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Emirates Team New Zealand win first round

As 'preliminary round' concludes at the America's Cup World Series Cascais

Sunday August 7th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Portugal

Conditions returned to ‘normal’ today for the second day of racing at the America’s Cup World Series in Cascais, with brilliant sunshine and 15-16 knots of breeze, albeit blowing off the land, making the wind tricky approaching the top gates marks.

Today’s conditions transformed the style of racing, enabling more aggressive starting as all but one of nine AC45s bunched up by the committee boat end of the unique ‘reaching start’ line leaving just Chris Draper’s crew on Team Korea bound for the pin. This was not due to line bias, possibly a thing of the past in the new America’s Cup era of digital race management and mark setting via centimetre accurate military-spec GPS, but, as Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker explained it, it was due to the course to the first mark: “We felt that with such a tight first reach it would be an advantage to be up at the weather end.”

Oracle Racing Coutts was very fast out of the blocks and right up by the committee boat Loick Peyron’s Energy Team managed to squeeze out Emirates Team New Zealand. The Kiwis unfurled their protest flag but it was electronically green flagged by the umpires.

On the all-important rapid ‘blink and you miss it’ leg out to the first reaching mark, Coutts and his crew of Murray Jones, Matthew Mason, Andrew Henderson (standing in for Simon Daubney) and Simeon Tienpont, pulled out in front, rounding comfortably ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand. However in a typically astute Ray Davies move, the Emirates Team New Zealand tactician advised to continue on starboard gybe after Coutts’ team has gybe set around the reaching mark. This one move caused the Kiwis to defy the ‘whoever is first to the reaching mark wins the race’ proxy.

The Kiwis pulled out a 270m lead on the first run as second placed Coutts faced a challenge from Mitch Booth’s crew on China Team holding third with the Oracle Racing boat skipper by James Spithill pulling up to fourth after their slow start.

Emirates Team New Zealand looked comfortable on the first beat, sailing immaculately, the weather hull of their red and black AC45 flying just over the waves, their crew hiking hard. Approaching the top mark, close in to the shore, the wind softened and as the Kiwis rounded the port hand windward gate mark and were deploying their kite a winch handle broke causing crewman Winston Macfarlane to tumble into the water. Under race rules the crew was able to leave him in the water however on these already understaffed boats, from here on they were forced to sail four-up as well as taking a two boat length penalty (ie they had to slow up on the final run).

“It was an unfortunate thing,” the swimmer Macfarlane admitted somewhat sheepishly, having been plucked out of the drink and on to the Emirates Team New Zealand support RIB. “Coming into that second top mark, we went for the bear away at the buoy and obviously there was a huge amount of load on the sheet and I was on the top handle and it snapped and I just went straight over the top of it into the water. There’s not much chance of holding on when you are doing 25 knots or something. It probably cost us the race.”

The Kiwis kept their cool, but nonetheless Coutts’ Oracle Racing boat had halved their deficit on the leaders early on on the final run.

Barker, who says he got clipped by MacFarlane as he took his dive, said that sailing four up for the final lap did hamper them. “Downwind it wasn’t too bad. Gybing we were losing a bit and certainly upwind it was pretty slow, probably 1-1.5 knots slower compared to the previous beat. That was just from the righting moment – losing a 100kg guy off the rail is quite a big penalty. These boats are already low on righting moment so any extra wick you can put in there is good in that amount of breeze.”

Emirates Team New Zealand grimly hung on, rounding the bottom mark in the lead and it wasn’t until pretty much the final tack of the last beat into the finish line that Coutts managed to overtake, approaching the finish line on starboard as his one time protégé Dean Barker had to take his transom and then put in an extra tack for the line, nosing across ahead in front of James Spithill, charging in on port.

“We made a few adjustments after yesterday,” said Coutts of their win. “I was pretty cheesed off with how we sailed yesterday. It was a disappointing performance – just tactically I thought we were off the pace. I never like to make excuses – maybe that one crew change, it is hard for somebody coming in. Simon Daubney breaking his hand the day before the regatta wasn’t ideal, but anyhow we have to be able to deal with those sorts of things because that is probably not the last injury that somebody is going to have on these sort of boats.” The left hand of Coutts’ long standing trimmer got crunched in the wing somehow after they had finished sailing yesterday.

Spithill, who was the class act (although not the winner) in the ultra-light conditions yesterday, spent most of today’s fleet race trying to make up for his relatively slow start and first reach. It was only on the second run that he managed to overhaul Mitch Booth’s China Team, eventually coming home third and narrowly missing out on second on the final neck forward charge for the line.

Booth and his fledgling crew including his beach cat crew Pim Nieuwenhuis, US Tornado medallist Charlie Ogletree and British Finn sailor Andrew Mills, was pleased with their performance today. “We have a long way to go with the boat handling and teamwork, but we’re on a good track,” said the Aussie Tornado veteran. 

Having been overtaken by Energy Team, China Team regained fourth on the final dive for the line. “We tacked right on the layline and they tacked just under it and we just made it to the port end of the line without tacking. It is a limited course in dimensions so you have to minimise your manoeuvres, tacks and gybes, and you always want to be making sure that on your final appracoh, you aren’t bounced off a boundary line 100m before the layline.”

Emirates Team New Zealand’s second place today was enough to secure them the overall win in what is being called the America’s Cup World Series Cascais Preliminaries – comprising yesterday’s three fleet races as well as today’s one.

Unfortunately other than being good entertainment today, with a large spectator presence on the water, on Cascais marina’s breakwater and along the beach off Cascais, it is hard to say what relevance this has. As Barker put: “It is a little bit hard to figure out - it is what it is. The racing proper doesn’t really start until Wednesday. It is just another opportunity to do some more racing in these boats. For us it is invaluable at this point in our campaign to do as much as we can.”

After today’s one fleet race, speed trials were held over a 500m course (the same distance as used by the World Sailing Speed Record Council for their record attempts) and again in this Emirates Team New Zealand came out on top (see the results below).

Fleet racing results: 

Pos Team Skipper R1   R2   R3   R4   Tot
      Place Points Place Points Place Points Place Points  
1 Emirates Team New Zealand Dean Barker 3 8 2 9 2 9 2 9 35
2 ORACLE Racing Coutts Russell Coutts 4 7 3 8 5 6 1 10 31
3 Artemis Racing Terry Hutchinson 1 10 4 7 3 8 7 4 29
4 ORACLE Racing Spithill James Spithill DSQ 0 1 10 1 10 3 8 28
5 China Team Mitch Booth 6 5 6 5 6 5 4 7 22
6 Team Korea Chris Draper 5 6 7 4 4 7 6 5 22
7 Energy Team Loick Peyron 2 9 8 3 8 3 5 6 21
8 Aleph Bertrand Pace 7 4 5 6 9 3 8 3 16
9 Green Comm Racing Vasilij Zbogar 8 3 9 3 7 4 9 3 13

500m course speed trials

Pos Team Speed
1 Emirates Team New Zealand 22.87
2 Team Korea 21.21
3 China Team 20.21
4 ORACLE Racing Spithill 20.06
5 Artemis Racing 18.95
6 Aleph 18.91
7 ORACLE Racing Coutts 18.39
8 Energy Team 16.73
9 Green Comm Racing 13.37



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