Russell Coutts sailing the Oracle Racing 'B' Boat, emerged as a winner from the practice racing ahead of the start of the start of the second round of the America's Cup World Series, in Plymouth England.
Winners from the first round in Cascais, Portugal, Emirates Team NZ were again plagued by furler problems on their gennaker - a failure which cost them dearly in Portugal - costing them the final of the match racing against current America's Cup Champion Oracle Racing 'A' team, skippered by James Spithill (AUS).
The America's Cup World Series is sailed over four events covering the week - and initial round of fleet racing, a speed trial over 500metres, a match racing event, and a final linger duration fleet race in the finale of the event.
The practice day is more of a tune-up in the venue, than a serious joust before the event - and a number of issues emerged. One of these was to give the competitors a look at the shorter courses that will be used in the Plymouth event.
In foggy conditions and light breezes, the teams took part in three practice races this afternoon, with Russell Coutts’s team winning the day after coming fifth in the first race and second in the next two. Loick Peyron and Energy Team were pleased to have scored second and third from the first two heats before deciding not to compete in the last race.
While all the challengers have already been out training on Plymouth Sound over the past few days, this was a first outing for the two Oracle Racing boats. James Spithill might have won the practice outing after finishing places of 3,1 from the first two heats, but then sailed the wrong course in the final race.
The race committee used a previously untested course configuration to try to work within the narrow confines of Plymouth Sound, and it caught Spithill’s team unawares, as crew man Joey Newton admitted afterwards. 'We got it wrong,' he laughed. 'We missed a buoy and got it all wrong. But it'll be fun.' Newton promised it would be different come race day. 'You can make all the changes to race formats but the good guys will still win the races.'
Worryingly for Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand suffered a repeat of their gennaker furling problems that caused trouble in Cascais a month ago. With strong winds forecast for the first serious racing this weekend, that’s a problem they’ll want to resolve once and for all.
In Cascais, the furler used to roll up the gennaker at the end of the a downwind leg did not run smoothly, causing the sail to be only half furled as the team started a windward leg, meaning that her crew had to come off the windward rail to sort out the problem, slowing the boat and costing places. Similarly at the start of a downwind leg when the furler was released and the downwind sail would not break out and set properly.
Those issues were moderately manageable in the light airs of Cascais, however with top of the range winds, and limited race area in Plymouth, there is no latitude for error, and the carnage will be spectacular, if not very serious.
Green Comm decided not to compete in today’s practice session, as the Spanish team is still licking its wounds from a capsize earlier in the week. Back-up helmsman and multihull Olympic Champion Fernando León commented: 'We had things to repair in the wing from something we broke the previous day, and it was getting too foggy. The day wasn’t too pretty, it can get dangerous with the fog, as these boats are so fast, so at the end we decided to go home, work and finish what we need to finish and tomorrow we’ll start the first race.'
Loïck Peyron also wants to be sensible and cautious about Energy Team’s approach to the coming competition. 'The objective in Plymouth is doing things right and not break the boat in strong wind, because it costs too much time and resources. These ‘babies’ are hot and heavy in strong winds. You must preserve the crew, anticipate and accept that there are imperfections. The course is tight and it would be a shame if it was all about using your muscle and not much about the mind.'
For fellow Frenchman Bertrand Pacé, steering a fast multihull in strong winds for the first time could be a baptism of fire. He is not taking his responsibility lightly. 'I am trying to learn as quickly as possible and avoid capsizing. We got a scare last Sunday, on a bear-away which is the most risky phase of sailing these boats.'
No matter how careful they want to be, even Oracles’s Joey Newton, with more heavy air AC45 experience than any of the challengers, predicts some scary moments this weekend. 'I'll think we'll give ourselves a couple of frights on Saturday!'
At this juncture, moderate to strong winds are forecast through to Wednesday morning, with the lightest breeze being 15kts and the majority being well over 20kts - expected to gust into the 30kts mark. These conditions are in marked contrast to the light to moderate airs that prevailed for the opening round of the series in Cascais, last month.