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America's Cup Rialto: December 15 - The series that didn't tell us much - Practice Day 5

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 15 Dec 2020 02:33 PST 15 December 2020
America's Cup World Series Practice - Waitemata Harbour - December 15, 2020 - 36th Americas Cup © Richard Gladwell /

After five days of Practice Racing, the Race Management team were the only group that got a good workout on the water.

The four teams for reasons best known to themselves, played a very concealed hand - and in the end, the secrecy was probably overplayed.

Whether that racing style continues into the America's Cup World Series and Christmas Cup, obviously remains to be seen.

To add to the credibility gap, the racing was held on Course E - in Tamaki Strait, and well to the north of Course A - out on the former America's Cup course of 2000 and 2003. Neither area should be used in the Prada Cup and America's Cup Match, and are not easily viewed from shore which is the point of having the racing on the three Stadium Courses.

On the water, you see a different picture to the result sheet and all the conclusions that are made in the mainstream media.

The five days of Practice Racing can best be likened to a pursuit race in Olympic cycling. Everyone is showing flashes of form, without showing their hand. No-one has made a break on the bunch, and three of the teams can probably walk away with something more than a participation certificate.

The fourth, INEO Team UK, were caught with a start line penalty in their only race. The penalty which delays the boat until released by the umpires seemed overly harsh, as the Brits dropped off their foils and then struggled to get foiling again after the breeze softened. Once they were away and chasing American Magic, the race was just a farce, and the issue of penalties in marginal conditions needs a second and third look - due to unintended consequences.

The US team did well to stay foil-borne, and protected their apparent wind to do so.

What the shore based analysts didn't see was INEOS Team UK chasing hard after the Emirates Team NZ/Luna Rossa pairing on a windward beat, late this afternoon, and wasn't being blown out the back.

The day started out with a light-moderate southerly breeze which didn't trigger the minimum wind limit alarm aboard the race committee boat, however in the few minutes remaining before the start it crumped out out completely leaving Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand sailing at walking pace, off their foils. Eventually the 12 minute time limit for the first leg, clicked on and the race was abandoned.

A near 100degree windshift signalled the arrival of an impressive 15kt SW (offshore) breeze, and those on the water saw AC75 sailing at its spectacular best.

The resail of the Luna Rossa/Emirates Team New Zealand matchup produced a significant win for the Kiwis, who trailed around the first mark by half second, increasing to a 2 second margin at the bottom of Leg 2. Whether Peter Burling pushed the throttle wide open on Te Rehutai, or Spithill/Bruni buttoned off - the margin increased on the upwind leg to a massive 18seconds, extending to 32 second lead at the end of Leg 5.

Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic squared off in the only other full length race of the day.

The Kiwis did an accurate start crossing almost on "gunfire" with American Magic picking up a starting penalty and went though the start line well astern of the Kiwis. Surprisingly that only translated to a 4 second margin for the Kiwis at the first mark, cut back to 2 seconds at the bottom. At the end of the second beat, American Magic turned the tables on the America's Cup champions pulling 11 seconds out of the Kiwis, and leading by 9 seconds at Mark 3. At the finish that margin remained the winning time differential in favour of the US Challenger, in a race which lasted just over 14 minutes.

The final race between INEOS Team UK and Luna Rossa was abandoned soon after the start. It was to be sailed using virtual marks - coordinates punched into the AC75's onboard systems. After the conclusion of the racing around 6.40pm the Race Committee turned their attentions to retrieving a sunken mark, hoping to achieve their task before nightfall.

For those who keep the score, four races were sailed. American Magic competed in three and won two. Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa sailed in two, scoring one win and one loss each. INEOS Team UK sailed in only one full race, and arguably lost that after incurring an excessive starting penalty. Not a lot to go on.

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