Kiwis go one up
Emirates Team New Zealand pulled off two key victories today, first winning match point in a semi-final race and then prevailing in the first Finals race of the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta.
The host team will continue its best-of-five match in the Finals tomorrow, racing against the Mascalzone Latino Audi team representing Club Nautico di Roma, which is the Challenger of Record for the America’s Cup.
Racing started in the approaches to the Rangitoto Channel off Auckland’s East Coast beaches in the early afternoon, after a long wait for an uncertain southwest breeze to fill in and settle. The shifty breeze was moderate all day, ranging between 10 and 14 knots.
Emirates and Azzurra were 1-1, after the Kiwi’s nail-biter one second win on Friday. There was plenty at stake. The Italian team won the Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice last November, beating Emirates. The host Kiwi team had won the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series event in Auckland last year and they were aiming for a repeat victory.
Emirates skipper Dean Barker wanted the right side of the course and, with the starboard entry, he wielded the advantage with clinical detachment.
“It wasn’t easy that’s for sure,” Barker said. “Conditions aren’t exactly even or stable, it keeps you on the edge of your toes all the time. But it felt very controlled from our guys. The nice thing is the composure of our guys, which we’ve really been working hard on. Even though things got tight at times, the guys kept doing their job well.”
With their Finals berth safe, the Emirates team enjoyed a break until they returned to race Mascalzone Latino Audi. It proved to be a nail-biter for their Kiwi fans.
Barker pulled off a come-from-behind victory after conceding the lead at the second mark. In the pre-start, the New Zealanders came within centimetres of a penalty as they tacked away from ML Audi’s Gavin Brady but the incident was green-flagged by the umpires. Brady took the lead at the second leeward mark only to concede it when Barker split away on the windward leg and got back ahead.
Emirates Team New Zealand Managing Director Grant Dalton, who also sails on the boat, summed up the day. “I think the bottom line is that we can still sail a lot better. We have to just keep working at it. It tends to click eventually,” Dalton said. “Brady is a bit more aggressive, he came close to copping a couple of penalties today on the start, one I thought was pretty close on the edge. But that’s up to Dean, he deals with it all the time. The whole thing is a bit disjointed because you’re not flowing, week on week on week. So you can’t expect to be going at the normal rate of incremental improvement every day. But we’ve got to be reasonably happy at the moment, going one-up in the final."
Race One – Semi-Final: Emirates Team New Zealand def. Azzurra, 00:26
Emirates had the starboard end advantage and used it throughout the prestart to hold Azzurra’s Francesco Bruni out from the right side of the course. They came to the line at speed on starboard, in a shifty 10-knot breeze, well separated and with the Italians just bow out. Emirates held for a few seconds and then tacked away into a right shift. When they closed for the first cross 30 seconds later the Kiwis on starboard had a lead of nearly two boat lengths. Approaching the top mark and above the port lay line, Italy pulled back into close contact on a big left shift, but NZ’s Dean Barker luffed them momentarily before the mark before bearing away and opening a lead of several boat lengths that he never relinquished. Tommaso Chieffi, Azzurra tactician, said “we entered on port so it was already a difficult situation. On the second beat, we had the jib halyard come undone. We had to ease the jib out, and that lost us about 20 seconds. God knows, if it was closer in the last part of the race, it may have been a different story but it wasn’t our day.”
Race Two - 1st Final: Team New Zealand def. Mascalzone Latino Audi, 00:12
After his close miss, Barker coolly controlled the prestart, pushing Brady above the committee boat before returning and speeding off on starboard with the Italians trailing on his hip. Emirates first mark lead was 14 seconds but the Italians got on their wind on the run to round ahead at the leeward mark. Barker said, “you’re happy sometimes to give up some distance if it means that you put yourself in a stronger position. And we did a nice job of that on the second beat – in the end we were able to extend quite a bit.” Brady got out to the right but it didn’t pay. He let the boats get widely separated on a long port tack and the lead changed again as Barker found more favorable breeze on the left. Barker led by 12 seconds at the third mark and also at the finish. Brady’s tactician Morgan Larson took the long view. “We’re really happy, the guys are sailing the boat better than we have all week,” he said. “We’ve just got to get a little tighter in the afterguard and keep our communication good and look at it more like a match race.”
Race Three – Petit Final: Azzurra def Artemis –
Italy’s Azzurra won their Petit Final match against Artemis as the Swedish boat copped two penalties in an early evening race. In the pre-start dialup Terry Hutchinson in the port entry boat was late completing his initial tack and the blue penalty flag went up. Francesco Bruni took Azzurra over the start line just to weather of Artemis and bow out. It was a one tack leg as the boats straightlined at equal speeds all the way out to the port tack layline where Artemis was forced to follow their opponent into the mark. The Italians dominated the next two legs until Artemis pulled level on the last run, only to be penalized again for failing to respond to a luff. Azzurra pulled away to win as the Swedish boat began its penalty turn.