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America's Cup - Two week practice racing period begins in Bermuda

by America's Cup Media and Sail-World on 22 Jan 2017
Oracle Team USA - America's Cup Practice racing in AC45-S -, January 2017 Americas Cup Media
Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill says one of the big benefits of the current practice race period is in switching from the fleet racing of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series to the one on one match racing that will be the hallmark of the 2017 competition.

According to Spithill, getting into the ‘mano a mano’ pre-start duels gives the teams a chance to exercise a different muscle – and one that could give a winning advantage when racing starts in on May 26.

“We’re seeing some different styles from the other teams out there and for all of us, there’s so much to learn as the World Series was pretty much all fleet racing,” Spithill said.

The four Bermuda-based teams are now a few days in to a two-week practice race period, with Regatta Director Iain Murray on hand to chair the proceedings.

Oracle Team USA is believed to have been 'very fast' in the practice racing.

“We have had three days of really good racing in nice conditions,” agreed Chris Draper, the wing trimmer and sailing team manager for SoftBank Team Japan.

“It's a great opportunity for us to race against the three teams that are here and check in with our progress. You can do as much testing and training as you like but the reality really shows through when you line up in the heat of battle.”

Over the course of the weekend, there was plenty of classic match race pre-start tactics on display, with hooks and pushes, boat-to-boat shouting and animated appeals to the Umpire for penalties.

“It’s been really tight,” Spithill said. “We’ve had some very close racing. We're seeing more lead changes now than we have had in any other class of America's Cup boat.”

After three days of competition, all of the teams have at least one tick on both sides of the won/lost ledger.

Nathan Outteridge, the skipper of Artemis Racing, has featured in some of the aggressive pre-starts with Oracle Team USA. He says the first three days have featured different conditions and pushed the team into race mode.

“We’re only a few days in but we’ve already had a real mixture of conditions from close to 20 knots on the first day, which was great fun… And then lighter on the weekend when we had to wait a little for the breeze to build to 8-12 knots.

“The practice racing provides us with a great opportunity to check in with the other teams, and helps to switch our focus into race mode as we move closer to May 26th.”

Draper echoed the thought: “We are very pleased with how we are going at the moment but as always there is an enormous amount of very hard work and water to pass under the boat before the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Qualifiers begin in May.”

S-W: Only four of the teams entered in the 35th America's Cup are able to participate in the series which is sailed in AC45-S boats.

The other two teams, Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama Team France have assembled and fitted out their AC50 catamarans in their home countries and have 'cannibalised' their AC45-S boats to move vital gear, such as daggerboard adjustment systems across to the slightly bigger AC50's.

All teams have used AC50 parts on their AC45-S test platforms, however underlining the disparity between the teams both Groupama Team France and Emirates Team NZ no longer have sailing AC45-S boats. Oracle Team USA and Land Rover BAR own four each (although it is no clear how many are in sailing condition), Artemis Racing has launched three, and Softbank Team Japan has one on loan from Oracle Team USA.

Although no formal announcement has been made there, it is expected that the four Bermuda based teams will apply their 28-day AC50 sailing Blackout period from January 9, and on that basis the first sailing day is February 8, 2017.

Sailing the AC45-S was not included in the 28 day sailing Blackout agreed in mid-December 2016, by the teams ahead of a ruling on Remedies by the anonymous Arbitration Panel for the 35th America's Cup. That Hearing in July in London, followed a successful complaint by Emirates Team New Zealand over the breaking of an agreement to host the Qualifier Series in Auckland. The amount of financial compensation to be awarded to the NZ team has not been announced.

It is not known if the practice racing, if any, will switch to the AC50's once the February 8 launch date has been passed, and AC50's can be launched. Emirates Team New Zealand and Groupama Team France are not expected to be sailing in Bermuda until mid-late March, 2017.

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