The first semi-final of the Louis Vuitton Cup was marked by a surprisingly good performance by Artemis Racing with ‘Big Blue'.
The Swedish team was beaten by Luna Rossa, but considering the relatively different amount of sailing of the two teams – 80 days for Luna Rossa to 80 hours for Artemis Racing – the two minute difference at the finish was a great deal closer than might have been expected.
What also took everyone by surprise was the aggression of Artemis helmsman, Nathan Outteridge at the start. He and his rival, Chris Draper on Luna Rossa, have sparred before – in 49er skiffs – but never before in these giant wing-sailed AC-72 catamarans. Yet with a minute to go Outteridge had made his intentions clear.
The crowd along Marina Green were treated to the sight of Artemis ahead and to windward of Luna Rossa, and determined to maintain this advantage. Draper, it seemed, did not 'pull the trigger' fast enough and Artemis’ timing was right on the button, crossing the starting line within a second of gunfire and there was a clear boat’s length of water between the two.
In the 15-16 knot west-south-westerly breeze both boats foiled fast to the first mark where Artemis Racing led by six seconds. Downwind the time in practice difference became readily apparent. While both boats maintained much the same speed, it was the ability of the Luna Rossa crew to maintain foiling as they went through their gybes that was the telling factor.
Luna Rossa went ahead and by the time they went through the second ‘gate’ was 30 seconds clear. Upwind however Artemis racing held on and closed the gap slightly to be 21 seconds in arrears at the third mark, and there was a noticeable surge of interest – no one so far had seen the AC-72s racing this close.
There was a degree of inevitability as the race progressed – the greater sailing experience (in the boats) of Luna Rossa was particularly apparent on all legs and the Italians drew away to win by a fraction under two minutes. 'We have to make big improvements,' said Artemis skipper Iain Percy after the finish, 'little ones are not enough.' But he did agree he was pleasantly surprised with the boat’s performance.
Luna Rossa suffered some damage to the skin of one of the lower flaps of her wing before that start of the race and Draper admitted that it was a cause for concern, but agreed that the late start was inexcusable. 'But,' he said, 'today showed we had some [better] skills.'
Three days earlier, Percy had suggested that 18 knots of breeze might be a self-imposed limit for Artemis, but after today said that the team would be prepared for the 22-knot limit. Possibly tomorrow (Wednesday) might see breeze nearer that.
by Bob Fisher
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9:59 PM Tue 6 Aug 2013GMT
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