America's Cup World Series Naples: Dramatic opening day
20+ knots of breeze and substantial waves at times breaking, made for a lively day on the water as the opening salvos were fired at the America’s Cup World Series in Naples during two fleet races for the nine AC45 wingsail catamarans. Conditions in fact were probably the most to date the AC45 fleet has experienced while competing.
One got the impression that the nine AC45s were racing at their limit with boats launched upwind, pitching violently, their leeward hulls firing out of waves, air regularly visible beneath them, while after the hair-raising bear away at the top mark the downwind legs were sailed at 22-25 knot speeds and over in the blink of an eye.
In the opening race the lively conditions would claim the three scalps.
At the start of race one it was the four boats of the big three – Oracle Racing, Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis Racing – that timed the run into the line to perfection. But it was Oracle Racing Spithill that got her nose ahead at the first corner. From there they took off down the run and then extended thoughout the race without ever being threatened.
Oracle Racing Bundock nosed up into second on the first run ahead of the Kiwis. Rounding the leeward gate in sixth, Artemis Racing speared off to the left side of the beat as several of the leaders were penalised for overstanding the course boundary and incurred a two boatlength penalty. The worse to suffer from this was Emirates Team New Zealand that got caught in irons on one tack out on the starboard side of the course, dropping them back to seventh.
At the top mark Oracle Racing Bundock got caught in irons and were nimbly overtaken by Team Korea, putting in an outstanding performance despite having new boy Nathan Outteridge on the helm – fortunately the core crew including Mark Bulkeley, Matt Cornwell and Troy Tindell have remained on board since Chris Draper’s departure. However Oracle’s Tornado double Olympic silver medallist regained the lead on the run, rounding the gate just five seconds ahead of the Koreans with the Kiwis back in the game a further 10 seconds back in fifth.
On the second beat Bundock was again struggling, particularly in tacks and was overtaken by both the Koreans and Energy Team with the Yann Guichard-steered French AC45 moving up to third by the weather mark. Positions remained unchanged on the next run but on the third beat it all started to go wrong for second placed Artemis Racing. Firstly a problem on board caused them to overshoot the port layline, then an awkward bear away around the top mark caused the Swedish flagged AC45 to bury her bows deeply into a wave, pop perilously on to one hull and then topple over.
As Terry Hutchinson laterdescribed it: "It was all going well, and it will be interesting to watch the video, because we bore off, both hulls went down, it felt relatively safe, then up on her nose and she went over. Luckily no one's injured, but the wing's injured. The wing is done. It is absolutely broken, really broken. I'm hoping that there's a spare around, potentially we can use the Aleph one that's not being used. The boat was so well prepared and sorted for the regatta, and we've been going well in training, so all in all a big disappointment.
"It was a balance between racing the boat hard and not putting ourselves in a position of risk. I don't really feel like we put ourselves in a position of risk, but still we ended up on our side. Just... frustrating.”
After getting their AC45 righted, Artemis limped home with the top of her wing in tatters, with the shrink film covering punctured and hanging off in places, a broken flap on her wing extension and several broken frames. Not pretty. Understandably she didn’t compete in the second race today.
With the chasing pack having to steer around the upturned Artemis, so several team chose not to fly their big downwind gear. As a result Oracle Racing Spithill got the first victory of 2012, crossing the line 2.52 seconds ahead of Energy Team, with Emirates Team New Zealand slipping past Team Korea to take third.
China Team pulled out during the race after its AC45 suffered minor wing damage, while Oracle Racing Bundock finished in fifth, but suffered damage to one of its AC45’s hulls after flying off a wave and landing hard.
“The massive waves were the main issue,” said Bundock. “For us, we didn’t hit anything, but we buckled the hull from the hatch cover down about 20 cm. It came from the impact of bouncing off the waves.”
The Oracle Racing shore team will be working overnight to effect a repair, mindful that low air temperatures are not ideal for repairing high-tech epoxy and carbon fibre race boats.
Race one deltas
1) Oracle Racing Spithill
2) Energy Team +2.52
3) ETNZ +3.29
4) Team Korea +3.38
5) Oracle Racing Bundock +3.48
6) Luna Rossa - Piranha +5.47
7) Luna Rossa - Swordfish +5.59
8) Artemis Racing DNF
9) China Team DNF
Three boats out of the running, and one got the impression there was a sharp intake of breath by the teams prior to the start of the second race with the conditions still up.
In the pre-start Spithill aggressively ducked below Emirates Team New Zealand as they tore away towards the first corner. Here Oracle Racing Spithill was narrowly ahead with the Paul Campbell-James steered Luna Rossa Swordfish overlapped to the outside and with Team Korea on the inside with the Kiwis a fraction behind.
On the first run the Kiwis were looking confident and pulled into the lead at the first gate rounding, just ahead of Oracle Racing Spithill and Luna Rossa Swordfish with the Koreans taking the opposite gate. Despite Spithill nosing into the lead briefly outpacing the Kiwis, Emirates Team New Zealand were manoeuvring a fraction better and had regained the lead to round the top mark 8 seconds ahead with Team Korea up to third.
On the second run the Kiwis eased ahead and from there were never challenged. With the wind piping up into the mid-20s and the sea state also increased, Oracle Racing Spithill looked set to take second until Team Korea snuck inside them at the final leeward mark rounding.
“It was pretty bumpy out there, pretty challenging, but once again I was really impressed by these boats. I think they give the best racing in the world in these conditions,” said skipper Jimmy Spithill. “We had two really good starts and after that it was about the tacks. You had to pick a flat spot. That's where there were huge gains and losses.”
On reason for Spithill's downturn in form for the second race was that his boat had also suffered damage. “We broke a couple of wing frames in the first race so we backed off a bit in the second race,” he admitted.
On Emirates Team New Zealand, bowman Winston Macfarlane was slammed in to the forward beam and suffered severe bruising to his upper legs. He will be rested for a couple of days.
“It's cool, the sailing is pretty awesome, you can't complain when you're sailing in conditions like that,” said skipper Dean Barker, who at the end of day one tops the leaderboard with Oracle Racing Spithill. “But it's very challenging for the boats and very taxing for the crew. The goal was to get back to the dock in one piece, which we did - it’s nice to be back in good shape."
“We couldn't expect much more than that,” Team Korea skipper Nathan Outteridge said. “The big guns are ahead of us. But we're overachieving compared with expectations, so we’re very, very happy.” Team Korea sits in third on equal points with Energy Team.
Race two deltas
1. ETNZ win
2. Korea +1.21
3. Oracle Racing Spithill +1.32
4. Energy Team +1.43
5. Luna Rossa Swordfish +2.44
6. Luna Rossa Piranha +4.13
7. China Team DNS
8. Oracle Racing Bundock DNS
9. Artemis Racing DNS.