And then there were two!
After weeks of turmoil, on Saturday we finally had a first race in the Louis Vuitton challenger series, between Emirates Team New Zealand and their training partner, Luna Rossa. And while it was hardly a nail-biter, with ETNZ, leading from post to post, where it finished over 5 minutes ahead, it was still good to see some actual racing—as opposed to all the other action the sailing world has been witness to recently.
If there was a downside to the contest, it was that from the outset it was almost “no contest.” The race began with ETNZ skipper Dean Barker winning the start and then slowly but steadily stretching out his lead the rest of the way around the 15-mile course in 16-18 knots of breeze. During the pre-start, ETNZ tacked to leeward of Luna Rossa and luffed up its opponent to gain control. The two crews both started late, but Barker had the better leeward position during their final drive to the line and was able to speed away at 41 knots while Luna Rossa was doing 39 knots.
“There aren’t too many moves you can pull off in this type of start,” said Ray Davies, Emirates Team New Zealand tactician. “It’s a short time period, enough for one or two maneuvers. That’s a standard move we’ll see. If you opponent doesn’t get out of that tack well, there’s an option to tack to leeward and stop the race.”
“We ended up almost where we thought we’d be, probably a little bit worse off,” said Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper of the final result. “I think the majority of the losses were in boathandling and a little bit in upwind boatspeed. But it’s all fixable and we knew that was there, so no massive surprise.”
Currently, ETNZ has four points, for the three races it has done solo and Saturday’s victory over Luna Rossa. Luna Rossa has one, for an uncontested race it completed last Thursday. The two boats have been “racing” solo because of an earlier Luna Rossa boycott and the fact that Artemis has yet to launch a second AC72 following the fatal capsize of its first boat this past spring.
Luna Rossa boycotted the first few races in protest of a decision by regatta director Iain Murray to relax the restriction on the lifting elements attached to the boats’ rudders in the interest of safety. However, when an international jury ruled in their favor, they returned to the racecourse.
According to Artemis, the team could launch its second boat as soon as this weekend. However, there will inevitably be days and weeks of testing and training, before the boat and crew will be considered ready for competition.