It was on the edge, seat of the pants sailing at the America’s Cup World Series event in Plymouth, UK, as ‘Super Sunday’ delivered spectacular racing conditions for the America’s Cup teams in the long fleet race, complete with three dramatic capsizes.
With glorious conditions greeting the thousands of spectators watching from the heights of Plymouth Hoe, the long racecourse was set out before them in the natural arena of Plymouth Sound with the breeze gusting 24 to 28 knots as the race began.
The AC45 yachts hit the start line fully powered up and screeched through the first reach to the gybe at mark 1, Team Korea rounding with the leading group and bearing off downwind at top speed and staying with the pack, as Artemis of Sweden, Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) and ORACLE Racing 5 (USA) led around the course, but as the fleet headed off on the downwind leg, the carnage began.
At top speed the French team Energy buried the nose of their catamaran, stopping dead in the water and were lucky to not capsize, a fate that befell their compatriots just a minute later, as heading towards the bottom gate of the course, Aleph tipped their boat over in dramatic style right in front of the astonished spectators. The support boat was alongside quickly, but there was a real danger the boat would be swept onto the rocks, a sight that captivated people watching as the drama unfolded, the race temporarily forgotten.
The team were dragged to safety and righted in time but could not continue in the race, a race that was quickly developing between the big three teams of ORACLE, ETNZ and Artemis. Beating upwind, Korea was on the pace and staying in touch, as Artemis was next to retire in the rough seaway with damage to their wing, culling the fleet back to just 7 remaining teams. Meanwhile Jimmy Spithill (ORS) slid past Dean Barker (ETNZ) at the windward gate as both stalled approaching the turn, which most of the teams had issues dealing with in these strong winds.
It was rounding through the gate at the windward mark where it all went wrong for Team Korea in sixth place, as Skipper Chris Draper explained in the post race interview, ‘’As we bore off around the mark boat after slowing right down, we got a big gust, couldn’t ease the wing enough in time and so had too much pressure on, stuck the nose in and slowly went over sideways. I thought we nearly saved it, but the wind just pushed us over. Actually we got away quite lightly’’. It was a striking image as Peter Merrington from Australia fell from the hull and bounced off the wing, sliding safely into the water, while Team Korea’s guest racer at the back was left hanging in mid-air for a minute before climbing down the trampoline into the water, for an experience she will never forget!
Pete said, ‘’As I fell I managed to spread my arms and try to minimise the point of impact which seemed to work pretty well as the only damage was done to the top of the wing where it hit the drink’’. The team’s support boat driven by Tom Kiff was there within 20 seconds, attached a line and had the boat upright in just a matter of minutes, the experience of the previous capsize last month in training certainly paying dividends here. Chris continued, ‘’fantastic job by the support crew on the boat to get there and onto us so fast, they really managed to minimize the damage to the wing. We broke two of the smaller ribs at the top but that was it, and we were able to sail on and finish the race’’.
But the carnage was not complete, as ETNZ and Jimmy Spithill’s ORACLE continued their battle at the front, with Spithill opening up a sizeable lead by the end to take line honours and all ten points in 37 minutes 41 seconds, Dean Barker steering ETNZ to second some 25 seconds adrift. As they rounded the final mark and had their sights set on the finish line, GreenCom Racing from Spain suffered the same fate with too much power on, becoming the third yacht to capsize. Sadly in righting the boat it flipped over again causing a major tear in tear top of the wing with four broken ribs, but again, as with the previous disasters, luckily no-one was injured.
The AC500 Speed Trials, centre stage in front of the crowds, saw Russell Coutts repeat his feat of Saturday in setting the fastest speed, with an average of 25.92 knots ahead of ETNZ on 25.57 knots through the 500 metre speed course.
With these four opening preliminary races completed, Emirates Team New Zealand topped the table on a combined 37 points, ahead of Jimmy Spithill on ORACLE Racing just a point adrift, Artemis taking third. Team Korea were eighth overall, and as Chris Draper commented, ‘’not our best weekend of sailing. We need more practise racing in these high winds as it’s our first experience of it, but yet again, we showed we have the pace and the potential to be right up there. It’ll come right, and fortunately these races don’t count towards the World Championship series so we have time’’.
With the race being watched live online around the world, the sensational images are certain to liven TV sports reports with international news stations globally, as the vision set out a year ago by Russell Coutts edged ever closer to reality, with the ‘best sailors’ certainly sailing some of the fastest and most spectacular boats here in Plymouth today.