America's Cup - August 2013

Emirates Team New Zealand have been the class act of the Louis Vuitton Cup. As I write in the America’s Cup media centre in downtown San Francisco, I’ve just witnessed back-to-back victories for the Kiwis over Luna Rossa. The first team to seven wins moves to the America’s Cup Match, and with the series at 4-1 it seems hard to imagine the Italians making up the ground against the better drilled men from downunder.

But I shouldn’t really be counting Kiwi chickens quite yet. After the first three races of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, there had been just three finishers. Gear breakdown has dogged both boats in the stronger winds on San Francisco Bay, reminding us of the fragility of the AC72 when things go even slightly wrong.

Luna Rossa had a daggerboard problem before the first race, which saw them retire and leave the Kiwis clear to sail around the track unchallenged. But then a nosedive during a windward mark bear-away showed that the best sailors and the best boat can be caught short, even in the absence of competition. The Kiwi boat, Aotearoa, popped up onto its hydrofoils rounding the mark and then a gust of wind hit. The port bow of Aotearoa buried up to the main crossbeam, reducing the boatspeed from 40 knots to 13 and washing two crewmembers, Rob Waddell and Chris Ward, overboard. The two grinders were recovered unharmed by the team’s chase boat, but the rush of tons of water tore the port side fairing off the main crossbeam and left the crew shaken. Recovering their composure, the Kiwis went on to win race one.

Leading race 2 by more than 400 metres, the Kiwis looked set for another whitewash until some electronic circuitry that controls the hydraulics for the trim of the wing rig failed. For the failure of a $2 battery, the multimillion dollar catamaran became unsailable. Crippled, the Kiwis had to concede their first loss of the summer to Luna Rossa. But in race 3 it was the Italian technology that failed again, this time a sheave on the control arm of the 131-foot tall wing sail.

No wonder my fellow cynics in the media centre have become so disenchanted with the America’s Cup. The racing has been lacklustre, which is a shame, because the crowds in the America’s Cup Village have been large, and enthusiastic. Seeing one of these magnificent boats charge past at 40 knots is a breathtaking sight, and the high-definition onboard images of the sailors with the San Francisco backdrop are among the best we’ve ever seen in any America’s Cup.

But we’ve only seen one upset in the whole of the Louis Vuitton Cup thus far, that single win by Luna Rossa when the Kiwi electronics failed. Earlier in August, Artemis Racing launched their second AC72 ‘Big Blue’ in time for the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup against Luna Rossa. Predictably, the underpractised Swedish team went down 4-0 to the Italians. The performance gaps between the AC72s are just too big for interesting racing, although the one remaining hope that could redeem the 34th America’s Cup is a close match between the Kiwis (assuming they qualify) and Oracle Team USA.

The two American boats, helmed by James Spithill and Ben Ainslie, have been engaging in much closer in-house tussles than anything we’ve seen in the pre-starts of the Louis Vuitton Cup. Dean Barker and the Kiwis will have to be on their guard in the pre-start, as Spithill will not be afraid to mix it up against his old match racing rival. We are still clinging on to the hope of seeing some close racing in San Francisco, to make up for the one-sided contests that have dominated the challenger series.




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