The America’s Cup World Series – Cascais opening races lived up to the promise of creating close, tactical racing among some of the world’s best sailors.
Under unusually overcast and foggy conditions and in very light winds, three fleet races marked the beginning of the pursuit of sport’s oldest trophy. Despite the extremely light and variable conditions, the wing-sailed AC45 catamarans proved competitive racing was possible in winds as light as three knots (5 kph).
Emirates Team New Zealand was the class act of the nine-boat fleet over the three races and finished the day with a one-point lead over the Swedish Artemis Racing.
'Racing is very different in light winds but it’s really good that these boats can sail in this weather,' Kiwi skipper Dean Barker said. 'We are happier with more wind… but with the lighter winds, all the teams leveled. The lack of wind becomes an equalizer. Today all the teams have had their opportunity, so it becomes more competitive.'
Six points further down the leaderboard, in fourth place, was Oracle Racing Spithill, skippered by James Spithill. His crew, although one point behind stablemate Oracle Racing Coutts, could claim two race victories. The only thing holding them back was a disqualification in the first race, for crossing outside the course boundaries, and not taking the appropriate penalty.
'We had a problem, our screen (signaling the penalty) blanked out,' Spithill explained. 'Apparently we were over the course boundary before the start. And we got a penalty with two minutes to go. But our screen came back on during the first run. Too late for us to do anything but... that's alright. We just had a couple of problems, sorting out the bugs in the system. But I thought it was a great day.'
This was the first time all nine of the wing-sailed AC45 catamarans were on the same race course and the result was some incredible action on the starting line. The more experienced teams demonstrated impressive acceleration at the start gun, which they were able to convert to into leads around the first mark.
For the less experienced teams, the lighter conditions allowed them to focus less on crew work and more on tactics, which translated into a tight leaderboard at the end of the day.
Mitch Booth, China Team: 'We’re happy to be mixing it. Nowhere near the front, but mixing it with the middle of the fleet. But we’re on a much steeper learning curve than anyone else. Learned a lot about the start today. It’s not about being close to the line early, it’s about coming up on the line and hitting it with really good speed. If they’re doing 20 knots, then they’re just going to blow by you. One of the characteristics of this race course is time on distance and hitting the line at max pace. We didn’t do a great job today, but we’ll get better at that.'
Chris Draper, Team Korea: 'We were a little disappointed. Haven’t sailed the boat in that wind, learning our roles as we were going around the race track wasn’t ideal, but that’s the same for a few teams at the moment. We all felt the pressure a bit, but good to get the first day out of the way. Disappointed, but not a terrible day.'
James Spithill, ORACLE Racing: James Spithill on why he had to take a penalty, putting it down to an on-board computer glitch: 'We had a problem, our screen blanked out. Apparently we were over the course boundary before the start. And we got a penalty with two minutes to go. But our screen came back on during the first run. Too late for us to do anything but... that's alright. We just had a couple of problems, sorting out the bugs in the system.'
Loïck Peyron, skipper, Team Energy: 'Even in the soft breeze, these starts are interesting. We are just beginning to become familiar with the on-board choreography, to work out the crew work and communication which is critical in light winds like today.'
Alain Gautier, Aleph: 'The day was grey in several senses, in terms of the weather and our results. We knew it would be difficult to catch the big teams which are very good and have sailed a lot. We need to get used to these reaching starts. Our team is brand new, we have sailed ten days on the boat and we have great room for improvement. But we have young, talented sailors and I remain very optimistic about the future.'
Vasilij Žbogar, Green Comm Racing: In the first race, the first half was good, then we had trouble with the gennaker. In the last race we were very close for third place for half of the race, then we had a problem with the wing, we didn’t have any power, so we lost three or four boats. But it’s our first day, so we shouldn’t expect too much. We had to change the crew this morning because we were too heavy, but we showed in the last race that with a little bit of training we can be there. We had problems with the wing and the jib but we can improve these things for tomorrow.'
Racing was held close to shore, with the spectator fleet defining the narrow course boundaries. This was America’s Cup racing up close and personal. The racing was also streamed live at www.americascup.com Archived races will be available on demand online Saturday night (GMT).
The AC World Series – Cascais continues on Sunday with one longer fleet race as well as the AC500 Speed Trial, a timed test for the crews over a 500-meter race track.
The forecast is for more traditional Cascais conditions to return, with moderate to strong winds by race time. The fleet race is scheduled to start at 1445 local time (GMT+1)