The fog lifts, the breeze builds and Russell Coutts crashes as the drama starts on day 4 of the AC World Series
The clue that today was going to be breezy and bright came at 5am with an eerie silence outside. Staying close to the Marina district and within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge, I’ve become used to the sound of the foghorn as dawn breaks, but today there was nothing.
According to the locals, when there’s no fog there’s plenty of breeze, which was precisely what happened, topped up with the double bonus of sunshine that the dampness had screened out. At times it even felt warm. With 16-18 knots of breeze the promise of an eleven boat fleet for the two fleet races, conditions couldn’t be better for the thousands of spectators that lined the shore.
The day kicked off with Ben Ainslie squaring up to his former team mate at Emirates Team New Zealand Dean Barker in a must win match race to proceed to the semi finals. As it turned out the race was as much a disappointment for Ainslie as it was for those that had thought that the pair might mix it up. But perhaps his supporters are expecting too much too soon. Wing masted, fully crewed 45ft cats are a long way from a Finn and on a short course you get punished hard for making a small mistake. Barker himself demonstrated this yesterday as he struggled and failed, to dig himself out of the pack yesterday.
But today was a different deal for the Kiwi skipper.
“We didn’t do anything differently for today other than get off the line in good shape and keep good pace through much of the race. But we still ended up paying for a number of mistakes later in both fleet races,” he said.
When talking of mistakes it was Russell Coutts who, after having shown some blistering performance earlier in the week, demonstrated just how easy it is to crash out in spectacular style as he T-boned the committee boat. This one is bound to be doing the rounds on YouTube and here you can see for yourself how Coutts found himself pinned to windward of the committee boat with just seconds left and nowhere to go. More amusing is that the boat that appears to shut the door on him was his team mate James Spithill.
“I didn’t know he was there,” said Spithill. “We were worried about being over the line early ourselves and we had the French below us. I wasn’t even aware Russell was there until one of our crew shouted to watch out for him.
“I think the whole fleet heard the crunch as he hit the committee boat.”
In what sounded like a genuine miscalculation of the tide, or indeed lack of it, sweeping the fleet away from the committee boat, Coutts couldn’t understand why the door had been closed on him.
“I thought the door was going to open otherwise I wouldn’t have tried it,” he said. “It’s unusual for the boats to be sailing an upwind course with so few seconds to go before the start, but maybe when I’ve looked at the video I’ll see it from a different angle.”
The mistake put Coutts out of the racing for the day as his shore crew set to work on rebuilding the starboard bow, plus presumably repairing the hole in the committee boat.
Meanwhile the charging pack made it around the first mark without incident
At the bottom mark Energy Team rounded first, Emirates Team New Zealand were second, Barker finding the pace that had eluded him yesterday. But then the scramble up the beat began as the fleet worked the shoreline to get out of the tide. The tightly packed action saw Barker having to duck two boats, Energy and Luna Rossa Swordfish. Before the Kiwis knew it they were back in fourth.
By the weather mark Paul Campbell-James had come out on top as Luna Rossa Swordfish rounded in the lead.
By the bottom it was Nathan Outteridge’s Team Korea who was now putting the pressure on the leaders and half way up the beat they had taken the lead. But a close call on a cross left Korea with a penalty.
Outteridge was coming in on port and knew they were on a collision course.
“I looked under the wing and saw that the leeward runner was tight and so we couldn’t ease the wing,” he said. “We couldn’t tack either as they would have rammed us from behind so we had to take the gamble and carry on across their bows and take a penalty. It was the safest thing to do. The trouble is you really need to trust the other party to understand the issue too and do the right thing.
“I’d seen his leeward runners were slack so I was pretty sure he’d be able to avoid us.”
The incident handed the lead back to Campbell-James and allowed his team mate on Piranha to climb into second with Team Energy in third. Team Korea finished fourth. Yet another example of how punishing a small mistake is on these courses.
Just 35 seconds separated the first seven boats.
FLEET RACE 2
Once again Dean Barker got off to a great start and rounded the first two marks in the lead before stretching out a 100m lead as the rest of the fleet scraps behind. But once again, going too far inshore cost distance as Barker discovered when Luna Rossa Swordfish closed the gap. A dodgy tack on ETNZ also didn’t help.
By the next windward mark it was as if the race had started again as the fleet squeezed its way through the gate. Out of the bun fight popped James Spithill who had been over the line at the start and had been penalised for it but had elbowed himself into second by the bottom gate. Shortly afterwards Spithill took the lead before Barker snatched it back. After a few more exchanges of the lead it was Spithill who rounded the top mark in the lead for the final short downwind leg.
On the last downhill slide the Kiwis were second, Team Korea in third and Ainslie in fourth.
By the finish Spithill had made the race look easy but the struggle to the front was still going to be easier than facing his boss when he got ashore.
Racing on Thursday through Sunday (2:00 pm PDT start time from Thursday through Saturday and at 11:30 am PDT on Sunday) will be broadcast live around the world on the America’s Cup YouTube channel (subject to territorial broadcast restrictions).
On television, coverage is available Thursday through Saturday throughout the Bay Area on NBC Bay Area 11.2, and in California on Comcast Sportsnet California.
The Sunday finale will be broadcast live, coast to coast in the United States, on NBC from 11:30 am PDT.