BMW Oracle Racing re-enact America's 159 year old victory
The re-enactment of the 1851 race around the Isle of Wight that spawned sailing’s greatest competition, the America’s Cup, got off to a phenomenal start today between BMW Oracle Racing and Sir Keith Mills’ TeamOrigin as their two yachts blasted east down the Solent.
The stage was set when the two boats engaged around seven minutes prior to the start. As BMW Oracle Racing skipper James Spithill pointed out: “It was pretty cool. It was great how we just ripped straight into it from the start. You could see how seriously both teams were taking it.”
Sadly for the British team moments before the start they picked up a penalty for gybing too close. 1-0 to the US team’s skipper James Spithill.
With a downwind start the powerful, heavy ACC boats, under their giant spinnakers, sailing so close they appeared to be somehow attached, carved their way down the eastern Solent, creating a magnificent spectacle for those out on the water as well as the thousands following the racing over the internet.
TeamOrigin skipper and helmsman Ben Ainslie commented: “We were expecting a softer race than we’ve had the previous couple of days, but from the start and for the next hour and half we were overlapped the whole way around, luffing each other. It was fantastic. These guys are a great team to race against. It is great for us to be out there racing the America’s Cup holders around the Isle of Wight.”
The racing remained tight down the Solent as the boats headed towards Portsmouth and after the first gybe round the eastern side of the island there were two major luffs. In the second TeamOrigin came out ahead but picked up a second penalty and match racing rules obliged them to carry out their 360deg penalty turn immediately.
Meanwhile the Americans were nursing a damaged spinnaker and had to drop it losing precious ground. This kept TeamOrigin ahead of BMW Oracle Racing as they rounded the No Man’s Land Fort but during the subsequent spinnaker drop as they hardened up, most of the spinnaker was down when the foot fell overboard, dragging the whole sail into the water and it promptly wrapped itself around the keel. Rapidly Anthony Nossiter dived over the side to clear the kite but by the time it was cleared and the British crew was underway again, BMW Oracle Racing had overtaken and pulled out an 800m lead.
It was far from without incident on board BMW Oracle Racing. In addition to their spinnaker issues they also managed to destroy their jockey poles through trying to sail high angles under spinnaker as they reached down the eastern end of the Solent.
As James Spithill pointed out: “There was a bit of seamanship involved to try and look after the boat and get through it all. The boats are on the limit in that stuff.”
Impressively Ben Ainslie and the TeamOrigin crew were able to halve their deficit as they short tacked along the south side of the Isle of Wight towards St Catherine’s Point, however BMW Oracle Racing was first to crack off towards the Needles and re-extended. En route to the Needles TeamOrigin’s yacht developed a technical problem when the metal fitting holding the jib to the halyard parted company. As David Carr pointed out: “It might not have been up to the job, but it was a pretty big sea state at the time sailing upwind in fairly big seas in 20 knots for two hours - it is just one of those things.”
This being an exhibition race, the organisers were keen to lay on a show coming back down the Solent so once round the Needles and into Hurst Narrows, BMW Oracle Racing stopped and the race was restarted, the American team given a one minute head start with the hope that the two boats would match race their way back to Cowes in the same spectacular style as they had left in the morning.
Sadly this wasn’t to be when on their first gybe following the restart TeamOrigin blew up their second spinnaker. By this time the wind had piped up to 24 knots and the British team did a safe outside gybe and centred the main but as the spinnaker refilled it exploded.
As David Carr said: “Maybe it was karma. It would have been a bit strange to win the race after a restart, but it was disappointing not to be right up with them at the finish.”
TeamOrigin's spinnaker pole also gave up the ghost just as they were crossing the finish line. Photo: Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com
So BMW Oracle Racing, the US team, claimed victory defending the honour of the Stars and Stripes, just as America had 159 years before. As James Spithill said: “Coming down the Solent it was like everyone on the Isle of Wight had come out to view it. I think it meant a lot to the people and it meant a lot to the guys on the boat. It was a real battle out on the water and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Tomorrow for the final day of the 1851 Cup there is a return to windward-leewards with four races scheduled. Racing is set to start earlier than normal, at 10:00. The score is currently four wins and one loss to TeamOrigin with wins for the first three races tomorrow worth three points each. TeamOrigin must win the first race tomorrow if they are not to go level on points with their American adversary.
From Ian Roman:
From Rick Tomlinson - www.rick-tomlinson.com