Kiwi determination and a thrilling race, but does the score so far really indicate an even match? Matthew Sheahan reports
Once the opening day of the America’s Cup was complete, many of the media in Valencia were taking a look at how easy it would be to change their flights and wriggle out of hotel bookings that ran through to the first week in July. So convincing was the display of strength from the Swiss, that a 5:0 victory looked likely.
Ten minutes into the racing on Day 2, the picture didn’t look that different as the Swiss boat converted a less polished start into an early biff on the nose for the Kiwis as Ed Baird aboard Alinghi bounced Dean Barker off to the right four minutes after the start gun was fired. Such a rapid and dominant performance was painful to watch for the Kiwis who had dominated the pre-start.
At the press conference after the race and despite both teams trying to make out that the boats were very evenly matched, the real message about the relative differences could be decoded from Kiwi tactican Ray Davies comments.
“Dean did a great job of starting at pace and with heaps of separation,” he said. “Normally you would be able to last a long time with that sort of range and we were a bit surprised that we got spat off there. With Alinghi making more of a gain, it was a little bit of a surprise for us!”
Brad Butterworth also appeared to feel that there was a difference in the performance of the two boats when he was asked whether the different weather conditions were illustrating the differences between the boats, the Kiwis performing better in the light, Alinghi better in stronger winds.
“You could easily draw that conclusion and perhaps both teams think that way as well,” he said.
Now, having witnessed a win apiece in two different set of weather conditions, the Cup watching public could see that perhaps the first America’s Cup since 1992, would not come down to a simple drag race.
The day started when the Kiwis, who entered the start box from the left hand side on a day when getting the right hand side of the course looked to be favourite, managed to cross over the bows of Alinghi to gain the favoured side in the first move. From there on, Barker controlled the next four minutes until the start, hitting the line at pace and on time. Alinghi crossed the line three seconds later, at this level of competition, late.
But four minutes later, Alinghi had hit the height button once again, climbing up to the Kiwis and forcing them to tack off onto port. A close copy of the previous day’s opening five minutes. Alinghi, it seemed, had awesome pace.
At the weather mark, Ed Baird steered SUI100 around 19 seconds ahead, again a very similar lead to the race on Day 1.
But unlike yesterday, (Saturday), the Swiss didn’t slip ahead downhill. Instead, not only did the Kiwis stay in touch, they hauled back six seconds to round the leeward gate 13 seconds behind Alinghi.
Then, half way up the second beat came the killer move as the Kiwis hooked into a small left hand shift, enough to close the distance and bring them within striking distance of Alinghi.
Helmsman Ed Baird put SUI100 into high mode, super high mode as he feathered his boat up to try to force the Kiwis off before Barker pushed him out to the right hand lay line. Eventually Baird succeeded, but it had cost him dearly. As both boats came into the mark on starboard it was clear that Alinghi had been forced beyond the layline and were now trailing the Kiwis.
“The turning point of the race was our concern over the right hand side of the course,” explained Butterworth. “Historically the right has got stronger later in the day and as it turned out it didn’t. When we came back together again they were coming into a really good left hand shift in pressure. We just didn’t quite put the boat in the right place.”
By the time the pair came to the second windward mark rounding, the Kiwis had hauled out a 15 second lead, a lead that they never gave back. Indeed, at the finish Barker and Co. had extended to 28 seconds to put the score at one apiece.
The result also marked the end of a losing streak for the Kiwis and a winning streak for Butterworth who had, until today, won 16 America’s Cup races on the trot. Conversely, Barker had scored his first Cup race win against the same tactician and the man who had guided Barker to his most famous win in 2000 when the Kiwis successfully defended the Cup.
When it comes to figuring out what happens next, the boats’ relative performances aren’t even, but the contest is far from over.
Beyond this, today’s win looked likely to mean more money for the online booking agencies and hotels.
RESULTS AFTER DAY 2
Alinghi – 1
Emirates Team New Zealand – 1
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