Another lesson from the Kings of the Cup and a clear demonstration of how good you have to be to stand a chance

 Whichever way you looked at it, the outcome of Alinghi’s drama in their match against United Internet Team of Germany, just seconds after the start, was going to make the headlines and overshadow the other matches of the day.

Shortly after the starting gun went in a match that looked certain to be a one sided affair, another bang fired out across the race course as the mainsail halyard strop broke aboard Alinghi. With it the boom dropped, the luff went slack and helmsman Ed Baird must have thought his words earlier in the week were about to come back to haunt him. “Sometimes you learn more when you lose,” he had said. For some nerve wracking moments, this was a serious prospect.

As the German boat climbed away, skipper Jesper Bank later admitted that he couldn’t help thinking that this was a race they could win. With this in mind, it must surely have taken no more than a second to realise that should the Germans be successful, they would not only put another point on the board, but would have made history in beating a boat that hasn’t lost a race this year.

Aboard the Swiss boat bowman Pieter van Neiuwenhuyzen sprinted up the mast in 14 seconds to attempt to sort the problem. No mean feat given that under normal circumstances an AC boat needs to be towed head to wind to hoist the main to ensure the sail has no load in it when the bowman makes fast the strop that holds the sail up. In this case, the mainsail was still pulling driving the 24 tonne yacht as SUI-75 footed to leeward and van Neiuwenhuyzen had to deal with the issue while the boat was still under way.

“We have a game plan for the standard breakages, a pole break, a boom break and so on, but about a week or two ago we talked this one through,” said Alinghi’s strategist Peter Holmberg. “We hadn’t rehearsed it, but we had discussed a plan for it, this was a good little fire drill for everybody.”

By the time the repair had been made the Germans had stretched out an 800m lead over the Swiss. To come back from this would be the story of the AC year. And by the first weather mark rounding that’s precisely what was shaping up. In the second half of the beat, around 1.4 miles, Alinghi had reduced the German lead to just 10 seconds. A staggering comeback.

On the downwind leg, Alinghi stuck on the tail of the Germans, gaining inch by inch as they slid downwind, Bank’s palms getting sweatier by the second as the Swiss piled on the pressure. Half way down the leg, gear failure spelled the end of the honeymoon for the Germans as their kite blew a hole big enough to drive a car through before it finally gave up the ghost. The replacement was slick, but, like watching Alonso pounce in an F1 race when the car in front makes the slightest error, Alinghi slipped through to take the lead.

But it didn’t stop there. Unable to switch off the turbo boost that got them back in the race, Alinghi scorched around the second half of the race to win by 2min 16 seconds. A rare display of the real potential of both the slick, polished teamwork of the current Cup holders and their wickedly quick boat.

“I started to wonder whether we should have found some other playground,” said Jesper Bank after the race. “We seem to have a longer way to go than I thought. It’s scary stuff, how much they’ve got in reserve when they need to come back. They have a gear extra.”

But was the result an inspiration to the team or a depressing reminder of just how far there is to go?

“It was inspirational,” said Bank, “to go and find something else to do!”

Outside sailing?

“Yes!” he joked.

Impressive though it was, the result wasn’t without its controversy with several people pointing to the ‘frustration’ of not being able to follow Alinghi’s performance on the race tracking animation programme as their trace appeared to stop some time after the incident and not start again until close to the top mark. As one aboard a RIB with no such technology to hand, I couldn’t possibly comment. Yet Alinghi weren’t the only ones to lose their signal back to shore during the day, but this didn’t stop the rumbles and mutterings rippling around the dockside as the sun went down on Trapani.

But, whichever way you look at it, Alinghi lead Act 8 and are clearly the fastest boat out there with the kind of crew work that stops sailors and spectators in their tracks.

****** RESULTS ******

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****** LIVE AUDIO ******

Follow the action live from Malmo as Richard Simmonds, Mark Covell, Andy Green and Matthew Sheahan report live from the course.

Broadcast starts at 12:15 local time (11:15 GMT)


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