After a frustrating delay on Thursday due to light winds, Race Three of the America’s Cup Match between Team New Zealand and Prada’s Luna Rossa started on time at 1315 local time on Saturday. Over 1500 spectator boats surrounded the race course on the Hauraki Gulf and watched Team New Zealand solidify her lead over Prada. Racing started in a Southerly breeze of 10-13 knots, and the windspeed varied from 7-16 knots throughout the afternoon.
The boats started with a lot of separation. Francesco de Angelis, the skipper of Luna Rossa (ITA-45) started on starboard tack at the pin end taking advantage of a slight pin end bias while Russell Coutts, to windward, had the bow of Team New Zealand (NZL-60) right on the starting line as the gun fired. Again, Coutts was able to turn very sharply into the pre-start dial-up, almost immediately stopping his boat, and gaining a controlling position from behind as Luna Rossa kept drifting forward. But de Angelis showed good acceleration when the black boat was following closely, and the Italians were able to get away to start at the left side of the line. The Kiwis, with good speed, started near the Committee Boat.
“The call from our team was to start to the right of Prada. In the pre-start the wind did actually shift left which biased the pin. But we thought it was going to go right again so we were happy to start where we did and it worked out just fine,” commented Kiwi tactician Brad Butterworth afterwards.
“We were planning to be on port tack as soon as possible after the start,” said Torben Grael, on his start tactics. “We couldn’t get the right side of Team New Zealand on the start and there was a big left after the start. So we had to go on port as soon as possible and they were defending that side. We were trying to make the best out of it.”
Immediately after the start, Luna Rossa tacked, and the Italians were already behind the black boat. An intense tacking duel ensued, with the boats reeling off 12 tacks in the first eight minutes of the race. As the Italian silver bullet tacked in towards the middle of the course, Coutts would tack in an aggressive position, protecting the right hand side. Although the wind shifted left early in the leg favouring the Italians Luna Rossa never gained a lead, and was unable to break through to the right. About midway up the leg, the two boats settled in for a long tack out to the starboard tack layline, with Team New Zealand ahead and to leeward. For the long tack into the mark, the black boat was able to sit three boatlengths to windward, and Coutts tacked around the mark with a 19-second lead.
“I thought that if the roles (at the start) had been reversed, there would have probably been a different winner,” said Butterworth. “We had a nice little lead at the top mark and downwind it was very close. They were sort of coming in, but all you had to do was get around that bottom mark ahead. The left was quite favoured. I’m not sure how far ahead we were 19 seconds or something like that but instantly the boats tacked it turned into 30 seconds. The breeze came in from the left and the left was favoured and it would have been really difficult to pass if you were behind and thats the way we read it today.”
The first run saw the Italians try to attack by positioning Luna Rossa between the wind and the New Zealand boat. But Coutts was very protective, squeezing up to windward when he felt his clear air was threatened, and gaining a position clear ahead for much of the run. De Angelis was able to cut two seconds out of the lead, but trailed around the mark by three boatlengths.
On the second beat, Team New Zealand simply pulled away from Luna Rossa. The Kiwis were positioned on the inside of a left shift, and with each minute that passed, appeared to gain a metre or two. Coutts carried a 1:11 lead at the halfway point of the race, so boatspee