Guilain Grenier / Oracle Racing

Most challenging conditions yet

Three capsizes as winds gust to 30 knots at the America's Cup World Series in Plymouth

Sunday September 11th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Gusts of up to 30 knots separated the men from the boys at the America's Cup World Series on Plymouth Sound today, where the hairy conditions at times overwhelmed crews. In the blustery conditions three of the AC45s capsized - Aleph, Team Korea and just meters from the finish, Spain’s Green Comm Racing. In each case, the crews escaped unscathed, while the boats suffered minor damage to the top of their wings.

Today just one fleet race was held, albeit over a longer course of around 40 minutes duration with two additional reaching legs before the boats settled into windward-leewards, finishing on a final reaching leg. James Spithill's Oracle Racing team were fastest out of the blocks and were a nose ahead coming into the all-important first turning mark. They just managed to execute the hardest maneouvre on these high performance boats - the bear away - in doing so burying their AC45 up to the main beam, but recovered well. Meanwhile three boats - Green Comm, Energy Team and Emirates Team NZ, which had continued on starboard, were penalised for sailing across the course boundary.

While yesterday the boat that made it to the first mark ended up winning all three races, Spithill wasn't going to have it all his own way today. Given the big conditions most remained under their jibs going downwind but Terry Hutchinson's Swedish team on Artemis Racing made the ballsey call to unfurl their genniker half way down the run overhauling Spithill in the process.

Artemis Racing seemed to be in good shape as Dean Barker and on the Kiwi boat made a good recovery ending up in a match race for second place with Spithill. But on the second beat, Artemis suffered one slow tack at the course boundary, followed by another tack in between the Kiwis and Oracle Racing Spithill. Upon completing the second tack, Artemis Racing made contact with Emirates Team New Zealand as the bowsprit touched the transom of the Kiwi boat.  This meant a penalty for the Swedish team, which was compounded by damage to the wing when the runner hit the trailing edge as the team bore away. Skipper Terry Hutchinson made the call to retire from racing and the shore team has been working steadily to repair the wing since.
Sailing with the Swedish team today was tactician Iain Percy: “It was very fun – especially the speed and the boat handling. It was very windy today, but it was all still fair racing.  I think everyone has a scary moment.  Unfortunately, we made some mistakes that cost us the race. I have always also liked the fact that in sailing there is a point that the harder you work the faster you go. I think that is a really important part of it.  Push yourself to the absolute max and the boat is going to go faster."

By the time of this incident, Emirates Team New Zealand had rolled past Spithill to take the lead. Spithill only managed to regain first later in the race when he made a better final top mark rounding than the Kiwis to romp home to victory. So in fact the boat that was first at the initial reaching mark once again won today.

Energy Team, with French multihull veteran Loick Peyron steering, sailed a strong race to finish fourth, after battling around the course with Russell Coutts for the final podium spot. China Team too, sailed well in the conditions to finish in fifth place.

While Spithill won the race, Emirates Team New Zealand's second place was sufficient to give victory to the Kiwis in the Plymouth AC Preliminaries by a mere point.

“They were beautiful conditions," said Spithill later. "It was fantastic racing, a lot of fun. We had fun racing Team New Zealand and Artemis was in there for awhile, too. The conditions were strong, but we were nowhere near the limit of the boats. I think we can race these boats in a lot more wind. The reason you saw boats go over today was because of sailor mistakes, not because of too much wind. This is the way it should be. The racing should be hard, should be challenging. Once you got the gennaker out, it was just so good."

Russell Coutts added: “It’s great - the better sailors made the difference, and that’s how it should be. You’ll see skills rise the more teams sail in these conditions. When we go to San Francisco, crews will race in conditions like this every day.” Coutts also announced that he will hand over the helm of Oracle Racing Coutts to Australian multiple world champion and two-time Tornado class Olympic silver medalist Darren Bundock for the next round of the America's Cup World Series in San Diego, as Oracle Racing starts to rotate its squad of sailors.

Behind the star performers, the America's Cup World Series got its first taste of carnage, or at least capsize. First to go over was the Bertrand Pace-steered Aleph, pitchpoling right in front of the crowds gathered along Plymouth seafront. According to Pace no one was injured in the incident but the wing was damaged.

Photos below by Helena Darvelid/ below:

On the bear away around the top mark Team Korea buried their bows. She teetered on the point of recovery but with the jib still sheeted in it was too much and over she went.

As Chris Draper later described it: "As we bore off around the mark boat after slowing right down, we got a big gust, couldn’t ease the wing enough in time and so had too much pressure on, stuck the nose in and slowly went over sideways. I thought we nearly saved it, but the wind just pushed us over. Actually we got away quite lightly."

It was a striking image as Peter Merrington from Australia fell from the hull and bounced off the wing, sliding safely into the water, while Team Korea’s guest racer at the back was left hanging in mid-air for a minute before climbing down the trampoline into the water, for an experience she will never forget!

Merrington recounted: "As I fell I managed to spread my arms and try to minimise the point of impact which seemed to work pretty well as the only damage was done to the top of the wing where it hit the drink’’. The team’s support boat driven by Tom Kiff was there within 20 seconds, attached a line and had the boat upright in just a matter of minutes, the experience of the previous capsize last month in training certainly paying dividends here. Draper continued: "fantastic job by the support crew on the boat to get there and onto us so fast, they really managed to minimise the damage to the wing. We broke two of the smaller ribs at the top but that was it, and we were able to sail on and finish the race."


Photos by Sander van der Borch/Artemis Racing

The organisers believed it to be possible that any AC45s that capsized could be righted mid-race and continue and this incident proved their theory true, Team Korea going on to finish sixth.

The last to go over, within sight of the finish line on the final reaching leg, was Green Comm Racing, toppled by a gust.

Simon Hiscocks, wing trimmer on board and sailing his first race on an AC45, described the incident: “We had a slight lack of concentration right at the end and we thought we crossed the finish line when we hadn't. That's what they call a danger zone breach when you can't really go up or down and the boat is fully powered up. We had a small gust and that was it. In hindsight, we should have been sailing the boat at very lower angle to the breeze and wait until we were at a fairly tight angle into the finish and come up. That would have been a very safe way. Our approach was to take it safe and avoid excessive risks, but at the end we found ourselves in a situation we didn't really want to be in.”

From Guilain Grenier/Oracle Racing

In today AC500 Speed Trials, it was another chance to scrutinise the technique of the crews, although in the gusty conditions on the 500m course, set close to the shore for the benefit of spectators, it was more an indication of the skill of the crews to keep the wheels on. Both Loick Peyron on Energy Team and James Spithill on Oracle Racing demonstrated how to prevent flipping with some aggressive helming bringing them head to wind.

It looked like Emirates Team New Zealand had the speed trials in the bag today with two great runs, however once again it was Russell Coutts on his second run that came out on top with a winning time of 37.48 seconds.

Monday and Tuesday are off days at the America’s Cup World Series – Plymouth allowing the teams a chance to rest and repair both man and machine. Racing resumes on Wednesday with qualifying races for the Plymouth AC Match Race Championship.

Results – Plymouth AC Preliminaries

Pos Team Skipper Race 1   Race 2   Race 3   Race 4   Tot
      Pos Pts Pos Pts Pos Pts Pos Pts  
1 Emirates Team New Zealand Dean Barker 1 10 3 8 1 10 2 9 37
2 ORACLE Racing Spithill James Spithil 2 9 1 10 4 7 1 10 36
3 Artemis Racing Terry Hutchinson 3 8 2 9 2 9 DNF 3 29
4 ORACLE Racing Coutts Russell Coutts OCS 3 4 7 3 8 3 8 26
5 China Team Charlie Ogletree 6 5 5 6 6 5 5 6 22
6 Aleph Bertrand Pace 4 7 7 4 5 6 DNF 3 20
7 Energy Team Loick Peyron 8 3 6 5 7 4 4 7 19
8 Team Korea Chris Draper 5 6 DNF 3 8 3 6 5 17
9 Green Comm Racing Vasilij Zbogar 7 4 8 3 9 3 DNF 3 13

Plymouth AC500 Speed Trials - Sunday

Pos Team Speeds (knots)
1 ORACLE Racing Coutts 25.92
2 Emirates Team New Zealand 25.57
3 China Team 23.82
4 Energy Team 18.54
  ORACLE Racing Spithill DNF
  Artemis Racing DNS
  Team Korea DNS
  Green Comm Racing DNS
  Aleph DNS


From Mark Lloyd/



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