Three capsizes tell the story of an epic final race in the Plymouth AC Preliminaries with winds gusting close to 30 knots (35 mph; 55 kph) across Plymouth Sound. The race course was pushed up close to The Hoe, and once again, the crowds on the hill were rewarded with thrilling racing just meters from shore.
The blustery conditions pushed the crews and the boats to their limits, and in some cases beyond. Three teams capsized; the French Aleph, Team Korea and just meters from the finish, Spain’s Green Comm Racing. In each case, the crews escaped unscathed, the boats, with minor damage to their wings.
During the race, the ORACLE Racing Spithill crew had many near misses and was lucky not to capsize as they passed the first mark with the lead. Other boats challenged them for their early advantage, with first Artemis Racing, then Emirates Team New Zealand taking their turn at the head of the fleet. But it was a game of least mistakes, a war of attrition that eventually went back in favor of James Spithill and his slick ORACLE team.
France’s Energy Team sailed a strong race to finish fourth, after battling around the course with Russell Coutts for a podium spot. China Team too, sailed well in the conditions to finish in fifth place. Artemis Racing, meanwhile, was forced to retire, moments after relinquishing the lead on the second lap of the course, with equipment problems.
Aleph was the first to capsize, nose-diving right in front of the crowds gathered along Plymouth seafront, early in the race. Then, at the top of the course Team Korea speared their bows into the waves and flipped over. And tantalizingly close to the finish, Green Comm Racing was toppled by a gust on the final leg of the race. Luca Devoti, sports director from Green Comm commented later: 'Nobody has been hurt and the wing has been damaged; we'll need two days to fix it.'
All day, the sailors and the boats were racing at their very limits, unless a nonchalant James Spithill was to be believed after the race. 'It was great racing for sure, not even at the limit of the boats; still a way to go.' Brave words after a race that had spectators gasping with disbelief.
While Spithill won the race, his rival Dean Barker's second place was sufficient to give victory to the Kiwis in the Plymouth AC Preliminaries.
In Sunday’s AC500 Speed Trials, it looked like the Kiwis had it in the bag with two great runs while others were spinning off the race track. James Spithill's words nearly came back to haunt him as the ORACLE AC45 flipped right on to its edge - there were a few moments of doubt as to whether it would capsize - before it slapped back down on its floats.
With Spithill out of contention in the speed trials, it was up to the remaining teams - and ORACLE Racing Coutts in particular - to take the fight to the Kiwis. Once again Russell Coutts had the bit between his teeth and turned in a scorching final run to post a winning time of 37:48 seconds.
Monday and Tuesday are off days at the America’s Cup World Series – Plymouth allowing the teams a chance to rest and repair both man and machine. Racing resumes on Wednesday with qualifying races for the Plymouth AC Match Race Championship.
Quotes from the sailors
Russell Coutts, ORACLE Racing Coutts, on the importance of paying attention:
'A lot of things had your full attention today. You could screw up a tack and capsize today. It's good, it's a test of sailing skill, and that's what it's all about, isn't it? Wait until the fleet goes to San Francisco. We'll be racing in those conditions every day.'
Chris Draper, Team Korea, on the moment of capsize:
'We knew we were slow when we went into the bear-away, knew it was a bit high risk. Not ideal to be practising these things in a race, but good that happened now, and a credit to our shore crew that they helped us get upright again and for us to finish the race.'
Vasilij Zbogar, Green Comm Racing, falling in just moments before the finish:
'Capsizing at the end was really bad, but I guess we were very tired. It was the first time we sail in these hard conditions and first time racing in these conditions. For the first half we sailed very well, but the second half people were very tired, we started to make more mistakes. We wanted to play it safe and approach safely to the finish, but with these boats you can’t play it safely. You have to go 100% all the time otherwise you capsize. Unfortunately we capsized just before the finish but we could have capsized anywhere around the track.'
Terry Hutchinson, Artemis Racing, on why he retired after leading the race:
'The wing hit the runner and folded over the back part of the wing, Emirates sailed to leeward of us, and to avoid further damage to the boat we decided to stop sailing.'
Dean Barker, Emirates Team New Zealand, on the challenge of high wind racing:
'It all comes down to nailing the boat handling. Unfortunately we missed two tacks today, didn't take all our opportunities. But overall we are pleased. For us these events are all about developing our team, getting more and more comfortable sailing in multihulls. It’s nice to have a good variety of conditions because the conditions we’ve seen today are what we expect to see in San Francisco, so you’ve got to get comfortable in it.'
James Spithill, ORACLE Racing Spithill, always looking for improvement even after winning:
'There are a few things we need to sharpen up on, but we're happy. Today was trying to be smooth. The conditions today, what's great is, if you make a mistake you pay for it. And that's how it should be. It shouldn't be easy.'
Charlie Ogletree, China Team, pleased with a very solid outing:
'A really good day for us. We are really happy with our preparation, program and new sailors onboard. This is by far the best we have sailed on this boat, with this team.'
Loick Peyron, Energy Team, not regretting his 'offshore' approach to the strong conditions:
'It was difficult going around the corners today. The experienced multihull sailor in me was telling me to back off a bit, to avoid breakage and sail in 'offshore' mode. I don't regret it because our boat is intact whereas others are having to make repairs. I have experienced too many disasters in multihulls not to be affected.'
Bertrand Pacé, Aleph, thankful for a gracefully slow nosedive in front of the crowds in Plymouth:
'When we capsized it went over very slowly so everyone had time to hold on and so no one was injured.'