Just one slip, but a crucial one, by Nathan Outteridge in the two-minute pre-start sequence, and Luna Rossa was ahead and never to be caught in the third race of the semi-final of the Louis Vuitton Cup.
Outteridge was late in 'pulling the trigger' and allowed Chris Draper to pull out from under his lee and nail a perfectly timed start to have an eleven second lead around the first mark.
It was a rare failing on the part of Outteridge – the first time he has lost a start – but what was noticeable was the way in which a day’s practice had improved the way in which Artemis was being handled both upwind and down. It was a fact that led to the closest race these two teams have had so far.
Even more remarkable was that Luna Rossa also gave the impression of being faster than ever before in the average 15-knot south-westerly breeze. No one who watched denied the Italians their improvement, even if they hadn’t been out on the Bay practicing on the spare day. Which makes the relative performance of Artemis all the more heartening for the Swedish team.
The Luna Rossa sailors were more 'together' than in any previous race and their gybes were perfection in every way, every time. 'The first gybe is the most important manoeuvre in the race,' said Max Sirena, the Luna Rossa skipper, 'and Chris steered it to perfection.'
On the first downwind leg, Luna Rossa was 15 seconds quicker, and hopes were high that Artemis, usually the quicker upwind, might close the gap, but as the two averaged 17-19 knots Luna Rossa picked the shifts better and doubled her lead at the third mark, to 52 seconds.
Draper rounded the left hand, inshore, gate mark and this might have been his one mistake as he sailed into less favourable current than that which the Artemis crew enjoyed by rounding the right hand mark and sailing into the stronger stream in the middle of the Bay.
The Artemis strategy proved correct as Luna Rossa was only able to add 17 seconds downwind. Iain Percy, the Artemis skipper, commented on his team’s improvement: 'We are nailing 75% of our gybes now – three races ago we would have been lucky to have 5% good ones!'
The improvement continued upwind too with the Italians only able to add three seconds to their lead, and there was more of the 'What If' for Artemis on the final downwind leg to Mark 6 – it lost only a further second.
At the finish, Luna Rossa was 1’:18' ahead – by far the closest margin between these two over the 15.53-nautical mile course. Luna Rossa had averaged 39.71 knots in winds that peaked at 17.6 knots. It remains to be seen what the morrow will bring and whether Artemis can avoid a 4-0 drubbing.
by Bob Fisher
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9:58 PM Fri 9 Aug 2013GMT
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