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PRADA Cup Round Robin Day 2: American Magic falls in two light air races

by New York Yacht Club American Magic 16 Jan 02:15 PST 15 January - 22 February 2021
PRADA Cup Day 2: American Magic and INEOS Team UK both spent significant time in displacement mode in the second race today © Sailing Energy / American Magic

New York Yacht Club American Magic fell in both of its races on Day 2 of the Prada Cup, the Challenger Selection Series for the 36th America's Cup.

In extremely light conditions, all three teams spent large portions of both races held on Saturday in "displacement mode," fighting hard to find any and all pressure on the inner-harbor race course near Auckland's North Head. American Magic's AC75, PATRIOT, struggled in both pre-starts and while dramatic comebacks were engineered partway through both races, it was ultimately not enough. The U.S. Challenger now stands at 0-3 in the round robin stage of the event.

"It's hard racing when it's like that," said Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of American Magic. "We had a little bit of discussion in the pre-start about almost racing as if the other team was not there, connecting the dots of the breeze and doing the best job that we could. But it was hard. And, you know, sometimes you're the bug and sometimes you're the windshield."

Round Robin 1, Race 3: Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli def. New York Yacht Club American Magic (DNF)

Both American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli entered the day with 0-1 records, both having fallen to INEOS Team UK on Friday. Race 3 of the Prada Cup started on Saturday in a soft southerly breeze with both boats foiling into the starting box. A slight left shift put Luna Rossa at risk of incurring a penalty as the Italian boat tried to cross PATRIOT, but Francesco Bruni, the port-side helmsman for Luna Rossa, was just able to squeak past the American team.

American Magic, in attempting to score a penalty on Luna Rossa, took a sudden deep dive into the starting box after entry. This ended up as an expensive maneuver, as it caused PATRIOT to fall off her foils. After the close encounter, Luna Rossa favored the starboard side of the box while American Magic stuck close to the pin. The Italians soon fell off their foils as well, and entered displacement mode as the clock ticked down to the start.

However, Luna Rossa was the first team back in the air, foiling across the starting line shortly after the gun while American Magic took approximately 30 seconds to get back up on its foils and cross the line. Though Luna Rossa jumped out to a significant lead, the light and variable wind conditions quickly turned the race into a game of chutes and ladders.

Luna Rossa's larger foils appeared to give it a slight edge in the marginal conditions and Challenger of Record built on its lead through the second half of the first beat. The black and red yacht rounded the windward mark while American Magic was stuck in displacement mode halfway up the first beat.

"Were we expecting this? You know, right now we're sailing statistically in the windiest month of the year," said Hutchinson. "I think when you design [the boat] and you make these decisions, you're hedged. If this is the worst of it, then we'll put it behind us and we'll keep moving forward."

At this point the race turned in favor of American Magic. Helmsman Dean Barker and the team were able to get the boat foiling and fly around the windward mark, while Luna Rossa struggled in a lull midway through the run. A 500-meter lead for the Italian team quickly disappeared as American Magic foiled past Luna Rossa and built a 500-meter lead of its own before falling again into displacement mode.

It was then the Italian's turn to take control, and this time for good. Luna Rossa picked up a puff higher up the course and foiled past PATRIOT two-thirds of the way down the run. The Italians stayed up in the air around the leeward mark as American Magic finally received the same breeze, executed a speed-build and takeoff, and rounded exactly one minute later.

"The other guys were flying and we were stuck in the water a bit," said Hutchinson. "So you have to keep [the team's performance] in perspective. The racecourse was filled with minefields."

Staying on the foils remained a touch-and-go proposition, but a slight increase in the average pressure shut down any hopes of a comeback for American Magic in the final two legs. With a course shortened by the Race Committee from six legs to four, Luna Rossa was able to mostly stay up on its foils on the second lap of the course and claim its first point of the Prada Cup.

Round Robin 2, Race 1: INEOS Team UK def. New York Yacht Club American Magic (+4:59)

The second race of the day was against INEOS Team UK, and was again run on the edge of foiling conditions. American Magic struggled out of the gate, mistiming its starting box entry. When it became apparent that PATRIOT was about to enter the box early, the team turned sharply to starboard, sending the AC75 off its foils and into the water just as INEOS Team UK entered the box. Getting back on the foils in the extremely light conditions proved impossible for the U.S. yacht during the pre-start. It wasn't until roughly two minutes into the race before PATRIOT lifted free and set off in pursuit of BRITANNIA.

The British lead ballooned to more than 800 meters before INEOS splashed down just seconds from rounding the windward gate. American Magic took advantage and closed the gap between the boats to less than 100 meters at the gate before enduring a painfully slow rounding.

INEOS built a lead of several hundred meters on the run as American Magic rounded almost no wind. However, there was no doubt the race would come down to which team could get into the breeze first and hold it. PATRIOT positioned itself for what seemed like a promising shift partway down the first run, which could have brought them back within striking distance. Nevertheless, despite the good angle of pressure, the light breeze again fell to almost zero in the area around the American yacht. In contrast, INEOS Team UK found a whisper of pressure, lifted free of the water, and soon stretched the "rubber band" formerly holding the teams together past the breaking point.

"We were we basically even with them at the top mark," recalled Hutchinson. "We were having a good displacement battle downwind and they got a little bit of pressure in front of us and were able to get their boat up and out of the water. It was swings and roundabouts [out there]."

Once again, the race committee shortened the course from six legs to four. As BRITANNIA approached the final windward gate, with PATRIOT well astern, the breeze again shut off. The focus of the race for Ben Ainslie-led team turned from protecting its lead to beating the clock.

According to INEOS Team UK Tactician Giles Scott at the post-race press conference, there was real concern on BRITANNIA entering the final leg that they would not finish before the 45-minute limit expired. The outcome was in doubt for much of the run, but the British yacht picked up enough breeze when it counted most and foiled across the line with just over 2 minutes to spare.

Sunday's racing will see American Magic face off against Luna Rossa in the second race of the day. "It's just about simply keeping our heads down, doing our jobs, and not deviating from our program as we're going forward," said Hutchinson. "You can't really hit a panic button or anything like that. It's not going to do any of us any good. We just have to stay committed to what we're doing and how we're racing the boat."

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