Matthew Sheahan reports from Cascais at the first official match race in AC45s

For 160 years, the path through the America’s Cup has been littered with milestones. Wednesday 10 Aug delivered yet another – Match racing in multihulls. In the most ambitious experiment and radical change in the history of the Cup, Cascais played host to the first ever match race in the new AC World Series.

The race between Emirates Team New Zealand (Dean Barker) and Oracle (James Spithill) may not have been a classic match race, a reaching start, windward and leeward gates and a reaching finish were among the significant differences, but with at least half a dozen lead changes between the pair, the 30 minute quickfire race proved that match racing does work with wing-masted multihulls.

The day had started with a two hour delay thanks to the non-existent breeze which provided yet another embarrassment for race organisers who had suffered similar light conditions on the opening day of the event on Saturday. That a location known for its strong and reliable winds, could fail to play ball on such an important day, only delivered the usual response that ‘it was not normally like this’ from the locals.  

But once the breeze did pick up to 6-8knots, the racing got underway at a blistering pace with three fleet races running back to back in which the fleet scorched downhill at 16-18 knots. In between there was plenty of action too.

Both upwind and down there were penalties aplenty, a collision and some surprise results from some of the top players. Among them was Russell Coutts’ team who in the first race were OCS at the start and then gained two penalties on one of the downwind legs only to finish last. Few would have bet on that.

But at the front end of the fleet there were still two familiar faces, Barker’s (ETNZ) and Spithill’s (Oracle). Their solid performance in the fleet racing had earned them a place in the day’s match racing.

The format of each World Series event is a complicated one to understand at first and another major departure from the norm where fleet racing and speed trails fill the opening two days. After that, and following two lay days, the next three days see the nine boat fleet engage in a daily menu of three fleet races to select the top six teams that will then take part in a match race each day.

Then after three days of this routine, there is a best of three match race on the final Saturday for the top six teams and a fleet race on the final Sunday.

Unfortunately the delay to racing today meant that only one match race could be run between the top two teams of the day, ETNZ and Oracle – more ammunition perhaps for those who are determined to pursue the argument that match racing in multihulls simply won’t work. For the rest of either watching the live action here in Cascais or on line elsewhere, Dean Barker’s 1min 37sec victory was one that his team had to fight hard for and was certainly not a done deal from the start.

Of course one match race doesn’t make an America’s Cup cycle, but it does go a long way to proving that the new vision for the world’s oldest international sporting trophy isn’t just pie in the sky.

Today at least, America’s Cup racing worked.


Video highlights of the racing

Onboard with Russell Coutts and Alain Gautier as I took two rides in two of the fleet races – Matt Sheahan’s Blog