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Prada Cup - Semi Finals Day 1 Luna Rossa goes up 2-0

by Ben Gladwell - Sail-World NZL 28 Jan 20:39 PST 29 January 2021
Luna Rossa powers to windward in Race 2 of the Prada Cup Semi-Final © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Italy's Luna Rossa turned in a commanding performance in fresh winds, close to the wind limit, on the Waitemata Harbour, to win both Semi-Final races, and take a 2-0 lead in the best of seven series.

The breeze which was a lot stronger elsewhere in Auckland was only 12 to 15 knots at the top of the course and 18 to 20 at the start as racing in the Prada Cup Semi-Finals got underway at 3.15pm, local time.

Here's how the racing unfolded:

Race 1

Luna Rossa got first blood at the start, jamming American Magic up to windward and forcing them to stall. The Italians then rocketed off to the start, crossing the line 5 lengths in front.

American Magic looked rattled. Barker leaning heavily on the windward side of the cockpit for stability as he wrestled with the steering wheel. The wheel vibrates violently back and forth – a problem none of the other boats appear to have. Off the start they looked low and slow but once they completed their first manoeuvre on the race course, they found a nice mode and were higher and faster than the Italians, pulling their lead back to around 100m as both boats hauled up the racetrack at 38-40 knots.

The first bear away for the Americans would have been a heart in mouth moment as they watched Luna Rossa accelerating up to 49 knots. Not to be outdone, Barker and the American Magic crew cracked the 50 knot mark as they rounded the mark – topping out at 50.57 knots.

The breeze was up but the hammers were down on both boats, with boat speeds hovering above 48 knots for most of the run. At that speed, legs of the course are ticked off pretty quickly. American Magic didn't make massive inroads on the downwind, rounding the bottom mark with a similar delta as manoeuvres and passing lanes were kept to a minimum.

Upwind, Luna Rossa looked to be sailing a slightly higher but slower mode than the crew from the USA. The tone of voices coming off both boats at the top mark was tense, reminiscent of the video footage we have all watched 100 times from American Magic’s fateful rounding last weekend. Both crews rounded safely with American Magic nudging the speedo north of 50 knots for the second time.

Luna Rossa seemed to have a slight edge in these conditions, stepping out by four or five seconds a leg, to a lead of 33 seconds. Barker and crew didn’t appear to be taking the race to the Italians, making it easy for Spithill and Bruni to stay between their rivals and the next mark. As the race progressed, Luna Rossa slipped into a lower, faster mode now that they had a lead of more than 600m and it seemed to yield dividends, eking out another 25 seconds on that leg alone.

If American Magic weren’t able to sail around Luna Rossa, at least they would be set a speed record, a big puff at the mark and a potential mechanical issue saw them come out of the bear away extremely hot and well out of control, looking very reminiscent of last week’s capsize. They would clock 53.3 knots as they wrestled the boat through the turn. The boundary came up very quickly and they were unable to effect a gybe in time so had to round up and then tack and bear away, copping a boundary penalty in the process.

Meanwhile, on Luna Rossa, Bruni and Spithill had the situation well in hand, seeming much more controlled and supremely confident. Communications off the boats sounded very relaxed and kept to a minimum while they stretched out to a lead of more than 2.5km. Had it not been for American Magic’s somewhat adventurous mark rounding, it would have been a much closer race.

American Magic have done extremely well to get back to where they are, just one week ago they yacht was sinking rapidly and here they are today, sailing at 53 knots. However, the points for Race 1 go to Luna Rossa, it’s almost impossible to take a win when your opponent puts on a performance of such quality. They dictated terms at the start, completed clean manoeuvres, and sailed in phase with the wind shifts.

Race 2

For race two, both boats changed jibs in anticipation of some slightly more moderate breeze but at the start it seemed as fresh as ever. Again, Luna Rossa nailed the start and American Magic made an unforced error. Barker and his afterguard messed up their time on distance to the line and handed Luna Rossa a 100m plus lead before the race had begun.

In a similar theme to the first race, Luna Rossa had a small advantage on the first leg, rounding 17 seconds ahead and ripping out to a 300m lead as they accelerated down wind.

The first little ruffle in Luna Rossa’s feathers came as they rounded the first bottom mark, as they had a little skid and the main foil ventilated. The bow of the boat crashed hard into the water, bouncing off at the same time as the foil regained traction which sent the boat launching into the air. They looked more like a Volvo 70 smashing upwind into a big head-sea as they crashed down for a second time than a boat foiling in flat water. American Magic was able to make up some of the deficit but didn’t get close enough to strike. The delta at the second top mark was 25 seconds, meaning Luna Rossa again pulled out around three seconds.

The boats sailed quite different modes down the second run. Luna Rossa, sailing higher and faster had the better leg, stretching out again to be 37 seconds ahead at the mark. Communications onboard American Magic seemed upbeat despite staring down the barrel of being down 2-0 at the half way point in this race. Luna Rossa looked fast and very well locked in. To use the commentator’s catch phrase, they looked to be “on rails.” An uneventful leg with a couple of ordinary manoeuvres onboard the American boat saw the clinical Luna Rossa stretch out to a 1:06 lead at the top of the second upwind.

Again, American Magic struggled to bear away at the right-hand gate, heeling over and then splashing down, dropping even further behind. They looked definitely more skittish and struggling to control their boat. If the regatta continues in this fashion, this series will be over fairly quickly.

Ominously, as American Magic approached the final top mark, Barker could be heard to say “Really solid puff in this bear away.” As he guided the boat through the turn, they got very high on the foils and stalled. Hearts were in spectators' mouths as they then plowed into the water and heel crazily to windward. Barker regained control as the boat slowed but for a moment, they looked on the precipice of a campaign-ending capsize.

By this time, Luna Rossa was very near the finish, crossing the finish like looking relaxed with the crew patting the boat in thanks for getting them through the day in such good shape. Luna Rossa finish the day with two wins.

Tomorrow’s racing is all or nothing for the Americans, who will be going home in 24 hours' time if they can't turn things around.

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