America’s Cup: Now a best of seven
Published on March 12th, 2021
Auckland, New Zealand (March 13, 2021) – Unlike yesterday when the forecast for the America’s Cup Match was mistakenly full of pessimism, today was all systems go with 9-13 knots expected from the northeast. However, that proved to be a bit optimistic.
With a high-pressure system centered over the south island blocking the path of bigger wind for these frenetic foiling AC75s, keeping these boats on their “skates” would be the theme of the day, and as seen on the previous two days, the pendulum swings both ways.
The call was for Course A to the north, and as this was the first weekend race day for the combatants, and with the shackles of COVID-19 restrictions removed, the fandom was out in force as over 1500 spectator boats lined the race course boundaries.
What they saw flipped the script. While the previous four races had all been won by the port entry boat, both races today were won from the other side. And while the race winners leading off the start is not shocking, how it happened was. Clearly teams are still learning how to sail these AC75s.
After six races, two things are clear:
1. Starts matter, as the course is narrow and the trailing boat gets gassed both upwind and downwind.
2. There are seven races left, and one of these teams needs to win four starts to be the champion.
Race 5 – NZL (port entry) vs ITA
With 8 to 9 knots in the pre-start, the march out to the right-hand side of the zone commenced, with both boats finding themselves early for their passage back to the start line. This meant slowing down, but this was a risky move with the threat of coming off the foils in the process.
But there seemed little other option and as both boats settled down to the water’s surface, Emirates Team New Zealand was in a trickier position and had more to lose. As Luna Rossa got back underway and worked their way to the start line, the Kiwis were stuck, struggling to get back on the foils and sailing a deep angle away from the line to do so.
The net result was that while the Italians made a clean start on time, the Kiwis were struggling and were forced to tack for the line. Eventually Team New Zealand get onto their foils but they had been left behind by the challengers who were free to head over to the left-hand side of the course where there was stronger breeze.
Just minutes into the first leg and the Italian lead was 250 m, but as both boats worked their way up the first leg the Kiwis appeared to be chipping away at the Italian lead. As Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli approached Gate 1, leading was not enough as Spithill and Bruni discussed their tactics for the first mark rounding.
“I don’t want to gybe too early as I want to give him gas at the top,” said Bruni in reference to their ability to add to the Kiwi issues by giving them turbulent air as they passed them on their way down leg 2.
The Italians had rounded 32 seconds ahead. By the bottom gate the difference was exactly the same as the pair chose opposite marks to round. If nothing else, this seemed to suggest that the speeds between the two boats remained much the same and the distance between them in this match was the result of an unforced error at the start.
By the second windward gate the Italians were still in the lead, but Emirates Team New Zealand had managed to pull back 10 seconds. The defenders were still paying the price for a poor start but they clearly had a quick machine upwind when they were able to sail their own course in clear air.
By the top gate for the third and final time the Kiwis had once again hauled back a few seconds to round 23 seconds behind, a gain but the track record in this match suggested that a win on the final leg would be a big ask.
And indeed this is how it turned out as Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli crossed the finish 18 seconds ahead to take their third win in the 36th America’s Cup.
Race 6 – ITA (port entry) vs NZL
While the breeze remained much the same, the pressure on the defenders had increased significantly. As Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli came in on port, Emirates Team New Zealand were keen to get on their tail very quickly and gybed to get onto the chase.
Both boats headed out to the right-hand boundary, Luna Rossa gybed while the Kiwis tacked. The Italian gybe wasn’t a good one as they struggled to get through a light patch and get back up to speed after the gybe. Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand had good speed as they bore away from their high right-hand corner position in the pre-start zone.
As the final seconds counted down, the roles had been reversed from the first race of the day with the defenders sailing 10 knots quicker through the water as they crossed the start line while the challengers struggled for pace.
On the face of it, Peter Burling had perfected his start, while Jimmy Spithill appeared to have got it wrong. Yet there was another potential issue at play, the breeze. While the average minimum wind speed had been met, the breeze was becoming patchier. It was now becoming easier to get caught out.
By gate 1 Emirates Team New Zealand were 51 seconds ahead, a physical distance of around 800 m on the water, a huge lead for the first half of the first lap. Getting back into this race for the Italians was going to be a big ask.
By gate 2 little had changed other than the Kiwi lead had increased slightly to 1 min 7 seconds. By the end of the second lap, more of the same at 1 min 13 seconds.
By the top gate for the final time the Kiwis were 1400m ahead, only a crisis stood between Emirates Team New Zealand and their third win. Across the line they were 1 min 41 seconds ahead. But the time was of no interest, win or lose, that was all that mattered.
“That was a good one,” said Emirates Team New Zealand flight controller Blair Tuke. “A good way to finish another tight day.”
“We got caught in a light patch before the start and couldn’t get to the line,” said Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli co-helmsman, “after that there were not a lot of passing lanes to get back after that.”
America’s Cup Match Scoreboard (wins-losses)
Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL): 3-3
Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team (ITA): 3-3
After advancing as the winner of the PRADA Cup, Italian challenger faces the Kiwi defense in the best of 13 series. The 36th America’s Cup Match racing schedule has two races per day planned for March 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, and each day after that until the first team has won seven races.