Matthew Sheahan watches the French chance it and pay the price on day one of America's Cup Act 12

To receive one penalty is unfortunate, to receive two careless. But to notch up three penalties after one mark rounding must have left the French wondering what on earth they had done to receive such a beating from the umpires. Even more galling for them was the fact that the issue saw their slim lead go to the Spanish who, having won their first match of the day for their first race in their new boat ESP88, were in no mood to hand it back.

But while the triple penalty at first seemed harsh on the French, you had to hand it to the Spanish who created and deftly exploited an opportunity within just a few boats of the leeward mark.

The situation began with the French leading into the gate and aiming for the right hand mark of the two for a conservative drop and round up onto the breeze. By hoisting their headsail, the Spanish made it look like they would do the same, the French relaxed. Just as they did, the Spanish threw in a gybe to which the French had to match. With more speed and in just a few seconds, the Spanish caught the French and gained an overlap forcing the French to give them room to round. But the French refused to acknowledge this and closed the door on the Spanish, preventing them from rounding the mark and leaving ESP-88 no option but to round up on the wrong side of the mark.

The umpires took a very dim view of this and gave the French a penalty for the professional foul and a couple more to penalise the substantial advantage that they had achieved as a result.

As part of the umpire’s duties, informing the boats as to when an overlap has been achieved has formed one of the most recent developments in the on the water judging and the light system on board Cup boats was been designed to make it crystal clear when an overlap has been established. Presumably, the umpires felt that despite being informed that the French had ignored the situation and closed the door regardless even thought the overlap light had been illuminated.

The French side of the story will no doubt be that the overlap was established rapidly from an unlikely position and gained at the very last second. But the fact remains that the overlap was established and the Spanish had every right to water around the mark.

It’s not often that one manoeuvre makes a story in a preliminary match, but in this case the issue was an absolute classic and one that will be referred to for some time to come.

The conflict had been typical of the Spanish team’s day. Taking a brand new boat onto the race course, having had little time to shake things down before the regatta thanks to some unsettled weather in the weeks before, the Spanish were thrown in at the deep end with a pair of matches that were closely fought from the start.

In their first race the South African’s pushed them hard from the second the gun went, forcing a gruelling tacking duel up the first beat and pressing them hard on the downwind leg. The next lap was little different. But apart from looking at times like they were feeling their way with the angles and numbers on the downwind legs, the Spanish seemed to be able and willing to throw their new boat around with ease. Their cool and professional behaviour got them off to a perfect start with two points on the board at the end of the day.

Elsewhere the racing on the opening day of Act 12 was a quieter affair with a number of one sided matches leaving the local chit chat to focus on the Swedes new sponsor, Red Bull. Although they won their first match against 39, the new partnership didn’t give them the wings to beat Mascalzone Latino in the second match of the day.

The Italians will be pleased with this given the public disappointment and private concerns over the problems with their brand new boat. The official line is that there is a problem in the mainsheet traveller area, but word has it that the issue is far more serious with structural issues at the back end of the boat after their early sailing trials.

Although the team snatched a victory over the Swedes, their earlier race against Luna Rossa saws the Latin Rascals pick up two separate penalties in the pre-start.

The message of the day was, for those who pushed the rules to the limit, the big stick was out.


Day Results