Only in their dreams would the wildest of the Kiwi supporters dared to predict the outcome of the first day’s racing in the 34th America’s Cup. Two victories, carved in 'proper' match racing fashion by being faster on the upwind legs, to Emirates Team New Zealand put a big grin on the face of the team’s managing director, Grant Dalton, the oldest man on either boat.
'Dalts' would have remembered one former San Franciscan sailor for whom the America’s Cup held a special place. Tom Blackaller, who teased Dennis Conner in Fremantle when he made allegations that the Kiwis were cheating by building a glassfibre 12-Metre. 'Dennis, I don’t think you should have said that,' quipped Blackaller. 'I take it all back,' said DC. 'I don’t think you can,' said Blackie. Tom Blackaller died at the wheel of his race-car 24 years ago today.
The starts of both races were keenly contested, but in each of them, Jimmy Spithill steered the Oracle Team USA AC-72 to leeward of his opponent, but each time Dean Barker managed to avoid the attentions of his attacker and led around the first mark to begin the downwind leg.
For the first race the wind was 16 knots from the west-south-west and from a two second lead at the first mark, ETNZ gained a further two seconds and then almost threw it away with a bad mark rounding. The fast travelling Oracle had some difficulty in avoiding the stalled Kiwi boat.
Oracle took over the front running but not for long. Halfway up the beat, ETNZ was back in front and rounded the third mark of the 9.71 mile course with a lead of 25 seconds. The Oracle crew didn’t give up but lost a further 11 seconds by the finish. But, whatever else, we had had two passes by the boats – the first all summer.
The wind was much the same for the second race and Jimmy 'Pit Bull' Spithill was at his aggressive best, attempting to 'hook' Barker in the pre-start. There was a luff that was very close, but Barker slid clear ahead and was off to a two second lead at the first mark and the two matched gybes downwind and stayed close.
Upwind, Barker relentlessly drew ahead and by the time the two boats went though the weather gate 46 seconds apart, the race was as good as over.
ETNZ’s peak speed of 46.0 was considerably greater than the 42.87 of Oracle, but VMG angles have to be considered, and there is little doubt that the American boat was sailing deeper downwind.
Two-nil up and there were smiles on the faces of the Kiwi crew, but it is fully aware that there is a long way to go in this series. 'There’s lots for us to learn,' said Barker, 'we made mistakes but otherwise had two good races today.'
[These are] 'two very evenly matched teams in evenly matched boats,' said Spithill. 'We lost on boatspeed, not strategy,' admitted Oracle tactician, John Kostecki.
There are two races scheduled on the morrow, but with a 2 – 0 lead there is reason for the smiles on the faces of the Kiwi supporters.