Fantastic conditions, good racing, why can't all America's Cup racing be like this?


Race 3 (race 2 and race 4 postponed)

1st Oracle

2nd Alinghi

3rd Emirates Team New Zealand

4th K-Challenge

5th Team Shosholoza

6th Le Defi

Five months in Auckland during the last Cup and we longed for two consecutive breezy days of racing. Two days in the Mediterranean, where the extremes of calm versus the Mistral are well known, and we’ve had two days of exhilarating conditions back to back. Figure that? Indeed, so lively were the conditions today that the second race had to be abandoned as the breeze got up into the high twenties with gusts above that.

But for the first race at least, few spectators or photographers could ask for any more as the fleet of six thundered around the four leg windward-leeward course.

There were fewer breakages today and the race seemed to be less about getting the beast around the course in one piece than it had been yesterday. But by the time the fleet had finished the breeze showed no signs of easing and the second race was called off.

“It’s a tough call for race officer Peter Reggio, he wants to see boats finishing as well,” said Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker shortly after stepping ashore. “We were seeing 27-28 knots at times and were spilling wind, but it wasn’t quite survival.” Nevertheless, even with just one race there was still plenty to marvel at, especially at the weather mark where you could see the stern trying to break free as each helmsman fought to bear away without spinning out. It doesn’t matter how many times you see them do it, sitting at the weather mark on an America’s Cup course is as exciting and captivating as hanging out at a hump back bridge in a motor sport rally.

Aside from the pure spectacle, the racing itself was exciting too even though there’s a big spread of ability and experience in the fleet. At the start Le Defi and Oracle jumped the gun and were forced to go back to re-start. Curtains in most cases, especially on a race as short as this one. But despite being 1min 30 sec late off the line, Oracle managed to pull themselves back into the race in just 12 minutes of racing to round the top mark in third.

“Our plan was always to go to the left up the beat,” said BMW Oracle’s helmsman Gavin Brady. “The call was to tack on the shifts and just get back into the race and while our dive to the left looked like a bit of a gamble, it didn’t feel that risky at the time.”

Risky or not, the strategy worked and the American team rounded the weather mark in third, back in the race. But perhaps the biggest surprise, not least of all to the crew involved, was K-Challenges’ impressive first beat to lead the fleet at the weather mark. The French team only took delivery of their America’s Cup boat on 27 August and had never sailed one before. On top of this, FRA-57 is a 2000 generation AC boat, albeit a quick one being the sistership to the Cup winning NZL60, but way off the pace of the 2003 boats.

“We were very happy to round the mark in the lead,” said helmsman Thierry Peponnet. “We’ve only had five practice days on this boat since we got her and this is only my seventh day helming an America’s Cup class boat.

“The trouble is that downwind we can’t do the manoeuvres as quickly as the big teams. We need a lot of time to set up, so it’s easy for them to catch us.”

Pretty impressive all the same and while the results table speaks for itself, when it comes to the leaders and their experience, K-Challenge were impressive.

In the newcomers league, Shosholoza’s day didn’t go as well as yesterday. Spinning out at the start left them floundering behind the line as the gun went. A few minutes later their headsail halyard broke leaving them to sail the second half of the beat bare-headed and around the weather mark last. But by the time the last downwind leg came around they’d taken distance out of Le Defi and managed to slip inside them at the finish to pip the `French by three seconds.

Oracle meanwhile, had worked their way into the lead to provide a great comeback story given their poor showing yesterday.

“We had a point to prove after yesterday,” said helmsman Gavin Brady. “We know we’re better than that and the guys were looking for an opportunity to prove themselves.”

They certainly did that. Their win today moves them up into second overall. But with another day of fleet racing and three days of match racing, all to count towards the final result, it’s far too early to look at the overall points table. There’s far too much kicking off on the course.