As James Bond’s smoochy sidekick Miss Moneypenny would say, “Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.” The 36th America’s Cup began in earnest this past weekend with the Prada America’s Cup World Series on Waitemata Bay in Auckland, New Zealand.
Emirates Team New Zealand, with their blazingly fast AC75, captured the ACWS portion of the truncated event. The second part, the ill-fated Christmas Cup, was canceled due to lack of wind. The organizers are holding out for a possibility of racing being added to the schedule in advance of the Prada Cup round robins, which start in just over three short weeks.
The American Magic team fared well, with hard-fought wins over the Kiwis and Italians. They find themselves in a very competitive situation going forward.
The ACWS kicked off in high style and circumstance as a mix of exciting, pulsating match racing combined with the wildly unpredictable, as the AC75 foiling monohulls tried in vain many times to exorcise their demonic software gremlins. That said, top speeds for the series clocked in at just under 50 knots!
Technical glitches attacked all the teams and the race management at one point or another during racing. More than once, thrilling action was brought to a sudden halt. It only takes a moment for these boats to gain or lose an advantage of several hundred meters or so in the blink of an eye.
The software issues affected no team more than INEOS Team UK, led by Sir Ben Ainslie, who is currently stuck with a slow boat that won’t fly. Hopefully he will not have to suffer the indignation of the Queen if she were to ask, “Who’s in second?” Well, it certainly wouldn’t be Sir Ben right now. In hindsight, their high-profile affiliation with design partner Mercedes Benz should probably have stuck to F1 racing.
Ainslie was under more than just the spotlight when he traded barbs with Prada Media Center boss, the legendary Bruno Troublé, at a press conference. Troublé was grilling him on INEOS’s struggles when Sir Ben shot back with, “Do you have any ideas?”
Troublé quickly fired back: “No, but we expect some answers!”
The one thing that we did learn is that these boats take a lot of energy, or a tow, to get up on their foils. The clock-consuming efforts to do so can be excruciatingly painful to watch at best and a throwback to the IACC days with no wind at their worst.
In throwing some shade at American Magic skipper Dean Barker, Luna Rossa Pirelli helmsman Jimmy Spithill summed it up best, saying: “Dean is quite a bit older than me, so when he’s talking about ‘old school’ racing, he’s probably talking more about himself!”
When these boats are up and foiling and in proximity, they are exhilarating to watch, as in the first matchup between Patriot and Te Rehutai. The Kiwis hunted down the Americans at the final upwind gate with a closing speed that was terrifying to watch and must have been heart-pounding to experience. ETNZ forced a penalty by gaining overlap rights over American Magic in the zone to round inside and ahead. A protest was dealt to the Americans and cleared shortly afterward as ETNZ jibed quickly but were in less wind. When the pair came back together, American Magic had regained their lead and left with a hard-fought 12-second win.
The much-anticipated rematch with the Kiwis was set for Race Day 3. It got off to a late start, as a massive Kiwi spectator fleet had to be moved off the course. With a forecast for light breezes and the race area positioned to the leeward of Rangitoto, the concern was that the breeze would prove fickle in the lee of the island. Clearing the area proved challenging and time-consuming, but eventually the first race of the day got underway just over an hour later than planned.
After a titillating pre-start, American Magic gained the advantage to stay in front of ETNZ. Eventually the Kiwis tacked away, unable and unwilling to live in the dirty air of the Americans, who were able to continue to work the right-hand side of the course for a further advantage, but the 12-second margin was still slim. By the leeward gate, New Zealand had hauled American Magic in to trail by just 3 seconds. The big race-changing moment was to come at the top of the second beat, when the Americans fell off their foils through a tack and parked up just short of the windward gate. The mistake proved costly, handing the lead to the Kiwis, who rounded the windward mark 54 seconds ahead. From there, ETNZ cruised to victory, sailing the final lap unchallenged to win by a minute and 19 seconds.
Unfortunately, the ACWS ended with a whimper rather than a bang. The Christmas Cup finale failed to materialize when the winds died on the final day, preventing the boats from getting up on their foils.
The unpredictable Kiwi weather will be here to stay throughout the next few months, as the competition heats up again in the Prada Cup elimination series, set to start on January 15. In the meantime, you can relive the races on YouTube, or you can get a pricey subscription to NBC Gold, unless you want to wait the extra hours for NBC Sports’ delayed rebroadcast or pony up for a Virtual Private Network.