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America's Cup: Something for both Challenger and Defender on Day 1

by Suzanne McFadden 10 Mar 23:59 PST 11 March 2021
Luna Rossa - America's Cup - Day 1 - March 10, 2021, Course E © Richard Gladwell Sail-World.com / nz

Team NZ skipper Peter Burling chipped off a little rust on day one of the 36th America's Cup match, while rival Jimmy Spithill became the most successful helmsman in Cup history. Yet neither can claim the upper hand.

Little could beat the farewell to Te Rehutai as she left Emirates Team New Zealand’s base to the deep booming of the pukaea trumpet and a haunting karakia as they finally left to defend the America’s Cup.

But four hours later, their rivals Luna Rossa won the battle of the welcome home – a cacophony of air horns blasting mixed with cheers and whistles of their elated family and team-mates, flying the banner “Forza Luna Rossa!”

“We can feel the passion of the Italians pushing our boat forward,” dual helmsman Francesco Bruni declared.

If there was a competition for the most fervid following on day one of the America's Cup on Auckland's Hauraki Gulf, you'd call it a draw. And that’s also how it stands - 1-1 – on the Cup match scoreboard.

The defenders stormed to victory in the first race of this regatta, almost giving life to the waterfront rumours they had a generally quicker boat than the challengers (the Italians reckon they heard the Kiwis were 10 knots faster than them in everything but light airs; they never believed it, of course).

But Luna Rossa – who’ve been working on their composure, as well as their speed, going into this match - launched a reimonta, a comeback, in the second race that will have Kiwi fans quivering a little in their red socks.

From what we saw on Wednesday, very little separates these two AC75 speed machines in performance; it’s too early to tell if one will make a leap forward faster than the other.

But Jimmy Spithill, Luna Rossa’s co-driver who became the helmsman with the most wins in Cup history with his 15th race victory on Wednesday, put it quite matter-of-factly afterwards.

“The fastest boat will win this America’s Cup. End of story,” he said.

And, no doubt, the team who make the least cock-ups.

Ultimately the 1-1 scoreline comes down to two simple mistakes – both before the boats even crossed the start-line. Italy made theirs by approaching the line too early in the first race, New Zealand was guilty of being too late launching their attack in the second.

And it was one of those racecourses on the Hauraki Gulf where the boat that got in front at the start had the advantage all the way around.

But Team NZ proved they’re quick, hitting 51 knots of speed, before almost chasing down Luna Rossa on the final run to the finish line of Race 2, losing by only 7s. “Another lap and we might have had a good chance,” said Burling.

In just his second America’s Cup, Burling pointed out it’s almost three months since Team NZ have raced against another sailboat – instead of 1500 horsepower outboards – and they’re still “chipping off a little bit of rust”. The team were happy, he said repeatedly, with the way the boat was sailing.

With Thursday a rest day – perhaps the only day’s break from now until the end of the match – it will be a day of reflection for both teams.

As keen as they both are to get back racing after a delayed start courtesy of another Auckland lockdown, both want to revisit where they went wrong, how they could have done it better, and what’s going on with their rivals.

Race director Iain Murray says the teams have discussed making next Tuesday a lay day. Now it seems the match could well stretch that far.

With Auckland still in Level 2 on Friday, racing will return to one of the two outer courses, where the breeze is more stable but doesn’t create passing lanes. In the last 14 races there’s only been one lead change after the first cross, so starting will again be critical.

A possible move to Level 1 on the weekend could see racing on the favoured inner harbour courses. That’s where the breeze gets tricky, bouncing off all the Waitemata Harbour landmarks, and that could be when we could see more lead changes.

For the rest of this story click here

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