Louis Vuitton America's Cup - Act 1 - Scene One gets off to an impressive start in boisterous conditions

 For those who thought yesterday’s crowds were a fix or a fortunate weekend coincidence, today’s armada must surely be enough to confirm that the new style America’s Cup is big news in France. Few could be happier, (or more relieved), than ACM boss Michel Bonnefous who was wearing a grin as wide as the RIB he was aboard as he looked over several hundred spectator boats ranging from windsurfers to Superyachts – Day 1 of Act 1 couldn’t have been better. Even seasoned professionals were taken aback.

“Normally when you have that many spectator boats you sail off into the sunset and don’t see anyone for 25 days,” said Grant Dalton Emirates Team New Zealand boss. “It’s kind of cool to have that many spectator boats and be able to come in for dinner.”

But as it turned out it wasn’t just the crowds that made the day. After a three hour delay waiting for the breeze, those that remained on the race course were rewarded with some spectacular conditions as the breeze topped 30 knots at times as it whistled across the course.

Add to this the spectacle of six grunty Americas Cup class boats, all powering off the same starting line at the same time and you’ve got a sight that few have ever witnessed. Little surprise that so many people came out to watch.

Right from the start there was plenty of action and plenty to think about, not least of all the amount of space that six 25 tonne yachts need in 20 knots of breeze in the pre-start area. One mistake here and AC racing becomes a contact sport.

Apart form a big shift to the left up the first beat, there was little to report until the fleet headed off on the first of three downwind legs. Kites blew out on several boats, K-Challenge broke their spinnaker pole, Team New Zealand’s came off the mast and several teams opted to wear round rather than gybe at times. This was an all action opening if ever there was one. But the demolition derby hadn’t finished. Le Defi blew out another spinnaker and broke a running backstay and there were mini crises and dramas at each of the subsequent mark roundings.

“The breeze was up to 30 knots at times with a typical wind range of 22-25 knots,” said Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. “The boat felt good and we felt our pace was good, but today was really about boat handling in the end.”

Which was impressive in itself given how long it’s been since Barker has been at the helm of an AC boat. Until a few days ago, Olympic sailing in his Finn has been the focus.

“We had three days practicing before this race but the last time I sailed this boat for any time was during the last Cup,” he said.

But when it came to the most surprised team of the day, the South African Team Shosholoza won hands down. While others watched their to-do list grow, Geoff Meek’s team had a breakage free day in their first ever America’s Cup race.

“We were going a lot quicker than we thought we’d be going at this stage,” said Meek. “This was a fantastic way to start our America’s Cup campaign.

“Anyone who was on the boat three months ago would be astounded with what we did here today,” he said.

“Including me!” chipped in crew boss and sailing manager Paul Stanbridge. “I asked for 7 knots of breeze this morning for our first race and got 27 knots.

“So far we’ve sailed 45 days in Cape Town on our own but I don’t think the lack of competition has been a problem for us. Until we can turn the boat around, inside and out we’ve got plenty to learn that doesn’t require another boat to tune against.”

As it happens, a view not that far removed from Team New Zealand who enjoyed their first race against someone other than the Swiss.

“We’re pleased to get back into racing,” said Barker. “This is the first time we’ve raced Oracle and indeed anyone else. We’ve spent years in isolation.”

Not anymore. Tomorrow sees the boats out again for more fleet action in a forecasted breeze of 11-16 knots with the possibility of gusts of 25 knots.