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ETNZ Win Puts Them in Louis Vuitton Finals

When ETNZ ditched their headsail, spectators thought Luna Rossa had a lock on the race.

© Gilles Martin-Raget / ACEA

Italy’s Luna Rossa were expected to do much better in their second head-to-head battle with Emirates Team New Zealand on Sunday. They started off looking more competitive, but not only did it not last, it got worse. On the first upwind leg, the halyard clip broke on ETNZ’s jib. First the sail flogged, then flogged more as they tried to get it down. Finally, in the worst Kiwi performance to date, the crew failed in their initial attempt to throw the darn thing overboard. The eventually discarded sail was picked up by a support boat, which reportedly got in the Italian’s way in the process.

With the ETNZ boat minus their headsail, the race announcers — and probably most sailors — assumed that the Italians would be able to walk all over their crippled opponents and even the score. Not so. In fact, ETNZ was still able to increase their lead on every leg but the last. Big cats with wing sails aren’t like normal boats. Soon the announcers were explaining that AC72s are often faster without headsails in straight line sailing. The headsails, they said, are primarily to help in maneuvering.

The wind speed averaged a mere 13.8 knots for the race, with a peak gust of 20.5 knots. The big cats clearly like 20 knots better than 13 knots. The Kiwis’ average boat speed was just over 24 knots, while their top speed was 38.7 knots.

But ETNZ handed another smackdown to the Italians on Sunday, guaranteeing their spot in the Louis Vuitton Finals.

© Gilles Martin-Raget / ACEA

Our takeaway from Sunday’s race is that the only way Luna Rossa could ever possibly beat ETNZ is if the Kiwis break their wing mast or flip. It was clear the Kiwis have much better control of their boat, are better at picking shifts and, unlike the Italians, don’t get penalized for sailing outside the course. As it is, ETNZ has now guaranteed their place in the Louis Vuitton Finals. If the Italians can beat the Swedish Artemis team — assuming that the Swedes can ever get a boat on the course — they will meet the Kiwis again in the Louis Vuitton Finals.

Barring a complete breakdown, the chances of either Luna Rossa or Artemis ever beating ETNZ are probably slightly less than zero.

While the AC72s are a thing of beauty when foiling, we’re going to have to wait until the America’s Cup itself, when ETNZ lines up against Oracle Team USA, to see if there is going to be any competitive AC72 racing. Right now the Kiwis look invincible. But given their lack of competition to date, it seems too early to make a realistic evaluation of their chances against Oracle’s well-financed two-boat team.

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