Despite a truly heroic effort to get their boat out onto the racecourse following the fatal capsize of hull No. 1, time was against Team Artemis from the outset, and they were unable to upset the more experienced Italians. The question now: with another two weeks of sailing under their belts, will Luna Rossa fare better against Emirates Team New Zealand than they did in July, when the Kiwis did to the Luna Rossa what Luna Rossa just did to Artemis?
“We learned tons in this series, it’s been invaluable for us,” said Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper after notching a fourth straight victory against Artemis on Saturday to sweep the Louis Vuitton semi-finals. “Our team was a little down [after the round robins against ETNZ] but we’ve improved tons in the racing against Artemis. I’m sure it’ll be valuable for us going forward.”
Indeed, after a shaky start in the first race of semis, Luna Rossa just seemed to get better and better, until the fourth race was pretty much a foregone conclusion, despite the fact that Artemis—which only launched their boat on July 22—continued to improve as well.
In the process, Luna Rossa proved that those pundits who said good boat handling would be a vital to success in the 34th America’s Cup were absolutely correct. Every time the Italians pulled off a successful full-foiling gybe and Artemis failed to follow suit, allowing its hulls to drop back into the water, they added multiple boat lengths to their lead. The Italians also looked stronger than ever in terms of their straight-line speed downwind, popping up onto their foils at will and then they staying there, looking as solid as if on rails.
The result is a competitive package that is not only fast, but seemingly very demoralizing to the opposition. Watching the body language aboard Artemis, the crew appeared to become increasingly dispirited with every race, until the wheels seemed to come in race four, when the crew incurred a whopping three penalties one for making illegal contact with Luna Rossa before the start, and two for crossing outside the course boundary on a couple of occasions later on.
Nonetheless, all the credit in the world to Artemis racing for an achievement that goes well beyond the simple calculus of winning and losing in its ability to move on after the tragic death of strategist Andrew “Bart” Simpson in a capsize on May 9.
“I’m hugely proud of our team, it’s been a terrible period,” said Artemis Racing skipper Iain Percy, who won two Olympic medals with Simpson in the Star class and was one of this best friends. “First and foremost at this moment, my thoughts go to my teammates and to Bart and his family. He would’ve been so proud of us, considering this is something that none of us thought we’d be able to do two months ago when we lost him. We’ve enjoyed every second because we knew what an achievement it was just to be out here.”
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Here’s hoping that whatever form the 35th America’s Cup takes, Artemis will be a part of the mix.
Meanwhile, we’ve still got a lot of 34th America’s Cup to go, and again, it should be very interesting to see how Luna Rossa and ETNZ match up in the best-of-13 Louis Vuitton finals to see who goes on to challenge Oracle USA for the Cup itself. (The series begins Saturday, August 17, and will feature two races per day, on those days the boats compete.)
Bottom line: the Kiwis will be facing a very different Luna Rossa than they did before: one that is faster, more polished and has discovered how to win. Like any sport, the psychological aspect to the America’s Cup is huge, and boat for boat, there’s not that much of a difference between the two in terms of straight-line boatspeed. Thus far, the Kiwis have been the odd-on favorites. But if team Luna Rossa can maintain its composure and sail as well against ETNZ as it did against Artemis, we could be in for some very interesting racing. Stay tuned!