Big crowds - estimated to be in excess of 10,000 turned out to watch the first day of racing at the AC World Series - Plymouth, and they were treated to a display of excellent racing in challenging conditions.
Emirates Team New Zealand won two of three fleet races to open the event. Not to be outdone, Russell Coutts and his ORACLE Racing crew set the pace in the AC500 Speed Trials, posting the fastest time over the 500 meter runway, two seconds clear of the next fastest finisher.
The race course was set up in the Sound, just meters offshore from the Plymouth Hoe, making day one of the event pure ‘stadium sailing’.
'It was pretty awesome to see a crowd like that supporting the sport,' said Artemis Racing skipper Terry Hutchinson. 'There were a lot of public on the Plymouth Hoe and around the course. I don’t think anyone expected something like that. Imagine what could happen with a sunny day.'
With the wind blowing in excess of 20 knots at times, boat handling was the key skill today, combined with brave starting. Dean Barker and the Kiwis took the first race with their big rivals from Cascais, Portugal. ORACLE Racing Spithill, in hot pursuit. James Spithill’s colleagues on ORACLE Racing Coutts were disqualified for being over too early on the start line.
Even in these big breezes, getting a great start was proving critical, and this time Spithill managed to control the Kiwis, keeping his rivals slow while he shot away to an early lead that grew as the race continued. In a big pile-up at the downwind gate, just meters away from the spectators on the sea wall, French team Aleph was forced to bail out to avoid a collision. With the breeze at its highest, some teams were really struggling with controlling the high-speed cats, and Artemis Racing narrowly avoided a capsize at one mark rounding. Team Korea meanwhile was forced to retire from this race with equipment problems.
Dean Barker learned his lesson from the previous start and this time had a great launch from the downwind end of the line to lead around the first mark, narrowly in front of Artemis Racing and Spithill. The American defender kept up the pressure until he got caught up in an altercation with a local sailor watching the proceedings from his small cruising yacht. Spithill was forced to bring his catamaran to a grinding halt while he waited for the yacht to motor clear of the course.
By the time ORACLE Racing Spithill was up and running again, the Kiwis were long gone. Now the race was with the other ORACLE boat, and they were shown no mercy by Russell Coutts who closed them out and sailed in front. Meanwhile Artemis had pounced on the ORACLE mishap to move into second place.
Emirates Team New Zealand’s two race wins on the day gave them the lead in the fleet racing, and Dean Barker did a fly-by for the crowds as he waved his appreciation to the people of Plymouth who had come to watch. Artemis finished the day on equal points with Spithill.
Immediately afterwards the nine teams lined up for the AC500 Speed Trial, and Russell Coutts and his experienced crew showed the younger teams how to get maximum speed out of an AC45 in a straight line. Coutts scored a time of 39.69 seconds, with a top speed of 28.18 mph, 1.48 seconds faster than second-placed Emirates Team New Zealand.
Start time for Sunday’s fleet race has been moved up to 1300 local time (GMT+1).