It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest weekend of racing, but there was plenty of drama and more than a few surprises as Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa both scored wins in the opening rounds of the Louis Vuitton Finals.
As was expected, Emirates Team New Zealand continues to look very strong, but a series of accidents and one extremely dramatic close call this weekend not only provided plenty of drama, but ample evidence that the Kiwis are far from a shoe-in to sail against the defending Oracle USA for the America’s Cup itself in September.
It all began on Saturday when Luna Rossa found itself having to fix its boat’s starboard rudder prior to Race 1 and then having the system break down entirely on the first leg, effectively ending the race before it had truly started.
A few minutes later, though, as they were completing the course to log the win, ETNZ very nearly capsized on what should have been a routine bear-away when the boat buried its bows up to the first crossbeam in a puff — tearing apart some of the boat’s forward farings, and throwing not one but two crew overboard in the process.
“In this sort of racing, the boats are incredibly powerful. You see how quickly the speed rockets up as you make the turn around the top,” said ETNZ skipper Dean Barker afterward. “We’re very thankful that all the guys are OK. Everyone’s a little shaken, but that’s yacht racing and this type of sailing is pretty full on.”
“I’m on the forward pedestal and was holding on for dear life,” grinder Chris McAsey said of the near miss. “I was the second guy under water, with Jeremy Lomas in front of me. I was holding on as hard as I could. It all was a blur, everything’s wet and white, you come up, there’s a bit of broken carbon around the place and we’re two guys short. From there on it was just a matter of trying to cover the two guys lost.”
To see all of race 1, as well as footage of a practice between Oracle USA’s two boats, click here
Unfortunately, the race committee was forced to postpone the second race of the day when the windspeed exceeded the 19.3–knot limit. However, by Sunday afternoon, the ETNZ and Luna Rossa were back at it again after what was surely a late night for those crews in charges of effecting repairs.
With gentler breezes ranging from 15 to 17 knots, both teams seemed to have a much easier time keeping their boats together, and ENTZ promptly stormed out of the starting gate, once again winning the contest to the first bear-away mark. However, soon afterward, the team began experiencing some daggerboard problems of its own, which ultimately forced them to withdraw, giving the Italians there first victory against Kiwis, who they trained with and against back in Auckland over the winter.
Afterward, a disappointed ETNZ skipper Dean Barker said that the breakdown, although a serious one in terms of the boat’s ability to maneuver, was not a difficult one to repair. “The boats are driven by hydraulics. We had a problem and… it’s a bit of a problem when you can’t tack or jibe the wing or rake the boards, the boat’s pretty much crippled,” Barker said. “At the moment we’ve sorted problem and are ready to go.”
Unfortunately, for race fans, but luckily for the Kiwis, as had been the case on Saturday, the second race of the day had to be postponed when the windspeed once again went over the limit.
Races three and four are scheduled for Monday afternoon on what was originally supposed to be a rest day, in order to keep the regatta on schedule. With the Louis Vuitton final now tied, and the Kiwis showing they, too, are not immune to the vagaries of yacht racing, things are starting to get interesting.