‘Super Sunday’ it was, with a thrilling fleet race in the America’s Cup World Championships San Diego, that set the adrenaline pumping as Team Korea pushed the world’s top stars for the lead around the race track.
A superb effort from Chris Draper and the crew lived up to the mantra of the ‘best sailors on the fastest boats’, with valuable Championship points at stake as the wind picked up on cue in San Diego Bay for the final day of the regatta.
Darren Bundock of Australia posted the fastest speed of 26.8 knots for Oracle Racing Coutts in an exciting prequel for the AC500 Speed Trials, though Korea were way off the pace in this fun 500m blast, coming last and over 2 knots slower, having suffered a lull in the breeze approaching the start of both timed runs. That proved fortuitous however, as the crew decided to change to their big gennaker for the main fleet race ahead.
Team Korea’s day had started with a display of an ancient traditional Korean art form, involving dancing, drumming and playing instruments called Punmul, performed in front of the team base by a local Troupe of high school students living in San Diego. With the world’s press watching, the shore and sailing crew joined together to enjoy this entertaining cultural display, before refocusing their minds to the race ahead.
As the nine boats lined up for the start, none pushed the line too early so it was an unusual clean start, and Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker got a flyer as they tore down the short reach at full speed, the pack reeling off behind them in close order. Korea’s Skipper Chris Draper chose to gybe wide of the melee ahead and rounded fifth, taking a higher angle into the run downwind.
At the leeward gate Korea rounded fifth behind the Kiwis and chose the left side of the beat with most of the fleet, but Artemis of Sweden went right and enjoyed a huge lift that saw them take the lead, then cede it to Energy Team from France in what was developing into a super close race. We’ve seen before in these long races with a decent breeze, that Korea’s White Tiger can be on the pace with the best, and so it was again. Picking off places upwind, Draper smoothly guided their AC45 into third place, enjoying a battle with Energy and New Zealand, Aleph of France and Artemis, the first six closely grouped. It was rounding the windward gate that Oracle Spithill got away from the pack with a great move between the approaching boats, rounding the mark at speed.
Now Korea was flying downwind, the choice of gennaker paying handsomely, clawing places again and moving right up to a battle with the kiwis, alternating between second and third place with them and Artemis. Rounding gate 4 Korea slipped into second and in trying to call for an overlap at the mark, Artemis wrapped their jib forcing them to almost stop to untangle it. The contest with Korea, New Zealand and Energy intensified from there, each within a few seconds of the other in what had now developed into an enthralling race.
Approaching the final gate at the top of the course, Korea was third and just 5 seconds adrift of the kiwis, hot on their tail, Spithill now clear and gone down the track. Downwind to the final mark it was real neck and neck, full tilt racing, but Draper opted to gybe away, then soon gybes back and – disaster. On board the gennaker sheet became tangled and second by second, meter by meter the white tiger slowed, unable to crank the large gennaker up. First Energy pass, then Aleph and agonisingly, 20 seconds too late, Korea was on the move again. But there was no way back, the moment had passed, once again illustrating how just one mistake is the difference between a win and a loss, Team Korea finishing fifth.
Skipper Chris Draper said afterwards, ‘’we sailed a good race, in fact I am pleased with how we sailed all week, we just haven’t had the ‘run of the green’. I am proud with how we are sailing, and we can leave with some real positives, as we have done with the last few events. Obviously we have been very frustrated at times, the margins are so close in this, and we had a few problems with the spinnaker sheets this week which we need to address. That’s been the difference between qualifying for the Match race finals and having a 2 or a 3 today. We have an opportunity to catch up with the leaders with some training, and we’re now seeing there are a few of us pushing the racing hard already. The future looks really bright for the team, and it’s an exciting time for Team Korea’’.
CEO Kim Dong Young said, ‘’It was a brilliant race today, and I am a little upset that we made a mistake on the final run when we could have finished second behind Oracle. The team is sailing very well generally, and overall I am happy with the way they have done after the three regattas considering where we came from. We started with no experience as a new team ahead of Portugal just 4 months ago, and it is really amazing how well we have done and come together. To be fighting New Zealand, Artemis and Oracle like this, we could never have believed that going into the first World series event, but we need to keep pushing and keep improving from here’’.
So Team Korea, the newcomers in their first year continue to impress at world level, and now with the combined results of both Fleet Racing and Match Racing together, half way through the AC series is in a remarkable equal fourth overall in the world. The next ACWS event is April next year in Naples, Italy, followed by Venice, also in Italy, before the 2011-12 World Series finals in Newport, R.I., USA.