There must have been a collective sigh of relief at America’s Cup HQ when they finally saw two AC72s meeting on a start line for a match. It took three one-horse races before we got to see Emirates Team New Zealand square up against Luna Rossa.
It was expected that the Kiwis - in their black and white imperial stormtrooper outfits - would be more polished than the Flash Gordon costumed Italians. At the start, Dean Barker and the stormtroopers outmanoeuvred Flash Gordon and hit the line at a searing 40 knots. At last, two magnificent catamarans, barrelling along at speeds four times faster than the old clunkers in the last ‘proper’ America’s Cup in Valencia 2007. The AC72s at full bore are breathtakingly impressive, although by the end of the 45-minute race the contest had turned into, well, a bit of a bore. The stormtroopers beat Flash Gordon by 5 minutes and 23 seconds which must equate to a winning distance of more than two miles.
Such measures of dominance are not new territory for the Cup, rather they’re the norm. Whenever you put a new design on to the race track - and certainly one as radical and unprecedented as the AC72 - someone is going to work out the design challenge better and quicker than someone else. Then again, the Italians bought a package off the Kiwis, so the two boats we saw for that opening match are about as similar as one could expect two AC72s to be. The difference is that the New Zealanders have since built a second boat but perhaps more importantly, have done a good deal more sailing too.
The performance gap shows up most obviously in the Kiwis’ ‘foiling gybes’, the new ‘must do’ manoeuvre in the Cup. If you can keep the boat hydrofoiling all the way through from one gybe to the other, your boatspeed might drop from, say, 38 knots to just 32 knots. Drop off the foils, however, your speed could drop to the low 20s and by the time you get up and running again your rival could have gained 100 metres or more.
Wow! Can’t believe I’ve spent most of this month’s Diary talking about racing. Up until that two-horse race we had been confronted with three lone cruises around the Bay. Following the destruction of Artemis Racing’s first boat in early May, resulting in the death of Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, the Swedish team has been working around the clock to complete the build of its second boat and replacement wing rig. It doesn’t expect to join the racing until early August. So we were prepared for some early no-shows.
But then Luna Rossa refused to show up for the start of its first scheduled match against the Kiwis, the Italians protesting Regatta Director Iain Murray’s insistence on converting all 37 recommendations from the safety committee into 37 regulations. The Kiwis and Italians protested two of those new rules, particularly one relating to the use of ‘rudder elevators’, which they argued had nothing to do with safety but rather would help close the performance gap for Oracle Team USA and Artemis Racing, who have struggled with the hydrofoiling conundrum.
Murray threatened to shut down the whole regatta if the international jury found against his last-minute rule changes. But the jury refused to bow to external pressures and to the relief of most neutral observers, the jury upheld the Kiwi and Italian protest. Team America and Team Sweden will have to find another way around the design challenge, just as their rivals did.
The America’s Cup - it’s a dirty, murky game - but at least and, at last, we’re off to the races.
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