All the elements were in place for a splendid opening to New Zealand’s second defence of the America’s Cup. Sunshine bathed the inner Hauraki Gulf in bright colours, a spectator fleet estimated at 2,500 boats was on hand and the weather conditions were challenging, 20 knots and a one-metre swell.
They were conditions that were too much for Team New Zealand. The defender of the America’s Cup, skippered by Dean Barker (29), was forced to withdraw from the first race of the 31st America’s Cup just 25 minutes into the contest after suffering a series of gear failures.
The Swiss Challenger Alinghi, led by skipper Russell Coutts, completed the course unchallenged to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-nine series. They need four more victories to win the America’s Cup, while Team New Zealand needs five wins to retain the Auld Mug.
With the victory, Coutts sets a new record for most wins without a loss in the America’s Cup Match. Coutts has won 10 consecutive races at the helm of an America’s Cup yacht dating back to 1995. He breaks Charlie Barr’s record of nine straight wins through three Cups between 1899 and 1903.
The two boats had an even start, hitting the line at the gun and with speed. Barker’s NZL-82 was to windward of Coutts’ SUI-64 by no more than two boatlengths. Barker surged to an early lead, but it was short-lived as Coutts clawed back and closed gauge between the two, pinching up from leeward.
The disasters started about 12 minutes into the race when the outboard end of Team New Zealand’s boom broke. They continued about 4 minutes later when the tack of the genoa blew off. The sail pulled out of the headfoil, damaging the groove that holds the genoa to the forestay.
The crew tried to set a replacement headsail, but it pulled out of the damaged headfoil. Team New Zealand officially withdrew from the race at 13:40 hours, 25 minutes after the start.
The last time a defender withdrew from a race in the America’s Cup Match was in 1920. Resolute retired from a race against Shamrock IV when the throat halyard, controlling the inboard end of the gaff supporting the mainsail, broke in a squall.
Ten years after that, challenger Shamrock V withdrew from Race 3 against defender Enterprise when its mainsail halyard broke.
Race 2 is scheduled for 13:15 hours tomorrow, and the conditions are forecasted to be lighter than today.
31ST AMERICA’S CUP MATCH
Alinghi (SUI-64) won; Team New Zealand (NZL-82) did not finish Alinghi leads Team New Zealand in best-of-nine series, 1-0
The racing had started with an exhilarating pre-start in which Coutts and Barker performed brilliantly timed runs into the line for the start gun. Less than two minutes later, NZL-82 looked strong as the local boat showed early indications of being quicker.
The early lead was short-lived as Alinghi had hauled back Team New Zealand’s 20-metre advantage. If the first few minutes were anything to go by, this was going to be a thrilling race.
Six minutes after the start and Team New Zealand appeared to have a problem as one of their afterguard was seen to be bailing frantically as large quantities of water were seen sloshing around down to leeward. As fast as he bailed, more water came in. A few moments after that Team New Zealand tacked away onto port while Alinghi continued on starboard.
With 13 minutes of the race elapsed, the first disaster struck as the end of NZL-82’s mainsail boom broke removing all outhaul control. At 17 minutes after the start there were further problems aboard NZL-82 as the tack blew out of the headsail. But the nightmare still wasn’t over for Team New Zealand.
As the crew hoisted a replacement headsail the sail blew out of the headfoil. Twenty-two minutes after the start and Team New Zealand’s race was over.
Alinghi completed the course in 1:55:53. They used a spinnaker on the first run only as the wind blew between 20 and 25 knots. On the run to the finish Alinghi was sailing wing-on-wing, its genoa trimmed to windward of the mainsail. It crossed the finish line without a headsail.