American Magic have won the first America's Cup Preliminary Regatta of this cycle after a lacklustre, light wind end to an arresting competition

The second day of racing for the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta was something of a mixed bag. Three solid fleet races in full foiling conditions were followed by an attempted two-boat match race, which started as the wind died.

With a 10-minute time limit for the two competing boats, American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand, to reach the top mark the final match race was looking unlikely from the start. After a painful exhibition of the two teams nursing their AC40s upwind – crew on the bow, hanging from the shrouds, doing everything they could to dampen the pitch and roll of the AC40s hulls as they wallowed in the water – the race was abandoned. Swiftly afterwards race organisers confirmed that all racing had been abandoned for the day.

Teams tried everything to get the most from their boats in the extremely light winds

This awarded American Magic the Preliminary Regatta win by just one point.

But the day had started very differently. With around 10-12 knots of south-easterly breeze and a rolling swell at 1500hrs, the AC40s were fully powered up and flying under their J2s (headsail choice is mandated by race committee). The first race start was a stormer – the fleet all hitting the line at speed, French Orient Express Racing Team looking to repeat yesterday’s success with another port start.

Emirates Team New Zealand and American Magic took up the early battle for the front, each slam-dunking tacks on their opponents, until New Zealand team’s height and speed took gave them a direct line to the port top mark, building a lead that was never under threat. American Magic took second, with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli taking third from the Swiss Alinghi Red Bull Racing.

The second race was another showcase start, the French team again showing their willingness to get their AC40 fully in the mix despite their limited time in the boat with a heart-stopping approach at full speed at the committee boat end.

The American team dominated the race, coming off the line at pace to pull away. Behind them were place changes and tacking battles – Luna Rossa and Alinghi evenly matched, while the French made it hard work for Emirates Team New Zealand to get past them. With Emirates Team New Zealand finishing 4th, the third fleet race of the day would determine who would go through to the final match race of the Preliminary Regatta.

The points calculations were further complicated when it became apparent that Alinghi Red Bull Racing wouldn’t be racing, as they parked up with hydraulic issues while the other five boats lined up to start.

Yet again American Magic delivered another super-smooth performance. Meanwhile, though Emirates Team New Zealand had evident pace, they also showed a few chinks in their boat handling with a major splashdown that let several boats past. The Kiwis had to hunt hard to overhaul Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli and Orient Express Racing Team, who were duking it out for second. At the finish it was American Magic 1st, from Emirates Team New Zealand, with Orient Express Racing Team rounding off a superb first event with a 3rd.

The deciding race may have been abandoned, but there was plenty to glean from the day’s fleet races about the team’s relative performances.

A day of learning for the America’s Cup teams

American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand were, without question, a notch above – unsurprisingly given both teams have been training using two-boat AC40 programmes.

Paul Goodison, American Magic helm, told Yachting World after racing: “We’re over the moon, obviously. We weren’t shy about saying this was a performance regatta and we needed to put our best foot forward to get the team on a roll, and to deliver it is a really good feeling.

“It’s interesting but we missed some of the fleet practice races that all the other teams did a few weeks ago, to focus on our development side because we had a couple of key milestones to make. So we were actually a little bit worried that we hadn’t done the time [in the AC40s] coming into this event – mainly because the four of us onboard usually sail on two different boats so we’re going against each other more than sailing with each other.

“So one of the biggest things we’ve had to work on the last week is basically the communications, because when you can’t see half the race track you need to communicate what you want to do with the other guy and be sure you’re on the same page. And I felt like we did a pretty good job of getting further down the path with that, and today I feel like we gelled really well as a four.

“I think the biggest thing for us winning here is that’s it a whole team thing, it just lifts the spirits. Some people in the shed have been working very very long hours to get us out on the water in the smaller boats, but also at the same time getting the AC75 ready to sail at the end of this month. So they were all working their balls off to give us the opportunity to go sailing every day! And being able to pay them back by showing them were good enough to take it the best guys was important.”

Another team that was delighted with their performance – and who will no doubt have ruffled a few feathers among the longer standing teams, were the newest entry. The French Orient Express Racing Team finished 3rd overall and were in the mix from the very start despite only taking delivery of their AC40 in mid-August. Helm Kevin Pepponet told Yachting World afterwards:

“There were some close calls today – we got a penalty with Luna Rossa, the second start was pretty intense for us, but we are handling the boat better day after day, and we are getting much more confident on the boat and in the team. Of course we have a lot of work to do to catch the top two. American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand were a way ahead and today there were pretty impressive, but we have another event in just one month – and the Cup itself will be totally different. It gave us a lot of confidence launching this America’s Cup campaign and there is a really good dynamic in the team.”

Others will have been disappointed. INEOS Britannia made little secret of the fact they were under prepared in the AC40s, having instead been focusing on their LEQ12 development boat, but they were consistently off the pace, scoring three 6th places and two 4ths over the weekend.

Helmsman Giles Scott admitted: “We’re licking wounds, as expected after the day we had. We know we were a little bit unprepared but let’s be honest, we should have done better that we did this weekend, we can’t shy away from that.

“So yeah, we’ve got to have a good look at ourselves and, with regards to the AC40, use Jeddah as a bit of a milestone. And also just go back and review where we’re at in terms of the bigger picture, and looking forward to racing in the big boat. Because there’s been good lessons here – really, really good lessons. We’ve come away bitterly disappointed and with our tails between our legs for sure, but we’ve been in some pretty dark places before and the key is how you rebound from it.”

The second America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta will be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from 29th November to 2nd December 2023, again in the AC40s.

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