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SailGP Bermuda: Two America's Cup teams make gains on second day and fresh breeze

by Richard Gladwell/ 26 Apr 2021 18:34 PDT 26 April 2021
New Zealand SailGP Team in action on Race Day 2 Bermuda SailGP © Thomas Lovelock/SailGP

Most of the teams, with the exception of Australia - who were in a class of their own - made good progress on the final day of SailGP Bermuda.

Great Britain SailGP helmed by Prada Cup Finalist, Ben Ainslie won the sixth and Final race. The current America's Champions crewing the NZSailGP team improved to be in fifth position after the second and final day of SailGP Bermuda.

For the second day of racing, Bermuda turned on a dull overcast day, with winds averaging 19kts gusting 24kts from a southerly direction.

SailGP Bermuda had several positives and negatives on the second day of competition.

On the positive side, the racing was closer, with races within a race - particularly in the middle of the fleet. All boats appeared to have control system issues in varying degrees, or just lacked practice time in the foiling wingsailed catamarans.

On the negative side, the elimination of two America's Cup skippers following a collision robbed the series of some interest, and could easily have changed the makeup of the three boat final fleet.

While the recent America's Cup had been predicted to have issues with the AC75's coming into too close contact, that proved not to be the case. In the SailGP racing, there was a capsize, and several collisions. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the collision rate is that the skippers and crews are not yet up to speed with the boat handling aspects of the AC50's.

The current America's Cup champions crewing NZ SailGP were in eighth place overall after the first day of racing which skipper, Peter Burling described as a "baptism of fire". They were racing a new boat that clearly had control issues, having only had one day of practice sailing.

Burling and his Cup crew were made to look very ordinary on the opening day after being plagued by control system issues. These were magnified by F50's that were set up on Day 1 with the big 24m rig and light air [high lift] foils in breezes that were 14-19kts - well above the cutover to the smaller and faster All Purpose foils.

On Sunday, the F50 fleet was set up for the higher wind strength with their smaller 18-metre rig and the smaller, high performance (AP) foils. None of the fleet had previously used the so-called "baby wing" in a racing situation.

It was a day marked by drama and carnage, with the USA and Japanese boats colliding in the first race of the day. The US SailGP entry, helmed by Jimmy Spithill, dropped out of the final two races of the series after an incident related capsize and collision damage. Spithill was joined by fellow Australian Nathan Outteridge skipper of the Japanese entry, which suffered a sliced bow in the incident.

A similar incident on the first day, before the start of Race 3, was fortunate not to have a similar outcome. That could have put another couple of boats out of a race, and required to include just a single point for their DNF in their total pointscore.

Half of the fleet were involved in the two incidents. While it is easy to identify the culprit in each incident, the same spotlight is not put on the right of way boat, who has an obligation under the racing rules to Avoid Contact once it "is clear that the other boat is not keeping clear". What seemed to be happening was that the avoiding action seemed to be too little too late.

New Zealand got away to a competitive start in Race 4, opting for the shortest and inside track for the tight reach to Mark 1.

The Peter Burling skippered entry rounded Mark 1 in third place in the then eight boat fleet.

The Spanish entry, skippered by former world match racing champion Phil Robertson (NZL) tried his almost standard starting tactic of taking the windward end and hoping for a gap to open up - and got penalised for his efforts after being blocked by Billy Besson (FRA) in France SailGP.

The Kiwis were competitive for the rest of the race, before the incident between USA and Japan, flicking around third to fifth places in the eight boat fleet.

Overnight leader Australia, and an improved Great Britain, duked it out for the race lead, and with the British keen to win a place in the three-boat Final, to determine the podium places.

Like Friday, the first race day, small errors attracted a hefty punishment and the Kiwis paid the price for trying to squeeze around Mark 3, on starboard tack, at the end of the first windward leg, losing their third place soon afterwards and a big chunk of their margin reduced to just 7secs at he mark over the French.

Top Nacra 17 sailor Billy Besson (FRA), was sailing at 26kts coming into Mark 3 - over twice the speed of the Kiwis - who crawled into the same mark off the foils at less than 10kts. The Spanish team were in 5th with Denmark back in sixth and with Spithill and Outteridge out of contention after the collision, when the sidestay on the US boat knifed through the starboard hull of the Japanese F50.

Before the collision/US capsize, both those teams were behind the Kiwis who were running in third place - only 100 metres off the lead, and with USA/JPN only 20metres behind, and France 160metres behind the Kiwis who were turning in their best performance in the series.

At the front of the fleet, the Australians also suffered - picking up a penalty at Mark 3 after a port and starboard infraction with the British - allowing Ainslie to snatch the lead in the five-leg race.

Soon after rounding Mark 3 Kiwis regained third place on the water early on Leg 4, being just over 100 metres behind the Australians who were almost 400 metres behind the Brits. The Australians came off their foils while gybing to stay on the course side of the virtual boundary line.

Spain also got past the French, but the margins behind the Kiwis kept changing on the downwind leg. At the bottom end of leg 4, Robertson got past Burling to be third, with Besson also catching the Kiwis for an instant before dropping back to take fifth place ahead of Denmark.

This was a much-improved performance from NZ, with the Kiwis being very competitive, but probably still with many gremlins in their systems on the F50, which was in just its fourth-ever race.

Kiwis lead for the first time

Race 5 was even better for the New Zealand team, sailing in a 17kt southerly breeze, Burling hit the start line at speed, in the innermost or left hand side of the line, and reached to Mark 1 at 48kts. Spain repeated their start-line move of Race 4 barging again on the French entry, but this time they copped three penalties by the time they reached Mark 1.

Yet again the commentators talked over the top of a key piece of audio, and it was impossible to understand what was being said by the chief umpire.

Midway down Leg 3, and sailing at 45kts in an 18kt breeze, Ben Ainslie passed the Kiwis to get a boat between him and the Australians.

With USA and Japan out of the regatta, the Brits were almost guaranteed a place in the three-boat Final.

Burling looked to be on the cusp of a race win as the leaders closed into the bottom mark for the first time.

The two-times America's Cup champion pushed hard 300metres out as Ainslie came across on the first downwind approaching Mark 2.

On port gybe, and in a 25kt squall, Burling looked like he might have wanted to have a shot at crossing the Brits' bows but changed his mind at the last minute, and opted to gybe inside Ainslie. Arguably Ainslie did not give the Kiwis room to keep clear, after the Brits' gybe but there was no umpire call.

In dropping across the Brits bows, and then gybing again the Kiwis completely muffed their approach to Mark 2 allowing Australia to come in from one side sailing at four times the Kiwis speed doing 43 kts, followed by Billy Besson right up Slingsby's clacker.

While Burling and friends were off the foils and sailing at just 9kts, dropping to 5kts at one point in what became a tedious mark rounding. Meanwhile, Ainslie who a few seconds earlier had been behind NZSailGP's Amokura, was sailing at 45kts and now about to round the other end of the gate at the end of Leg 2.

From a position of being the race leader with 30 metres left to sail to the rounding mark, the Kiwis dropped to fifth on the water in the space of a couple of boat-lengths.

Dropping back to sixth and last as they struggled to build speed sailing to windward, sailing 10kts slower than France and Australia ahead of them, and as the Kiwis struggled to live in their combined wingsail turbulence.

Once again, there were some very harsh punishments handed down for relatively small tactical/strategy errors on the Great Sound.

Ainslie had his work cut out to get past the Spanish team who had gone onto the lead, but skipper Phil Robertson and a grinder both fell over during a boundary avoiding tack. They came close to repeating the then Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge's swim after slipping overboard in the Challenger Final of the 2017 Louis Vuitton Trophy.

Robertson recovered managing to avoid Australia, but at the cost of 12kts of boatspeed, he allowed Ben Ainslie, holding right of way, who came flying in from the opposite boundary at AC75 upwind speed of 36-37kts.

Spain Sailgp had been sailing at half that speed as they came across the course to meet the Brits' challenge.

Once again a small sailing error was severely punished.

Ainslie, put some points in the bank, working his way through to second sailing at 43kts on the penultimate and downwind leg in now 22kts of breeze. The Brits rounded the final mark just 6secs astern of the Australian crew who won four of the five races sailed in the Qualifying round.

However in their approach to the Final mark, first the French and then the Brits both nosedived during tacks, allowing Spain to come back into close down the margin and get back into Final contention.

It was a close race between France and Spain for the third and remaining place in the Final. Phil Robertson broke through - the French response was to lose control confirming their fourth place in the race, and take third spot in the final.

The Kiwis were fifth 16secs astern of the French and with Denmark in 6th place.

Cup winner elaborates

After the race Peter Burling opened up on their issues of the first day.

"We definitely felt a lot more comfortable on the boat today than after the first day. We found out after Friday's race that we had a pretty major issue with one of the pumps. We weren't getting enough oil to the rake system. And that definitely gave us a bit more confidence coming into today's races. "

"We didn't get much of a warm-up today either."

"We had an issue when we were first sailing out so that meant we didn’t get any build-up. We had the boat builders in the pod grinding away trying to reinstate something as well as the hydro guys in there fixing a couple of things."

“It was a massive effort by the tech team and our shore group to get us to that first race - and then obviously it was really enjoyable to actually get the boat around the track in pretty good shape and we’re happy with how the day unfolded.

"We haven’t actually sailed with those 18 metre wings before, and we felt we were sailing the boat a whole heap better than the first day - so that’s all we can ask for.”

"It's great to be able to have a few good reaches, be in a few good positions and put together a few solid races. Today there was a massive effort by the whole team to actually get us to the start line.

"We have moved up to fifth overall, I think in the end, probably about what we deserve this week. But we're pretty excited about the next event and keeping on learning."

Brits hang on to win Final Race

In the sixth and Final race between just the top three boats from the Qualifiers, Britain and Australia were fast off the startline, with the Brits to leeward, and slightly behind.

In the short sprint leg from the startline to mark 1, Ben Ainslie held out the Australians, who as the windward and give way boat, came close to incurring a penalty, allowing the Brits to take the lead soon after Mark 1.

The British eased away for what should have been a relatively comfortable win. But Slingsby, still smarting from losing to Ainslie in Sydney, applied the pressure late in the race and cut the margin back to just four seconds at the end - enough for the Brits to repeat their Series victory in the previous SailGP in Sydney in January 2020.

The next event is in Italy.

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