Whitewater on the deck, whitecaps on the Waitemata and warning whistles on the onboard overload alarms characterised the high tempo sailing action today at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Auckland regatta.
After three days of competition, Emirates Team New Zealand representing the host Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron is undefeated with three wins while three teams each have a 2-1 record. They are the German/French team All4One, the Swedish team Artemis and Azzurra from Italy.
Racing moved closer to the city front today as the southwester funneled down the harbour, with puffs into the low 20-knot range as the day wore on. The weather mark was between the container wharves and the Devonport Dockyard.
Tipped as the highlight match of the day, the opening race between Emirates and Britain’s TEAMORIGIN came to a sudden end at the first leeward gate as a late tactical call on the British boat escalated into a firedrill that left spinnaker and jib draped over the foredeck and a broken spinnaker pole over the side.
Ben Ainslie at TEAMORIGIN’s wheel led at the end of the first beat after a fierce nine-tack duel up the short 1.2-mile weather leg in a puffy and shifty 13-16 knot southwesterly breeze. ETNZ was right on the British boat’s heels, just 14 seconds astern and began slowly clawing back the distance.
They came into the leeward mark with the Kiwis bow to stern with TEAMORIGIN and British hopes evaporated as Ainslie issued new last-minute orders.
“It was a bit of mess,” Ainslie said. “Things change very quickly at the bottom, but a big shift made us change the call and there wasn't enough time for the guys to react."
Barker had to sail around the hapless British boat. “It was all go coming into the bottom mark,” he said. “We have confidence in our crew work. If we get behind we’re able to keep the pressure on and keep fighting hard. Today it worked well. They made a mistake. Ignoring what happened, if they had been able to get around the mark it would have been an interesting race. We had made a big gain and it would have been some tough racing. They are sailing well.”
Race One: Emirates Team New Zealand def. TEAMORIGIN, Ret. – Ben Ainslie steering Britain’s TEAMORIGIN, fought for the right while ETNZ skipper Dean Barker went for the left. As they hit the start line, the Kiwi boat with a safe leeward forced their opponent away. However, the first beat belonged to Ainslie. Nine fast tacks later at the port layline, TEAMORIGIN enjoyed a three boat-length lead. The top mark margin was 14 seconds before Barker slowly soaked down on his opponent and picked up more ground with smoother sail handling. With ETNZ close astern and the pressure piling on, it all turned to custard on the British boat as they prepared to drop the spinnaker at the leeward gate.
Race Two: All4One def. Azzurra, 00:46 – Race umpires had their work cut out with multiple incidents and protests in series of heavy-air skirmishes between Francesco Bruni steering Azzurra and Sébastien Col on the wheel of the German/French All4One. The Italian boat locked out her opponent above the line before the start but Col escaped at the last minute to get back and lead at the gun. Azzurra controlled from the right side but after All4One gained ground in a series of tacks, her tactician John Cutler forced the Italians beyond the starboard layline and above the mark. Col was able to lead back and rounded first in a flurry of protests, all green-flagged. With the wind over 20 knots and the boats pushing white water, they went down the run side by side. Cutler made the call to again take their opponents past the mark. The Italian sail handling suffered under the pressure and Azzurra trailed badly on the last two legs.
Race Three: Mascalzone Latino Audi def. ALEPH Sailing Team, 00:55 – Bertrand Pacé’s French ALEPH team used their starboard tack entry to advantage in a pre-start circling duel that took both boats deep into the starting box. The start, with both boats on starboard, was close but Gavin Brady steering ML Audi Team, enjoyed an advantage for a few seconds before ALEPH edged in front. The two boats swapped the lead several times up the first half of the beat until Brady, to weather of his opponent, pushed the French boat out beyond the starboard layline. The Italian boat led into the top mark and consolidated its gains on the next three legs.
Race Four: Artemis def. Synergy Russian Sailing Team 00:41 – Skipper Karol Jablonski, steering the Russian boat, engaged Terry Hutchinson at the wheel of Paul Cayard’s Artemis in a lively pre-start duel only to be penalized for gybing too close. The boats hit the line together at speed with Artemis to weather. Seconds later Hutchinson tacked and split away and initiated a tacking duel that took the Swedish boat into the lead. The Russians pushed hard and kept it close around all four legs but finished 41 seconds astern after completing their penalty turn.
Provisional leaderboard after Flight Three:
1. Emirates Team New Zealand, 3-0
=2. All4One, 2-1
=2. Artemis, 2-1
=2. Azzurra, 2-1
=5. ALEPH Sailing Team, 1-2
=5. Mascalzone Latino Audi Team, 1-2
=5. TEAMORIGIN, 1-2
8. Synergy Russian Sailing Team, 0-3