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America's Cup Rialto: December 8 - Jousting in AC75's is not for the faint-hearted

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 8 Dec 2020 14:06 PST 9 December 2020
Te Rehutai, Emirates Team New Zealand, and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli on the startline - December 08,2020 - Waitemata Harbour - America's Cup 36 © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Kiwi Cup-tragics will be sleeping easier after the first of five practice days ahead of next week's America's Cup World Series regatta.

Those who conceived the AC75 class, and put together this event should also be allowing themselves a few moments of self-congratulation. While the racing itself might not have been the most scintillating, all the ingredients are there, and fans got an insight of what is to come with an unscheduled prestart donnybrook between the Kiwis and Italians in the final start of the day.

Racing was set to get under way at 3.00pm, with a three hour session. The offshore breeze was in strongly in the morning with average wind speed well over the ACWS limit of 21kts, and gusting close to 30kts.

New York Yacht Club's American Magic was first out of the Wynyard Marina, around 1240hrs followed by INEOS Team UK.

The breeze eased on the parade down the harbour into a moderate WNW breeze (offshore) as we reached the race area Course E in the Tamaki Strait between Waiheke Island and Eastern Beach/Maretai.

The idea for the day was to have the four teams paired off, with several starts and first beats in the direction of a windward mark, concluding with a two lap race, before the second pairing got under way.

Defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand paired off with American Magic, helmed by former ETNZ skipper Dean Barker.

The prestarts were vigorous, with none of the issues raised since the inception of the AC75 class getting any traction.

There could be no doubt that Barker won the first three starts, but with Burling in a handy position from which he was able to build an attack.

At the first or second cross, Burling was ahead in two of the three pre-starts, however the racing was marred by the permanent wind bend that prevails in the area. Had the racing been for points, it would have devolved into a race for the left hand corner. The right was made even less attractive because of the strong outgoing tide. Both attributes are such that the area is not suitable for racing at America's Cup racing - but were fine for today's hitout.

New York Yacht Club pulled up in both of the remaining prestarts, the two combatants testing each other until halfway through the prestart, before American Magic went boat up on both starts and dropped out. The planned two lap race did not proceed off the final start, with the Kiwis crossing the line at pace and then winding up several hundred metres up the track.

While the Kiwis might have lost their contested starts, they looked to be pointing higher and sailing faster. After the first start both boats headed left before the kiwis tacked, with American Magic to windward and in what should have been a controlling position. However Te Rehutai was able to sail through to leeward, and close out the height advantage enjoyed by American Magic, before the drag race was broken off.

In the second, American Magic got into the left hand corner and got the shift, while Emirates Team New Zealand were pushing it uphill on the right, and although the made an impression on the US team couldn't close out the gap.

The third was a similar encounter to the first, however the Kiwis ability to point higher was evident, whether they or the US team were sailing faster was not possible to determine from our position astern on the startline.

The US team had hoisted their their cut down mainsail which is smaller in area than the regular mainsail. In the fading breeze it was probably a wrong choice, but quite difficult to replace between races.

The British were scheduled to go through the same program with their partner for the day, Luna Rossa. However despite getting their mainsail hoisted they suffered a breakdown, and towed home, leaving Luna Rossa alone to go through the motions of five lonely start sequences.

Emirates Team New Zealand stepped into the gap left by the Brits, with several keenly and increasingly aggressive starts between Burling and Spithill/Bruni. The last being the best of the day.

The Italian idea of co-helmsmen with Jimmy Spithill to starboard and Francesco Bruni to port seemed to work just fine, whether it is a model the other teams are keen to emulate is another matter entirely.

The first beats followed a similar pattern to those against American Magic with the first boat into the left hand corner emerging with the advantage, from the wind bend and adverse tide. However as with American Magic, Emirates Team New Zealand appeared to be sailing higher and slightly faster - and there was little doubt that had the races gone the distance to the top mark, that the Kiwis would have been ahead.

This was the first day ever of racing in AC75's despite the class being into its second generation. None of the starts extended into a race, or even a first mark rounding.

The take-outs from the day are that despite the ill-bodings from the doomsayers, the class provides spectacular racing in the hands of top professional crews. Matchracing AC75's is not a sport for the low-skilled or fainthearted, but it is compulsive viewing.

Fears that awful things would happen with the wings flying around on the end of carbon foil arms, didn't seem to be an issue. Again in the hands of skilled sailors, they just keep more separation between the boats. While the boats might have a jogging pace while still foiling, they don't seem to want to drop off the foils during the prestart, and the matchracing doesn't seem to be any different from other classes - everything just happens a lot more quickly.

Racing in the Auckland round of the America's Cup World Series gets underway on Thursday, December 17 to December 20, 2020 - and will be run on the stadium courses close to Auckland harbour's many vantage spots.

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