Matthew Sheahan joined Team Origin for their first race aboard their brand new TP52 at the Audi Medcup

‘Day one, race one,” announced Team Origin’s sailing manager Steve Ericsson at the team’s morning meeting. But this was no ordinary day one. The team’s new TP52 is the only new boat in the fleet this season and represents the first phase in future development of the TP52 class rules for the 2011 season. As a result there are plenty of eyes trained on the Juan Kouyoumdjian designed machine. The new boat named Team Origin 1851 after the founding date of the America’s Cup, is also a controversial boat. The only boat to be fitted with wings on its keel, questions have been raised by the rules officials as to whether such devices are legal and the debate appears to be one that will rumble on for a while.

But for the team, day one/race one marked another significant step in an America’s Cup campaign that has finally got underway in earnest.

Riding the weather rail in the guest slot aboard the boat, (this season sees guest slots opened up to cover every race rather than just the practice race day), placed me as close to the action as you could hope to be. But it didn’t start well.

During the first few minutes of the team’s first practice beat of the day, the starboard running backstay failed. A few minutes later, the port running backstay also failed leaving the team no choice but to stop and get one of the team’s riggers aboard to splice up two new runner tails on site at sea. This was no mean feat in itself, but it also burnt up the majority of the 40 minutes left before the start and allowed no time to do a practise kite hoist and gybe.

Nevertheless, the team dealt with the issue calmly and professionally and in the last few minutes before the start of the race, ran three of it’s own dummy starts and timed runs into the line.

While Ainslie has clearly done thousands of starts in many different sized boats, today was his first race in anger at the helm of a TP52. Interestingly, the day before I had been sailing with one of his closest rivals, four time Olympic champion Robert Scheidt, who was also experiencing life at the helm of a TP52 for the first time aboard another new team to enter the Medcup fray, Luna Rossa.

Come the start, Ainslie fought hard for the right hand end of the line along with at least half of the rest of the fleet in a start that was as tight as they come. Up the first beat the racing was incredibly close with no one prepared to give any quarter in their quest to command the right hand and favoured side of the course. Yet the net result of this tightly fought scrap was that the pack bound itself up in knots and allowed the few that were bold enough to take a clearer course around the outside to take a jump on the fleet. Among them, Christabella, one of the oldest boats in the fleet with owner John Cook who shares the helm with Tim Powell, sailed a blistering leg to round the weather mark in the lead. Showing the world’s pros around the course from the outset was not what most had expected and their performance today was not without precedence. Yesterday the team won the practice race.

With shifty and puffy conditions on the downwind leg, there were plenty of opportunities to climb up the ladders or slide down the snakes. Keeping eyes out of the boat and astern was key and here aboard Team Origin Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson and Iain Percy worked and talked just as they would aboard their Star and to good effect. Calling the right side of the next beat before the bottom rounding placed us in a great position for the next leg.

Some more closely fought tacks and lee bows that required pin point accuracy, saw us climb a few more rungs on the ladder. A solid performance on the last downwind leg when the crew’s communication and crew work got in phase with the gusty conditions saw Team Origin 1851 cross the line in 4th for their first race in the 11 boat fleet.

A disappointing 9th followed in the second race after a fluffed kite hoist on the first downwind leg put the team on the back foot and buried them in the pack for the remainder of that race. Fuming at having given away a top four position, albeit in the early stages of the race, Ainslie and co rounded off the day with a 2nd in the third race. A far more satisfying way to end their opening day.

“Clearly it’s early days for us and our main objective was to have solid races which is what we did. So in that respect we’re more than happy with today’s performance,” said team director Mike Sanderson.

But for all the talk of technology and rock star sailors, today’s dockside chatter was of the extremely close nature of the racing. To see defending champions Emirates Team New Zealand take last place in the second race and then win the third, demonstrated perfectly how little separates the front from the back and how easy it is to visit both ends of the fleet in the same day.

But perhaps the most impressive display today was that of John Cook’s Cristabella who currently lead overall. There’s a long way to go even just to the end of this opening event in Cascais, but what a way to start it.

ON THE WEATHER RAIL: First day, first start aboard Team Origin 1851

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