Emirates Team New Zealand does a dramatic pitchpole in the America's Cup playoffs in an exhilarating and sometimes scary day of high winds racing
The windiest day of America’s Cup racing to date ended with the dramatic and serious pitchpole of Emirates Team New Zealand just before crossing the start line on the final race of the day.
The Kiwis had been luffed to a halt by Land Rover BAR and as they bore away, the boat flew high on the leeward board before pitching downwards. The leeward bow dug in and the boat up-ended.
Some of the crew were catapulted out, but all were safe sound apart from some cuts and bruises.
Their boat, however, has obvious damage to the wingmast and forward beam fairing. You can see this in the video below, which also shows how the capsize happened.
Average winds around 21 knots but gusting to 26 produced spectacular, edge of control sailing that was at times nerve-wracking to watch and tested teams’ seamanship as well as racing skills.
But Ben Ainslie also enthused: “It was the most amazing day of sailing, certainly the most exciting and exhilarating sailing I’ve ever been involved in.”
If audience engagement is to be a measure of the success in the modern era, this was a day that will surely go down as one of the most memorable of the 35th America’s Cup.
The capsize of Emirates Team New Zealand happened at the start of their final race of the day, as rain squalls rolled across the island. Helmsman Peter Burling admitted that it was an error, but it was one that some the other skippers acknowledged they too could have made on a day that was at the top of their racing wind range.
There were some real bucking bronco moments and roundings that were decidedly sketchy.
In all four races it was a matter of getting safely round the race course; tactics ceded to stability and safe manoeuvres.
And if ever there was a day when the grinders earned their pay it was today, when they were just keeping up with the power needed for the hydraulic controls.
“It was a day when you were just trying to keep the thing somewhat locked in and four other guys flogging themselves senseless just trying to keep developing the oil to allow us to use the rake and wind functions,” said Dean Barker. His crew put on an impressive show of control and went on to beat Artemis twice today.
So great was wind and water pressure from frequent ‘nose stuffs’ (as Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge called them) that pieces of fairing were breaking loose and dislodging off all the boats.
“It was pretty tough out there,” said Outteridge, talking of the fairings ripping off on Artemis Racing, but hinting at more besides. “Most of the stuff was cosmetic, but there were a few other bits and pieces that were holding us back a bit as well.”
Artemis Racing did indeed appear to have a daggerboard problem on the first race of the day that allowed SoftBank Team Japan to stretch away.
But worse was to come on the second race when the Swedish team was unable to bear away at the first mark and instead headed up and proceeded to sail way outside the boundary. This incurred a penalty, then another was piled on for failing to take it in a timely manner.
“We were trying to sail as close as we could but unfortunately at still somewhere over 40 knots with the jib completely flapping and as you can probably appreciate, dropping the windward hull at that kind of speed will often cause more damage to the boat.
“We were trying to go as slow as we could but with the shift that we had it meant that we were sailing quite a deep angle so we gained distance instead of losing distance and we had to stop at the bottom mark and wait for some time. That felt like an eternity,” said Outteridge.
Iain Percy was clearly enraged, a bit of history accrued already with the umpires over losing a race last week to an erroneous call.
The mark rounding and penalties were enough to give SoftBank Team Japan plenty of room to play it safe, and that is what Dean Barker did, backing off to get round safety and put two more points on the board.
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Emirates Team New Zealand wingmast problems
Today’s first race between LandRover BAR and Emirates Team New Zealand came close to not happening, as it was the Kiwis’ turn today to have wingmast problems. They didn’t disclose what the issue was, but they took the boat back to shore and swapped for the spare wing to return to the race course with only minutes to spare.
Then they went on to win the first race courtesy of a few nose stuffs and some slower mark roundings by Land Rover BAR at the leeward mark.
But on the second race, Emirates Team New Zealand’s capsize seconds after the start meant that race was over just as soon as it had begun.
“For ourselves, we feel like it was fully our error,” said Peter Burling. “We sustained quite a lot of damage but firstly, and the most important thing for us, is that all the guys on board are safe and there are no major injuries. We have quite a bit of damage but we feel like we will be able to repair it and get back in action.”
‘Like skiing on ice’
Today’s racing was at the top end of the wind range for the AC50s and for many of the sailors, this was the most wind they’d sailed in. That was certainly the case for Ben Ainslie, who told us:
“We were averaging close to 21-23 knots, gusting up to 26 or 27 knots and as you could see on board there was a lot of white water.
“I’d liken it to skiing on ice – you just have to go for it and be as fast as you can, no holds barred. If you start playing it safe and slowing up, that’s almost worse. When it works and you’re sailing fast, it’s incredibly rewarding, but as you saw today there are lots of times when, for whatever reason, it’s just not possible.”
It was a day to reflect on the racing and the safety factors, too, and Ben Ainslie talked to us about that in the video below.
There is a low probability of racing on Wednesday, due to a forecast of winds even stronger than today. This will give all the teams a chance to repair and bandage their boats and crews, and to regroup. Below are the standings in the first-to-five semi-finals.