Short legs, loads of breeze and the odd blow out on the course. More fantastic conditions in Marseille.
BMW Oracle – 1/1
Alinghi – 3/2
Emirates Team New Zealand – 2/3
K-Challenge – 5/4
Team Shosholoza – 4/6
Le Defi – 6/5
When the course consists of two mile legs it takes just 14 minutes to get to the weather mark and around eight to get back down to the bottom. To watch the mark rounding action in a RIB you need to be doing 25 knots plus to get to the marks in time, a spine pounding experience in 1m seas, but worth it.
Twice around the windward/leeward course sees a race completed in well under an hour, by which time the order in the six boat fleet seems to have been more or less sorted. By the time the boats cross the line the crews look breathless and no doubt some of the team accountants are sweating too as they count the cost of blown out sails and damaged gear. But the fact is that this new fast and furious style of America’s Cup racing, aided and abetted by 25knot winds, looks great and shifts the event into another gear. Rarely, (if ever since Fremantle), has America’s Cup racing looked so good off the boat.
“The fleet racing so far has proved to be fun and different and a bit of a sprint,” said BMW Oracle’s tactician John Kostecki. “Laylines come up pretty quickly if there’s the slightest wind shift.”
And there were plenty of those to make the palms of the tacticians sweat. Once again, for the third day of racing, the breeze cranked around to the left during each race providing an advantage to those who managed to get out to that side of the course. Having fought and committed themselves it then became a question of establishing how far the breeze would go as well as making sure that any advantage wasn’t blow away by over-standing the mark.
In the first race of the day the whole fleet hung out to the left, tacking almost in unison for the long starboard track to the weather mark. Once again it was BMW Oracle that led the fleet around the top mark followed closely by Alinghi and then Emirates Team New Zealand, the big three in complete control.
Fourth around was the South African Team Shosholoza who was demonstrating what it had learned after 45 days of training in Cape Town. Behind them K-Challenge may have been in fifth, but in the ‘have-not’ division the crew work stood out, especially when you consider just how little time this team has hade had to practice.
Le Defi were dumped from the start after the head blew out of their genoa leaving them trailing the rest of the fleet by a large margin. Things only got worse for the French team after that with another spinnaker blow out on the downwind leg after a dodgy gybe. In the second race they blew out yet another kite bringing to the total carnage to six spinnakers and leaving the downwind sail wardrobe empty, at least in the heavy kite department.
“In the first race we lost the genoa and the spinnaker. It’s very difficult because with our budget, we can’t keep our equipment in shape as it should be,” said skipper Philippe Presti.
The second round of the first race saw the Kiwis pull back into second, after Alinghi had to do a penalty turn after they tacked Oracle’s water.
“It’s difficult to make a leeward tack close enough to be effective and it takes perfect communication to do it. We made a mistake and were angry with ourselves but knew what we’d done wrong,” said Alinghi’s tactician Jochen Schuemann.
It was an impressive move by Oracle who was on port and demonstrated how to gain the upper hand despite being the give way boat.
“We did a late dip on Alinghi which always puts lots of pressure on the starboard tack boat. I guess they just misjudged their tack,” said Oracle’s tactician John Kostecki.
After this the order remained the same to see Oracle add another win to their score line.
In the second race of the day the breeze continued to blow and even increased at times as it whistled through the gap in the land at the top mark touching 30 knots at times.
Once again the fleet powered off the line in a full on foam up, a gross total of 150 tonnes of carbon and lead thundering upwind. At the top of the beat the Swiss rounded in the lead followed by Team New Zealand and Oracle, but this time it was Le Defi who led pack ‘B’.
Two miles later at the bottom gate Oracle had snatched the lead once more and the Kiwis were forced into third, an order that held through the second lap to the finish. Yet depite the apparent simplicity of their win, this was still no walk in the park for Oracle.
“We had a 32 knot puff on the last downwind leg and I can tell you, our boat was pretty quiet at that point. We were all a bit frightened that something would break,” said Kostecki.
So that’s it, the end of the fleet racing for this event. Three days in which we’ve seen six AC boats filter out into two very revealing groups. To see these boats sailing side by side shows up differences and characteristics that took weeks and weeks to establish in the match racing arena in Auckland.
Tomorrow is a lay day and Thursday sees the start of the match racing which looks like taking place in lighter breezes.