A roller coaster ride, a sailor's race, but not everyone was happy. Matthew Sheahan reports
With the postponement flag flying, there was plenty of time to study the weather data streaming off the MDS (Meteorological Data System) weather buoys. Plotted as a moving graph, the data showed that while the breeze was generally above the lower limit for racing, (7 knots) its direction was oscillating through 20 degrees – too great a shift to set a course. But as the skies cleared and the sea breeze started to take a hold, the pattern started to settle. The oscillations got smaller, but the pattern remained the same with a six minute cycle from hard left to hard right.
Just a few minutes before the five o’clock deadline for getting a starting sequence under way, the postponement flag was lowered.
As the boats entered the start box the Kiwis, who had entered from the right, appeared very keen to defend this side of the line. A quick glance at the weather plot suggested why. In six minutes time the wind was going to be hard left in its cycle, after that there would be a six minute walk back to the right.
Having fought hard for that side, Barker and his crew were forced to tack off onto port just seconds before the start as Ed Baird helming Alinghi bounced the Kiwis off. On any other day this would have been a clear victory to the Swiss, but one minute later and the rumble had started as the breeze began it’s walk back around to the right.
A few minutes later, the Kiwis were looking good as they sailed into a right hand shift, tacked onto starboard and sailed away from the Swiss who were pinned out on the left hand side of the course.
By the weather mark Emirates Team New Zealand had pulled out more than a 300m lead to round the mark 1min 23 seconds ahead.
A job well done by the Kiwis you might think. Alinghi didn’t.
“I’m sure for those who are watching it is exciting for sure, but you can go to Las Vegas for that, its not exactly what sailing should be about,” said Ernesto Bertarelli after stepping ashore.
“It was a very strange day, we waited two hours to start that race and honestly, the Race Committee starts the race a second before the time limit on a situation which was no better than it had been for the last two hours- high volatility, unpredictable wind which is why we waited. We took a good start because we forced TNZ to tack away, we were leading at the start but then the twenty degree shift. I mean you can’t beat a twenty degree shift from nowhere.”
“I didn’t come to the America’s Cup to do this sort of racing,” he continued. “It’s match racing at the end of the day. Its not offshore racing where you just have to see whether the wind decides the regatta. I don’t think the wind should decide the regatta, the competitors should decide it on their ability. The wind should be way more stable than it was today for the race to take place.”
Trimmer Simon Daubney felt the same. “This one was a little bit of a raffle, a little bit of a lottery,” he said. “On a day testing at any time like that you think, ‘hopefully we won’t be sailing in these conditions so certainly you wouldn’t spend too much time working away at them.’
Perhaps this was one of the clues as to why Alinghi had found it more difficult to read the conditions. In the press conference after the race Alinghi’s grinder Dean Phipps appeared to concede that maybe his team didn’t have the edge in such conditions when compared to the Challengers who had become race hardened in the light winds.
“We’ve done plenty of in house racing in light weather and I think we might have pulled the pin slightly earlier in such fluky conditions,” he said. “But we’ve done our fair share but probably not at the intensity that the Challengers have.”
With such a variety of weather this spring and summer, getting the weather call right has been crucial, something that wind spotter and traveller trimmer Adam Beashel appears to have nailed with the Kiwi weather team led by ‘Clouds’ Badham.
“There were obviously a lot of discussions regarding the wind speed and the race committee struggling a little to get it underway. Fortunately they got it underway in time and we had a very exciting race for everyone. For us it was switching back and forth quite a lot – early on there was a lot of call to the left but as things got closer, it all started to even up,” he explained. “Clouds and ourselves on the boat just before entry thought there was a pretty big right hand shift to come and it was called so it nearly became a ‘must win right’ for us, and Deano did a good job of winning that right hand side. It was a little down speed, it would have nice to be a little quicker but we were hopeful that the right was going to come and it came as we expected so it all turned well for us.”
But half way around the course the shifty conditions tripped the Kiwis up as the breeze shifted on their entry into the bottom mark, setting off a chain reaction.
“We had actually decided about a minute out from the gate from when it turned to custard for us, that we wanted the right hand gate, and we had a pretty good left hand breeze,” explained tactician Ray Davies. “As we were going to set up to gybe the breeze went right and we realised we couldn’t go to the right hand gate. It was just a terrible rounding to try and get the left from where we were. We were right dead upwind of it and did not have much room to play with. We wriggled round obviously losing a lot but taking the massive bias on the line by the time we got sorted with the spinnaker and primary winch.”
The fluster lost the Kiwis virtually all of their lead. By the weather mark for the second time, Alinghi had finished the job off and taken the lead.
But with 3.3 miles to go to the finish the Kiwis were not down and out.
“History tells us that late in the day, with a delayed start you can get a late left hand shift,” explained Beashel. “Ray emphasised that well and it worked out for us.”
For whatever reason, Alinghi appeared to allow the Kiwis to split to the right, just the side that hauled them back into the lead as the breeze swung around to the left.
The rest is indeed now history. The Kiwis 2:1 up and the weather forecast for tomorrow looking like more of the same.
If that’s what makes for close racing where the lead switches back and forth, you won’t find many critical spectators ashore.
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RESULTS AFTER DAY 3
Alinghi – 1
Emirates Team New Zealand – 2
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