Another close battle with the Kiwis making a handling mistake that cost them the race. Matthew Sheahan reports
Today the America’s Cup started again but in 29 minutes, race five was over for the Kiwis.
The race had started with another dominant performance in the pre-start in which Barker forced Alinghi above the line then hassled them out to the right hand side of the start box and beyond. At the helm of Alinghi, Ed Baird only broke free by fleeing into the spectator fleet and splitting with the Kiwis around the media boat.
The Kiwis started to leeward, on starboard, hitting the line at pace while Alinghi tacked onto port at the committee boat end, a reversal of the start of race three. During the first few minutes the speed between the two boats seemed even, with Alinghi occasionally looking marginally quicker. But, by the starboard layline the Kiwis were exploiting their windward position, by holding Alinghi out beyond the layline. Having tacked onto starboard, Dean Barker and his crew led their opponents into the weather mark, rounding 12 seconds ahead.
Despite rounding behind, the Swiss boat piled the pressure on as they performed a perfect hoist and sailed deep to try to get inside the Kiwis. A few minutes later the first move in a chain reaction began when the tack of the Kiwi spinnaker blew out.
The Kiwis had prepared for the failure and had set up a new kite on deck having seen a small tear in the luff of the spinnaker. But as the sail blew out the call for a hoist appeared to be premature as the new kite went up without sheets attached. The Kiwis now had two kites up the mast, but neither drawing.
Eventually the first kite was lowered and a third hoisted. As this one set the second sheet-less kite streamed out from the masthead like a giant burgee.
“We noticed the tear just over the tack patch, a highly loaded part of the sail so we decided to peel, we just bounced a wave ten seconds before the hoist and the sail exploded and in the milieu we ended up with the new sail getting wrapped in the old sail,” said Kiwi boss Grant Dalton at the press conference after the race
To see such a serious error aboard the Kiwi boat is rare, but this is the second time a handling mistake has cost them the lead. Last time they recovered, this time they did not.
Meanwhile, Alinghi took the opportunity not simply to overtake, but gybed into clearer air. The Swiss looked cool calm and collected, but trimmer Simon Daubney was quick to point out what the atmosphere was really like aboard SUI100.
“Grant has said their team are making mistakes, but it’s not all going smoothly on our boat as well,” he said. “The pressure is on here. It is a very close contest between very close teams and two very equal boats and one little mistake or slip-up is incredibly costly and you don’t want to be the guy that makes that mistake, it’s the tightest and the toughest one for sure.”
The incident had cost Emirates Team New Zealand the lead and a distance to catch up of 165m.
By the time both boats rounded the leeward gate the Kiwis had managed to close the gap down to 80m as they headed up the second beat. But despite small gains by the Kiwis, there were no significant passing lanes in a steadily building breeze that had increased from 12 knots at the start to 16 by the finish.
Despite being forced to use their symmetrical spinnaker on the final run to the finish, Emirates Team New Zealand managed to reduce the distance even more to cross the line 19 seconds behind the Swiss. An impressive recovery perhaps, but a loss is still a loss.
Would the Kiwis chastise themselves?
“There wouldn’t be a guy on board who was happy today about what happened on the run,” said Dalton. “As a unit we have developed a strength within the team that you don’t have to do that because you feel it yourself. We are happy with our pace, and the start. How you react to something like that is the key to how you go forward, as a fork in the road or a defining moment. You can make it the defining moment, its important that we don’t make that as a defining moment, just a loss in the best of five, and move forward.”
Certainly if nothing else, the Kiwis had proved to themselves and their opponents that they would not be blown out of the water in the stronger breezes and could square up to SUI100 quite comfortably.
With five races under their belt, how did Alinghi see their opponents?
“We weren’t expecting to go out there in over 12 knots and blow their doors off,” said Daubney.
“We knew that the TNZ boat was a good all-round boat, I don’t feel disappointed because I have always expected it to be a very close contest between two very fast boats. There is a narrowing of the advantage line all round. If we have shown an advantage by being in the acts like in Act 13 this has actually given the others a chance to catch up to know what the bench mark is as well. These guys sailed tough LV races, I think they learnt a lot from a couple of losses with the Spanish races, some changes were made there. It doesn’t surprise us that the boats are pretty even.”
By past performances and a recent record of 5:0 defeats, the Cup would have been decided by now, but not this one.
“This regatta is tight and you have to get it dead right,” said Dalton.
“Right now Alinghi is getting it more right than us otherwise we would be 3-2. The key is to put it to one side and come out tomorrow and try and level it up.”
RESULTS AFTER DAY 5
Alinghi – 3
Emirates Team New Zealand – 2
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