Alinghi take their second win to even the score, but Kiwis file a protest. Matthew Sheahan reports
The America’s Cup is now a best of five race series as Alinghi’s second win evens the score to 2:2.
Unlike the previous race, when the lead changed places more times than Kiwi tactician Ray Davies admitted to being able to count to, today’s race was a one sided affair, albeit a close one where the delta never grew any larger than 34 seconds.
But while there were few sparks on the race course, the potential for them started ashore when the Kiwis filed a protest against Alinghi, shortly after returning to the dock.
The issue is thought to be related to an incident after today’s race when the measurement committee asked both boats to lower their mainsails.
Under the America’s Cup Class rules, a boat has to be able to lower its mainsail, ‘without the necessity of a crew member going aloft.’
It is said that while the Kiwis lowered theirs, ‘in the way we always do from the deck’, as confirmed by mainsheet trimmer Don Cowie, it is believed that Alinghi sent a man aloft before the sail came down.
When asked about this in the press conference, Alinghi crew member Murray Jones said, “They elected to a measurement check on our boat today. One of the checks was to make sure the mainsail could be released off the mainsail lock without any assistance. So with the big waves we asked the guy whether we could just put the halyard on loosely so that the whole thing didn’t fall down and break battens or damage stuff when it does come down. We tripped it off and that was that.”
The protest hearing is due to be heard 28 June at 1100 local time.
Today’s race started with the Kiwis fighting hard to protect the left hand side, the side that they had entered the start box on. Alinghi looked happy with starting to windward of the Kiwis, sitting on top of NZL92.
As the boats came off the line on starboard the next 10 minutes were the best guide we’ve seen so far as to the relative differences in speed. There were none, or at least very little. Even when it came to height, Alinghi had a smaller than expected advantage.
With such closely matched performances, Alinghi were able to hold the Kiwis out to the left hand lay line in what became a one tack beat. SUI100 led around the weather mark by 20 seconds.
Behind them the Kiwis pulled off a gybe-set, but Butterworth’s team were ready and responded with a snappy gybe.
In the final stages of the long run down to the leeward gate the light and shifty breeze almost saw the Swiss boat on the wrong side of the layline, forcing them to sail awkwardly deep in order to round, while the Kiwis approached on the opposite gybe and at pace. In broad terms, a re-run of the day before, but with the roles reversed and without the spinnaker take-down carnage. The move did cost Alinghi some distance, or at least it would have if the Kiwis hadn’t taken the less advantageous of the two marks.
The next upwind leg saw small gains and losses either way, but the picture didn’t really change by the top mark. Nor had it by the finish with Ernesto Bertarelli’s team taking their second win in four days to even the score.
What had changed though was the style and tactics aboard Alinghi. Today Brad Butterworth and his team seemed keener to sail a close race and keep a tight cover, while the crew seemed happier with their boat handling, gaining confidence with each manoeuvre.
Yet despite the far closer racing and covering that Alinghi appeared to be engaged in, Brad Butterworth denied that anything had changed.
“I wouldn’t say it had changed at all. The winds here have been highly volatile and it’s been a difficult race course,” he said at the press conference after the race . “Today the shifts were slightly smaller and the winds more predictable. The two previous days we lost races by being a little out of phase.”
Ed Baird also felt that the conditions were what had made the difference today.
“Yesterday there was less wind and it was dying all through the race and we just didn’t have the ability to stay close to the other boat because it took so long to do a manoeuvre,” he said shortly after stepping ashore.
“It is definitely easier when there is a bit more wind. Today there was a much more solid breeze for the same wind speed number on the mast you felt a lot more power out of the sails. There were times day when we were up at a maximum running back stay tension which transfers into the head stay and yesterday we didn’t get anywhere near that.”
The previous two races were a wake up call for Alinghi and a boost to the Kiwis.
It’s not just the score that has been levelled – the racing is proving to be closer than anyone dared to hope for.
Before the race started Terry Hutchinson said that he believed that it would take four or five races before we started to see the true differences between the boats. With four under his belt, how did he feel now?
“I don’t know what’s in store. The boats are pretty even. When we see one boat in a little more pressure it’s that boat that seems to go a bit bitter. We need to take one race at a time but the one thing you can be sure of is that’s it’s going to be tricky for the next five races.
“Now we’re into a best of five series.”
RESULTS AFTER DAY 4
Alinghi – 2
Emirates Team New Zealand – 2
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