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America's Cup Rialto: Dec 17 - The Opening of the Opera

by Richard Gladwell, 17 Dec 2020 06:11 PST 18 December 2020
ETNZ and American Magic at the end of Leg 5, Match 4 - America's Cup World Series - Day 1 - Waitemata Harbour - December 17, 2020 - 36th Americas Cup presented by Prada © Richard Gladwell /

The opening stanzas of the America's Cup World Series had been waited by so many for so long.

As the teams started their warmup moves in idyllic conditions on the Waitemata Harbour, it seemed that the long wait, and all the hiccups along the way, had finally come to an end, and Cup fans were about to be rewarded for their patience.

Any suspicions that the Challengers weren't going to race hard against their common foe, were quickly laid to rest, and we saw quite a different picture from the too frequent snore-fest of the five day Practice Series.

First up was the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand vs Luna Rossa, the Challenger of Record.

While it was great to see the two AC75's flying literally and figuratively upwind, the joy soon gave way to a tinge of anguish at the 41 second margin around the first mark. The Italians at that stage were an unknown commodity, but most pundits would have rated them highly pre-series - and it was a surprise to see Spithill/Bruni so far behind, so early in the race.

The Kiwis crept further ahead on the second leg extending to 73 seconds - and held at around that margin until the final leg when the Italians came unstuck and the damage amounted to 193 seconds at the finish.

Today's second match with New York Yacht Club pitched against the Royal Yacht Squadron, was between the same two clubs that had contested the first race for what became the America's Cup back in 1851. Now, as then, the comment to Queen Victoria "there is no second" was applicable today as it was almost 170 years ago.

American Magic has proven to be a quiet winner. Against the hapless British they won by a massive 5 minutes, however much of that was attributed to the ongoing issues INEOS Team UK are experiencing with their foil arm cant system.

Although they had experienced cant system issues before the start, the Brits elected not to default, and dropped back to a 38 sec margin at the windward mark at the end of a 2.02nm course in a 16kt SSW breeze. After continuing control problems the margin increased to a whopping 300 seconds (5 minutes).

After just two races, it was beginning to look like it would be a long Summer.

That impression gather credence, in the next match, after the British team were handed a penalty for a start box incident.

In the AC75's penalties are proving to be more of a hiding than in the non-filing classes. After dropping back to be 69secs in arrears at the first mark, INEOS Team UK's foil arm canting system issues continued when the starboard arm froze - creating potentially a catastrophic situation for the Brits who were pointing toward the boundary, a line of gathered spectator boats, and the shoreline beyond and shallow water. It took two chase boats to extract the Brits, who were forced to retire as a result.

The day was fast becoming tedious, and bewildering for a class that had promised so much, but was delivering so little.

That was until the America's Cup champions stepped up against New York Yacht Club. Suddenly the sailing world saw a match race the like of which has never been seen before as Te Rehutai and Patriot ripped into each other from the moment they entered the starting box.

Maybe former Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman, Dean Barker, now on the helm of American Magic, had a point to prove to his former team.

After suffering some control breakdown issues before the start, the US team sped away to a 15sec lead at Mark 1, increasing to 17 secs at the bottom of Leg 2.

On Leg 3, and the penultimate leg, the Kiwis initiated a good old fashioned, but high speed tacking duel - and began to chip away at the American's lead and caught them at the final mark, Mark 4. The Kiwis appeared to have a significant speed advantage against the US team.

After scoring a penalty on Barker, Burling made an error by quickly gybing and clearing the penalty for the US team.

The clearance occurs when a a yacht turns and the overlap line suddenly widens to greater than the penalty distance called by the umpires. The reverse can happen as in one notorious incident that occurred on Day 2 of the Challenger semi-final in Bermuda, also involving Barker, the helm of Softbank Team Japan.

With some deft tactics at the close of Leg 6, Barker put one over Burling extracting a 12 second win.

At the Media Conference later in the evening, Ainslie was not happy with the cant arm situation.

The mechanism is a one design system developed by Emirates Team New Zealand and supplied to all teams. There has long been an issue with the sharing of the software with the teams - so that it remains an unalterable feature of the AC75.

There are several good reasons for this refusal - chief of which being that it would create a new area of development for the teams for very little real gain.

Ainslie revealed that the team had been getting updates to their software as late as noon on today's race day - indicating that the Brits are on a different version of what is supposed to be unique code, and begging the questions as to how this could be.

The Challenging teams and Brits in particular have been known for some time that they want the program code, and this impasse looks set to continue, with the Defender supplying code updates to a Challenger without updating all teams.

Unless a quick solution is found, it seems inevitable that a referral of the matter to the Arbitration Panel will be likely.

The Catch-22 must be resolved before the commencement of the Challenger Qualifications in mid-January.

For all the shenanigans on and off the water, the television production was spectacular, taking the coverage of America's Cup competition to a new level. But as has been seen before high quality TV production all too quickly becomes the new norm, if at least some of the racing is not tight combat.

In today's final match the quality of coverage, and quality of racing should have left Cup-tragics and mainstream sports fans looking forward to their next helping of AC75 racing.

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