Alinghi come from behind to take their fourth win. Matthew Sheahan reports
Having been bullied around the start box on all but one of the previous pre-starts, Ed Baird came off the line at pace and on the controlling side as the start gun fired. But gaining the upper hand hadn’t been easy.
Shortly after the dial up, Kiwi skipper Barker had American helmsman Baird in an arm lock, pinned up above the line, but it was too early to go for the kill. As the Kiwis drifted towards the left hand end of the line and towards coffin corner, they had to release Alinghi, bear away and hope to come back at them after a gybe.
From that moment, the Swiss boat showed the first signs of a small but significant advantage that was to prove crucial during the rest of the race, acceleration. With the breeze at 8-10 knots, SUI100 seemed happier gathering speed out of the tacks than NZL92. The difference was only small, but it was to count later.
As the boats hit the start line, both were on starboard with Alinghi on the right and the Kiwis ahead and to leeward. In what has become a familiar pattern in this America’s Cup, where the two boats are so evenly matched, the fine tussle between the pair carried them well out towards the lay line. Rarely has the Cup ever been so much about banging the corners.
Gradually the Kiwis managed to put on the squeeze as they sailed high and fast, until eventually they managed to bounce Alinghi off to the right before they reached the lay line. A slight left hand shift had helped to achieve this and continued to help the Kiwis hold their lead into the first weather mark, rounding 14 seconds ahead.
With the breeze now just into single figures the racing remained tight with Alinghi gaining three seconds at the leeward gate where the pair took opposite marks for the rounding, the Kiwis on the left, Alinghi on the right.
The Kiwis were quick to tack onto port to cover Alinghi as the pair headed out to the right hand side of the course and at times looked to have increased their lead to 80m. But, in the last third of the second beat, the race turned around for good. By the time the pair had reached the top mark for the second time, Alinghi had turned the tables and rounded 16 seconds ahead. But how?
Was Alinghi simply quicker? No. There has been plenty of opportunity to see the differences between these two boats in a straight line and its small.
Was it picking the wrong gate at the bottom? Possibly. At least that’s how it sounded according to Dean Barker talking at the press conference after the race
“Well I guess we could have taken the other gate and done the same thing, but we are happy with what we did and were strong all across,” he said. “For a long time, we felt pretty good about life and were still going to be in control of the race. But it just wasn’t to be.”
And yet at one point the Kiwis had held an 80m advantage as they headed out towards the right hand side.
Was it the speed out of tacks? The Kiwis certainly looked to struggle more when it came to accelerating today in the lighter breeze. Of the few tacking duels, NZL92 appeared to lose out to SUI100, but these were still small differences, especially when set against the better gybes of the Kiwis
Instead, the race was won by Alinghi by picking their moment to come back from a difficult right hand position on the second beat at precisely the right moment. Call it luck if you will, even Butterworth conceded that there is often an element of chance in such breezes.
“Unless you have a crystal ball which tells you or you can see the wind buoys you just don’t know,” he said.
This time the luck had fallen to the Swiss and was graciously accepted by the team.
With the score at 4-3, the 32nd America’s Cup could be decided tomorrow if Alinghi can put another point on the board. But how likely is that?
“We are as positive as we can be. It’s hard losing races. We are 3 from 6 round the top mark and we are 2-4 down, so they have done a better job at converting their percentages,” said Barker.
“I think while there is a chance we are still a very dangerous team. I have complete confidence in the guys and our entire team and I do firmly believe we can get ourselves back into it. It’s a big ask as they are a very strong team while there is a chance we will be right there. We will sail exactly the same as we have. We are not sailing badly, it is just that the key moment hasn’t gone our way – we still have 100% belief we can come back and have a good race tomorrow.”
A day that could be the final day of the 32nd America’s Cup, or the next stage in the closest Cup match for decades.
Either way don’t miss it!
RESULTS AFTER DAY 6
Alinghi – 4
Emirates Team New Zealand – 3
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