High Expectations at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series as Team Origin squared up to BMW Oracle. Matthew Sheahan reports from Auckland

The master versus the multi medallist, a mouth watering prospect for spectators and sailors alike as Ben Ainslie and Russell Coutts went head to head to day in Round Robin 2 in the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series. This was a match of high expectations that ended abruptly with high drama.

Indeed, the entire day had been one of unusual behaviour to say the least with some of the rarest moves in match racing executed when you least suspected. Take for instance the match between the Greek Challenge and Team China.

Unable to hoist their headsail, the Greek Challenge were late entering the box for the pre-start. In fact they never got to enter from the course side as normal. Instead, Team China saw their opponent’s problems, scorched across the box and held the Greeks out until two minutes had passed, after which the Greeks were dealt a penalty for not entering the start area correctly.

More pain was to come with a second penalty awarded for not keeping clear during a tight manoeuvre. With two penalties to clear once the teams had started, it was little surprise that the match was one sided.

Then there was the match between Luna Rossa and Team New Zealand that saw the Italians squeezed into coffin corner on the left had side of the start zone. So dangerous is this area that you rarely get to see anyone forced here. With the only route back on port, the risks are too great. Fortunately and unusually, the Italians made it back into the safe zone unscathed.

In the match that had proceeded this, Ainslie and Coutts had locked horns just seconds into the pre-start. Coutts pinning the Brits to the left hand side and squeezing Ainslie and Co. into coffin corner. Ainslie tried to escape, running deeper into danger with each circle towards coffin corner. But as many of his former opponents know, the best way to see Ainslie’s raw determination is to put him under pressure.

Deep in the no go zone, not only did Team Origin escape, but had left the aggressor Coutts and BMW Oracle reeling with a penalty. This race was billed as being match of the day and potentially the closest, it was on the water, but not on the scoreboard as the gun went.

Starting on the back foot and with plenty of distance to make up, Coutts came storming back into contention within the first third of the first beat, the match was back on. A major tussle continued right through to the weather mark, where Team Origin rounded just 13 seconds ahead. A narrow margin, but one that Ainslie and crew defended well, despite some heart stopping moments for British supporters when Origin split from their opponents, a move that had cost them their race against Alinghi the day before.

But as the pair approached the bottom gate, there were clearly problems aboard Team Origin as the headsail failed to go up and the team sailed past the mark. As we discovered shortly afterwards, a damaged headfoil prevented them hoisting their genoa leaving BMW Oracle a clear passage around the remainder of the course.

This wasn’t the end of the dispute however. During the aggressive pre-start and the penalty that was awarded it was revealed that while BMW Oracle had scored -1 for their collision, (a score that was scrubbed to 0 when they finished the race in first place), the Brits had been dealt -0.5 of a point, apparently as they were not blameless for the collision.

As the day came to a close, the protest hearing started, the results of which will no doubt be declared tomorrow. In the meantime, talk of the town down here in Auckland was of the number of unconventional moves and slippery behaviour in some of the most exciting match racing that we’ve seen to date.

Today’s results:

Alinghi (SUI) beat Damiani Italia Challenge (ITA)
BMW Oracle Racing (USA) beat Team Origin (GBR)
Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL) beat Luna Rossa (ITA)

Pataugas K-Challenge (FRA) beat Team Shosholoza (RSA)
China Team (CHN) beat Greek Challenge (GRE)



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