by Bob Fisher
At last! After four interminably long windless days, racing began today in the Louis Vuitton Cup and in the scheduled first match of the first flight of Round Robin One came the first shock - a defeat for Emirates Team New Zealand by the ‘Latin Rascals’, the ebullient Mascalzone Latino team.
There was no fluke required by the Italians, Flavio Favini and Vasco Vascotto simply outsailed Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson after Jes Gram Hansen had beaten the Kiwis to the punch at the start. Mascalzone Latino promised much in Act 13, and today lived up to the promise.
Barker had controlled the pre-start until 30 seconds were left and then became indecisive. He had endeavoured to claim the committee boat (called Race Control here in line with the rest of the organisation) end of the start line but was a fraction too early.
Emirates Team New Zealand headed off to leeward, leaving a large gap for Gram Hansen to exploit at the favoured end of the line. As if to compound the felony, Barker slowed the boat and was six seconds late on the line. Gram Hansen not only beat him there by two valuable seconds, he was also goin a couple of knots faster as he crossed the line.
The Kiwis are using their newer boat for this regatta and it didn’t appear to have the speed to match the Italians upwind and with Favini behind the wheel, Mascalzone turned the weather mark having gained 27 seconds.
The two boats were close enough for an attempted passing manoeuvre and with Hutchinson plotting, Barker drove off on a line that took Emirates Team New Zealand to leeward of the Italian boat. When the gybe was called, it put the Kiwi boat upwind of the leader and following a series of further gybes, they rounded the same leeward mark separated by eight seconds.
But Barker was forced into an immediate tack to clear his wind, and that was out to the left. This time Barker did not separate as much as he had done on the first round but once more the Italians pulled away to round the last mark 29 seconds in front.
This time the Kiwi strategy was similar but less effective and a delighted crew of ‘Latin Rascals’ crossed the finishing line 15 seconds in front. This was no fluke and a wake-up call to the Kiwis. It put the Mascalzone Latino level on points with Emirates Team New Zealand.
The rest of the first flight went according to plan, as did the second flight, and many of those who entered the media contest that requires the naming of all ten winners of the day, and the time differences, would have scored nine, but few would have dared to have bet on Mascalzone Latino. But this was America’s Cup racing and we have all learned that nothing is certain.