result for us today, it was a close race and the guys did a great job. We made one mistake and paid dearly for that. It’s been a really competitive event and great to see some top teams here and such close race action. As ever it’s been a really useful event for us, the guys have given 100%, and although disappointed, we will take a lot from it and continue to move forward.”
The second race of the day promised to be as exciting as the first one. Pitting the French/German ALL4ONE team against the Italian Azzurra team, but Azzurra managed to get a penalty against the Franco-German team before the start and went on to win the race and earn their place in the next round.
The semi-finals on Friday will see Emirates Team New Zealand, top of the table at the end of the Round Robin, face Azzurra after ETNZ skipper Dean Barker selected the Italian team as his opponent. That leaves Mascalzone Latino Audi Team against Artemis. The winner of each ‘first to two points’ series will advance to the final.
Barker said it was always tough choosing an opponent, but he went with Azzurra, the team who triumphed over the Kiwis in the final of the last Louis Vuitton Trophy event in Nice. “We know the guys well and maybe we will get a little bit of revenge hopefully for Nice. We always have good races against those guys.”
Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni said he was confident going up against the home team, who may have a perceived advantage in stronger breezes and their own boats – especially after Azzurra’s victory over All4One today. “I think we sailed the boat very well today in difficult conditions. It was a very, very nice performance from the whole team. I think we are getting better in strong winds. We learn day by day; there is no secret that we would prefer lighter conditions for a match with Team New Zealand. But we are also happy to have a chance to race against them in their conditions and in their boats - we have nothing to lose.”
The Swedish Artemis team is rounding into form at the right time and enters the semi-finals with confidence. Paul Cayard commented: “We have won four in a row, and had two fantastic races with the British, which were pretty epic battles in the list of America’s Cup races I’ve been in. I think it’s good training for us in preparation going into the rest of the series.”
For his part, Mascalzone Latino Audi Team strategist Cameron Dunn is sure it will be a difficult match: “We feel we are improving with every race – we started slowly, but we’ve been chipping away and getting better as a team. We had a very good race with Artemis in the round robins, so we know we’re in for a tough battle.”
Racing is scheduled to start with a warning signal at 10:00 on Friday morning. The forecast is for fresh conditions.
Race One: Artemis def TeamOrigin, 00:38
Britain’s Ben Ainslie seized the start of this sudden death match with flair and defended his lead through the first half of the race and multiple protests only to hand the lead to Paul Cayard’s Artemis on the second weather leg. The Swedish boat made the most of its advantaged starboard entry and pushed TeamOrigin below the port layline before the start. Hutchinson, steering Artemis, reported massive shifts in the 16-knot southerly and Ainslie would ride a big leftie into the lead. Pushed outside the left side of the line in the remaining pre-start seconds, he tacked onto port on a big shift and skinned across the bow of the starboard tack Swedish boat right after the gun. The umpires green-flagged the encounter but Hutchinson saw it differently. “Our bowman was saying, “We’re going to hit him! But that’s the game.”
A minute later TeamOrigin led by a boat length. Ainslie came back on starboard with a small lead and tacked inches to leeward of the approaching Artemis, who again appealed to the umpires, but to no avail. A big shift on the left kept Artemis in the game and she was only one and half boatlengths behind at the top mark, and trailing by only seven seconds through the leeward gate. It was Ainslie’s race until several tacks into the leg he let Hutchinson get to the right in the oscillating shifts, with 400 metres separation. When they converged again, Artemis led by 46 metres. Artemis extended on the run with a damaged spinnaker and the foot tape reinforcing fluttering in the breeze. “What a brilliant job from all our crew, getting back into the race,” said Hutchinson. “In hindsight, we didn’t do it right up the second beat,” conceded Mike Sanderson, who handles the runners on board. “But you know, we need to make sure we don’t kill the tiger as well. We have amazing talent at looking up the course and picking up shifts, and if we kill the tiger, we are going to be an ordinary talent.”
Race Two: Azzurra def All4One, 00:20
It was all but over before the start as the German/French boat steered by Sébastien Col was trapped by Azzurra skipper Francesco Bruni and penalised for failing to keep clear. As the boats turned up for the line, Azzurra was able to hook in to leeward of All4One and Bruni luffed his opponent, drawing the foul, with his aggressive tactics. “I have been criticised during the round robin by my team for being too safe," he said afterwards. "Today I changed a little bit, but the optimum is probably in-between.”
Azzura went on to lead across the line clear ahead and luffed up momentarily to gain weather gauge. Still bow ahead and to weather, she took the German/French boat out to the exclusion zone on the left side of the course and maintained her lead through eight short tacks. The margin was nine seconds at the mark. Col overtook to weather on the run but as they both overstood the layline for the leeward gate and went to douse their gennakers, the All4One gennaker went under the boat, spelling the end of her challenge to the Italians.