Alinghi wins first race of the America's Cup. Matthew Sheahan reports

 They were forced to take the less favoured side of the line and were sat on for the first few hundred metres off the start. When they reached the weather mark, their kite hoist was not as snappy as their opponents, their gybe slow and when they reached the bottom of the first downwind leg they picked the less favourable one of the two marks adding distance to their race, a move that contributed to reducing their lead from 160m to just a boat length. At the weather mark for the second time, their hoist was still slow by comparison to that of their competitors.

But still Alinghi won, crossing the line 35 seconds ahead of the Kiwis.

Today’s match was the first time Alinghi’s so called rocket ship, their second boat SUI100 has sailed against any other boats other than her sistership SUI91. Yet the Swiss performance at the hands of Ed Baird at the wheel and Brad Butterworth on tactics, was a repeat performance of that seen in an unofficial practice race between the Kiwis and Alinghi in their old boats a few weeks ago when they gained the upper hand after starting on the back foot.

Today was little different, at least on the face of it.

For a few minutes after the start the Kiwis appeared to be sailing slightly higher and faster but certainly with less fuss, the bow of NZL92 slicing through the difficult short chop. SUI100 was making much heavier weather of the upwind leg, pitching more aggressively with each set of awkward waves. For the first 5 minutes the Kiwis squeezed out a 20m advantage. But then came crunch time as Alinghi appeared to hit the height button and hauled themselves back into the race before taking a lead that they never gave back.

On the face of it, the race had been a one-sided display of Alinghi dominance. Could this be the beginning of another 5:0 drubbing? Some believed it was, but there was another way of looking at today’s race.

With the breeze forecast to hang around in the tricky northeasterly zone, a left hand shift was always a possibility. Starting tight to leeward under the Kiwis might not have been an ideal situation but when a 10 degree left hand shift came in 5 minutes after the start, both boats were headed on starboard and went bow down, the Kiwis found themselves in the exhaust of the Swiss and were forced to tack off onto port. Having lost their small advantage, there was no way back, at least without a favourable shift. No such trump card was dealt and the Kiwis were forced to follow the Swiss around the race course. At least this was the explanation from skipper Dean Barker and traveller trimmer Adam Beashel at the press conference after the race.

As we have seen on so many occasions, coming back from behind is extremely difficult – today was no different.

On the plus side for the Kiwis, today’s conditions were steady where the breeze held at 12-13 knots and varied little in direction for most of the race, a good day to see any difference in speed.

“She’s not a rocket ship by any means,” said pitman Kiwi Barry McKay when asked about SUI100’s potential.

The fact that NZL92 kept close and was not spat out of the back door will be a big relief to the team and its supporters and would seem to confirm that SUI100 may not be as quick as early rumours had suggested.

According to Dean Barker it was a relief to have finished the first race of this America’s Cup as he was asked to cast his mind back to the opening race four years ago.

“At least today we didn’t sail badly but we didn’t win either,” he said.

The bigger problem is that today Alinghi took a leap in confidence during this race. They looked wobbly off the start, but gradually settled down throughout to the race. By the last leg they were throwing their boat through the gybes with confidence and extended their lead as they did so.

Tomorrow they could build on their dusty start, unless the weather throws a spanner in the works. Early indications suggest we could be looking at single figure wind speeds, just what the Kiwi boat likes

Alinghi – 1

Emirates Team New Zealand – 0


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