Alinghi firmly laid their cards on the table on the opening day of the iShares Cup final, winning four races in a row in the challenging sailing conditions of the IJ-Haven in Amsterdam. The narrow waterway provided a tricky racetrack for the 10 Extreme 40s, with sudden puffs accelerating boats up the course on one hull, and equally tricky lulls leaving some teams parked motionless!
Spectators soaked up the sun on Java Island, some getting a grandstand view from the roofs of barges or balconies from their waterside apartments overlooking the course. VIP guests and families alike relaxed on the green along the IJ-Haven to watch the iShares Cup races, as the racecourse was set with both start and finish line directly opposite the regatta village and the Extreme 40 skippers ducked in as close as they dared to the harbour walls.
Team Origin opened the day with a good start by winning Race 1, showing good speed in the light airs. The British America's Cup challengers had some formidable names in their support RIB, with British Olympic gold medalists Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and Andrew 'Bart' Simpson cheering the crew on, just back from the Beijing Games when they all collected gold in the Olympic regatta.
iShares Cup 2008 Amsterdam - iShares and Halmatro - Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/OC Events
Then it was the turn of BT to come to the fore, winning the second race from the orange Holmatro boat - both teams are fighting it out for third overall in the iShares series, with Oman Sail and JPMorgan Asset Management not far behind on the series scoreboard.
BT skipper Nick Moloney admitted that his team were trying not to focus on their rivals for the overall podium, but the pressure is definitely on at this last event as the final iShares Cup places are decided. 'We said to ourselves that we're not going to acknowlege them until the last day - but we are,' Moloney said, 'We don't watch them when we're racing, but when we've crossed the line it's 'Where are they?' But as the breeze built throughout the afternoon it was the America's Cup defenders and joint overall series leaders Alinghi who came to the fore winning an impressive four races in a row. What's more they did it in impressive style - twice sailing straight past the race leader upwind to overtake and steal the win.
'It was a thrilling day and we're really excited about how it went, but some of the winds we had were pretty ugly at times!' said Alinghi skipper Ed Baird. 'Racing in the tight little canals of basically downtown Amsterdam it's really challenging,' said Ed Baird. There's puffs that come between the buildings and swirl around, people come and go A LOT during each race and you just have to be patient and think ahead and try to put yourself in a good spot.
Ed Baird, Alinghi skipper, celebrating victory with G.H. Mumm Champagne on Day 1 at Amsterdam - Vincent Curutchet/DPPI/OC Events
'The guys today did a fantastic job, not only in boat handling and speed but saying 'This is what's happening next, let's set up for that.'
They really helped me out a lot. In one race we were across the starting line in last place, but it's such a bizarre mix of puffs and shifts we just connected the dots and suddenly we were in with a chance for the lead again.'
So, have the Alinghi crew got the overall trophy in their sites? 'Obviously we're hoping that things work out for us and that we can win the year, but right now all we're trying to do is figure out what happens in each race.'
Having got their nose in front several times, Oman Sail scored two seconds to get on the podium for the day's prizegiving in third overall. 'We had a good day today - if you'd told us beforehand we were going to finish four races in the top four we'd have been pretty pleased,' said crewman David Carr.
Joint series leaders Team Origin scored two ninth places today to finish fourth overall, but with 12 more races to come - including the double-point finale - the result is anything but decided.
Six more races are scheduled Saturday, starting from 1.00pm. iShares Cup - positions after Day 1
Alinghi 3 5 1 1 1 1 54 pts
BT 6 1 3 2 3 7 44 pts
Oman Sail 4 4 4 8 2 2 42 pts
Team Origin 1 3 5 3 9 9 36 pts
Holmatro 7 2 9 6 4 5 33 pts
JPMorgan Asset Management 5 6 7 9 6 3 30 pts
Tommy Hilfiger 2 8 8 7 10 4 27 pts
iShares 8 9 2 10 5 10 22 pts
Volvo Ocean Race 10 7 6 5 8 8 22 pts
Team Aqua 9 10 10 4 7 6 20 pts