Day of destruction
The opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup Final between Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa rapidly turned into a demolition derby. The Kiwis continued their still unbroken run of race wins, going 1-0 up, but came very close to not making it around the course themselves.
With a wind of 17-18 knots from the southwest, an ebb tide of 2 knots, kicking up the sea and due to sail a shorter five leg, 9.95 nautical mile course, Luna Rossa was the first to succumb. In the minutes prior to entering the box, the Italian AC72 suffered a problem with the lifting mechanism for its starboard daggerboard. They attempted a hurried running repair, but this broke en route to the first reaching mark.
The team had refined the daggerboard and its lifting post last week revealed skipper Max Sirena explained: “A composite part of the lifting system broke. We did a bit of work on the daggerboard to try to improve the aero package. We chopped part of the board and lifting post and moved all of the attachments on the board. We sailed five days with it and then today it broke. Luckily it broke during the reaching leg and not a gybe, otherwise it could’ve been another nosedive.”
With the Italians having the port entry, helmsman Chris Draper looked more confident today than when he previously lined up against the New Zealanders in the Round Robin stage of the Louis Vuitton Cup. He managed to position the Italian AC72 in the leeward position across the line, but was a little behind. Nonetheless it was impressive to see the Italian and New Zealand catamarans stamping on the gas in the final seconds, accelerating at a similar rate to a similar top speed - Luna Rossa no doubt helped by its Semi-Final 'practice' races against Artemis Racing. Sadly before reaching the first mark the starboard board had popped up and the Italians had no choice but to throttle back.
From here for Emirates Team New Zealand the rest of the race should have been a case of delivering their AC72 around the course to take an easy first win. However just as she was bearing away around the top mark, the Kiwi AC72 ws struck by a gust. One moment she was careering around the mark accelerating to 40+ knots, the next she was going down the mine as her port bow dug in all the way up to the main crossbeam.
The deceleration from 40+ to 12 knots initally threw the crew forward, only for the deluge, when it hit split seconds later, to wash grinders Rob Waddell and Chris Ward overboard. Luckily neither of the burly Kiwis was injured and they were plucked out of the water and ont ot the team's chase boat. However the impact of the green water (and possibly one of the grinders being tossed on to it) caused the whole port side of the fairing on the aft side of the main beam to come adrift.
“In this sort of racing, the boats are incredibly powerful. You see how quickly the speed rockets up as you make the turn around the top,” said skipper Dean Barker. “We came in there with good pressure. Through the turn we were always going to pick up a decent increase in speed; I’m sure there are a few things we could’ve done better. We’re very thankful that all the guys are okay. Everyone’s a little shaken, but that’s yacht racing and this type of sailing is pretty full on,” said Barker.
Grinder Chris McAsey who was on the forward pedestal described the experience. “I was holding on for dear life. I was the second guy under water, with Jeremy Lomas in front of me. I was holding on as hard as I could. It all was a blur, everything’s wet and white, you come up, there’s a bit of broken carbon around the place and we’re two guys short. From there on it was just a matter of trying to cover the two guys lost.
“It was an interesting day,” McAsey continued. “I spent a lot of time wondering how this day would play out. We were stoked to start the Louis Vuitton Cup Final, and it’s nothing like I expected it would be.”
It was also interesting to see that despite burying her bows so deeply - starting off being airborne on foils, going down the mine is that much more severe - the Kiwi AC72 nonetheless managed to pop her bows out and recover. It is probable that without her foils and if the crew had been in the process of unfurling the kite (as they would on an AC45 for example), she may well have pitchpoled.
Despite their boat being in less that perfect shape and being two crew light, the Kiwis managed to nurse it around the rest of the course to go 1-0 up. With the windspeed exceeding the 19.3 knot limit, the race committee postponed the day’s second race until tomorrow.
Of their performance today Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena was able to look on the bright side: "Even after a bad day like today, there are few positive aspects that are worth mentioning. On the reach, although we were sailing in a disadvantaged position, we maintained a speed not much lower than the Kiwis. We also tested wing two again and registered a definite increase in boat speed.”
Before the Louis Vuitton Cup Final started, Oracle Team USA conducted two practice races with its two AC72s. Skipper Jimmy Spithill won the race that was broadcast to the public, beating Ben Ainslie by 33 seconds.
“We’ve got a lot of depth in our sailing team," said Spithill. "The ability to put two competitive boats on the water is a big advantage for us. That’s been a big part of our campaign, two-boat sailing. To do that you need a lot of support from the shore team, designers and engineers. Ben and I’ve been pushing each other very hard and we think it’ll help us prepare for the America’s Cup.
From Carlo Borlenghi/Luna Rossa