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America’s Cupdate: An ‘A’ of a Course

The 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada has elicited a full range of emotions over the last several days. Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) has broken free of the deadlocked series with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli to take a potentially commanding 5-3 lead in the best-of-13 event, with the first team to 7 points making off with yachting’s most cherished trophy.

Racing has taken place, or not, on every available racetrack except the fan-friendly inner harbor ‘stadium sailing’ Course C. It stood vacant for the first couple of race days due to lockdown concerns, then over the weekend, due to weather concerns. The turbocharged foiling version of this America’s Cup has in reality, given us very few moments of thrilling action.

Rod Stewart on the big screen
It didn’t take Rod Stewart to woo back the home crowd to show up after the Level Lockdowns. They showed up in droves.
© 2021 Studio Borlenghi / ACE
Postponement sign
Saturday became a layday for all practical purposes, when winds failed to materialize. Postponement was the name of the game. The crowds turned up, but not the wind.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

Race Day 5 on Course E

What has been exciting are the starts, then, shortly thereafter, the first lee-bow tack maneuvers, which had resulted in the only passing attempts until yesterday. But Sunday’s action was different in every which way imaginable.

lots of spray at the start.
The starts between Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Emirates Team New Zealand have been intense and heart-pounding.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

It was an ‘A’ of a heyday and an ‘E’ for the racecourse. The patch of water known as the “back paddock” failed to deliver the light 7-11 knots predicted, turning the critical race for our sport’s most majestic prize into a showcase of horrors.

On Sunday, a record number of spectator boats flooded the course as Kiwis showed up in force to support the event with all their fervent passion. Race Day 5 turned into a thrilling roller coaster ride for the home team and a horror show for the Italians.

Spectator boats
They showed up on the water in record numbers — the spectator fleet was massive.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

As witnessed in the ACWS in December and the first few races in January’s round robins, when the winds took the day off or provided at least enough pressure to start the race, the action thereafter swiftly deteriorated into a maddening attempt to connect the dots and stay on your foils, praying to the wind gods that you didn’t sail into a patch of the racecourse where the breeze had taken a holiday.

That is what happened in Race 8. It turned into one of the most astonishing races in America’s Cup history. The Italians had taken the lead with a brilliant start, forcing the Kiwis to the unfavored right side of the course, and stretched it out with their bigger jib as the breeze got lighter.

As technical gremlins bedeviled Luna Rossa on the first downwind leg, ETNZ made up significant ground, but then jibed in bad air and dropped off their foils. The Italians then seemingly sailed away from Te Rehutai, which was stuck like a floating duck, and a much-needed victory was in hand as they extended to a massive 4-minute, 8-second lead heading back upwind in the third leg.

Disaster struck Luna Rossa as they tacked high and, in the soft conditions approaching the top gate, dropped off their foils, struggling for what seemed to be a lifetime to build speed in the patchy conditions.

Italy finally rounded the gate in displacement mode, creeping around at a measly 6 knots as they sailed out of bounds and off the course, seemingly into the sunset, receiving multiple penalties in what was a flailing attempt to pop up onto their foils.

Meanwhile the Kiwis had life again and were in hot pursuit. They foiled past the hapless Luna Rossa AC75 to turn a 4-minute deficit into an astonishing 4-minute, 27-second lead. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse for the Italians, the race committee shortened the course to five legs in an attempt to fit the race into the dictates of the TV broadcast parameters.

Really? Welcome to the modern America’s Cup!

Fans wearing red socks, sitting on a boom
Red socks are the rage again for the home crowd.
© 2021 Gilles Martin-Raget

ETNZ ruled the day, crossing the finish line to win comfortably by 3 minutes, 55 seconds. It was a bitter pill for the Luna Rossa team to swallow when they had seemed to be headed for a critical race win.

“We were out in front, but it was never in the bag,” said co-helmsman Jimmy Spithill. “We came to the top of the course, it went light, we fell off the foils and were stuck for some time. It started to go lighter and lighter, and we couldn’t get through the tack. That’s the way it goes. We saw the same thing with those guys. That is just the way it rolls — onwards and upwards.

“We know we can get races; we’ve been in tough situations before. The guys will keep their heads up, come out firing tomorrow.”

“Every race is big. Pretty pleased with the way we’re learning,” said ETNZ helmsman Peter Burling. “We managed to keep digging deep and give ourselves an opportunity on the second beat, which was great to finally get a pass, and to keep extending was pleasing as well. We got the last right shift of the breeze, that favored right turn at the bottom and early tack. Massive left phase at that stage, then got a right-hander.”

“We lost two points today. However, we proved that we can hold our own and in the start we fought hard,” said Pietro Sibello, Luna Rossa’s mainsail trimmer. “They seemed to have an edge on us in these conditions, especially in the first race. In the second we had another nice start, and here again we fought back. Unfortunately, we made a mistake in the second upwind and fell off the foils when tacking in a really light wind that just died on us, which is when they passed and took the point home. Tomorrow is another day. Our intention is to go out and keep on fighting until the very end.”

“We made a costly error jibing behind them, but we just stuck at it,” said Kiwi flight controller Blair Tuke. “We were on the wrong-sized jib, and all the boys went right to the end there. A huge effort from the team. We knew there was a chance they could come off the foils, and we just kept on going.”

So, don’t fret yet. It is not quite over. Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. PDT [time corrected from 11 p.m.] — an hour later on our clocks due to daylight saving time — and hope we get a thrilling conclusion to what has become an insane version of the fight for the Auld Mug!

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6 Comments

  1. Robert Ward 3 years ago

    Didn’t they shorten the race while the KIWIS were dead in the water?

    • Mark Reid 3 years ago

      Yes. But, the writing was on the wall for the Italians and NBC probably went into a “panic” mode with their broadcasting coverage and wanted to have a finish in their 2 hour window. In talking to longtime America’s Cup fans and “others”, many of us were stunned that they would shorten a pivotal race which in fact may determine a winner of the event. The fact that they started racing to begin with was highly questionable given the dramatic winds shifts in Race 7 which led to a direct reach for the finish. There has been a “Course” bias since the beginning and it hasn’t changed. Remember ACE runs the event and the Regatta Director works for them. That is why the CoR was insisting to be on Race Committee boats for the Match. This is a sport where the home team writes the rules. That said, we trust Iain Murray, but he really doesn’t have the final say.

  2. Ron Richings 3 years ago

    Isn’t it 8 pm PDT? as it was last night.
    Folks could be very disappointed if they check in at 11 and the whole thing is over…

    • Mark Reid 3 years ago

      Your absolutely right. I am stuck in a daylight savings temporal zone. It is an hour later in USA. 8 pm PST. I have many EST friends that went into panic mode last night when the races weren’t on in their time zone as the previous day. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Jay Esse 3 years ago

    So the Kiwis christened their boat “Te Rehutai”, blessed by Maori shamans. Next time you tune in to the race, pay particular attention as the camera shifts to the Kiwi spectator crowd. Not a Maori in sight. The crowd is so blazingly white, shades are de rigueur.

    • Mark Reid 3 years ago

      I would hope that is not true. I know Team New Zealand has always been respectful of the island’s indigenous past and culture. The Maori tribespeople were quite involved in many events 2013 in San Francisco during the Cup summer. I attended several of them and it was way cool. As far as crowd shots, never quite sure where the camera pans, but I know from many of the festivities that have taken place in Auckland that the Maori were quite involved. Thank you for your comment.

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