An explosive opening to the Plymouth leg of the AC World Series, Matthew Sheahan reports

Racing from three to thirty knots was one of the original goals of the 34th America’s Cup when the new vision was first announced. The inaugural regatta in Cascais last month ticked the box for the lower end of the wind range. Now, just two days into the week long second event, Plymouth has got tantalisingly close to satisfying the upper end of the brief with wind speeds that hit 27 knots at times during Sunday’s fleet racing and speed trials.

After so much discussion and debate as to whether strong wind racing was really possible with these high tech, lightweight, solid wingsail flyers, today’s racing proved positive and was spectacular in the process.

During the race, three teams capsized; the French Aleph, Team Korea and just meters from the finish, Spain’s Green Comm Racing. In each case, the crews escaped unscathed, the boats, with minor damage to their wings.

Aleph was the first team to trip up as the fleet raced across one of two beam reaches in front of a huge spectator crowd on the Hoe. Several other boats had come close, including the then race leaders Artemis, who were later to retire with a damaged wing.

The weather mark then provided the next stressful moment for the crews as they tried to bear away for the downhill slide to the leeward gate. Here, Team Korea speared their bows into the waves as they tried to bear away and capsized. But unlike Aleph, who had struggled to right their boat as they drifted precariously close to the rocky shoreline, Team Korea managed to right their boat quickly enough to continue racing and finish.

The third team to go for a swim was the Spanish flagged Green Comm Racing who were caught on the final reaching leg to the finish by one of the many strong gusts. Their righting process didn’t work as well as the Koreans’ as they flipped over the other way and eventually retired.

But the day wasn’t solely about crash and burn as some of the best in the business demonstrated both how it should be done and what this new generation of high adrenaline racing is all about. In particular the tussle between Spithill and Barker at the front of the fleet was conducted at an electrifying pace and was spectacular to watch.

Even on the committee boat, where I had been invited as a guest for the day, the ooohs, and rapid intakes of breath couldn’t be restrained by some of the most experienced race management experts in the sport.

And then came the speed trials. Setting off at one minute intervals down the 500m drag race course to clock up the top speed proved as challenging as the high octane fleet racing as crews struggled to stop the boats nose diving and the rudders from stalling out. James Spithill and multihull legend Loic Peyron were among those to come perilously close to a capsize.

In the end it was Oracle Racing Coutts that took the top speed of 25.92 knots, pipping Dean Barker’s Emirates Team New Zealand by less than half a knot.

Having been to virtually all of the America’s Cup races since 2002, I have never seen anything like it. By the time I get ashore it was clear that no one else had either. Monday and Tuesday are lay days, providing time for the crews to repair and recover and the rest of us draw breath.

RESULTS Overall Positions/(points)

1 – Emirates Team New Zealand – 1,3,1,2 (37)
2 – ORACLE Racing Spithill – 2,1,4,1 (36)
3 – Artemis Racing – 3,2,2,DNF (29)
4 – ORACLE Racing Coutts – OCS,4,3,3 (26)
5 – China Team – 6,5,6,5 (22)
6 – Aleph – 4,7,5,DNF (20)
7 – Energy Team – 8,6,7,4 (19)
8 – Team Korea – 5,DNF,8,6 (17)
9 – Green Comm Racing – 7,8,9,DNF (13)

Plymouth AC500 Speed Trials – Sunday

Team Speed (km/h)

1 – ORACLE Racing Coutts/48.00
2 – Emirates Team New Zealand /47.36
3 – China Team/44.12
4 – Energy Team/34.34
ORACLE Racing Spithill – DNF
Artemis Racing – DNS
Team Korea – DNS
Green Comm Racing – DNS
Aleph – DNS

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