What a difference a day makes. After the swells and wind of yesterday’s race management practice, today the Red Sea served up flat water and a northerly airflow with a windspeed that hovered around 10 knots for the Official Practice Races at the start of the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM.
Technique of a very different kind was the order of the day today but after three races, an indication of the front-runners in contention to lift the magnificent trophy at the end started to be formed. 100% flight time was an absolute must and a determinant of outcome in all three fleet races, and indeed the match races, with the trim teams really earning their keep. Full-on concentration was required from those sitting behind their helms in the AC40s but equally, smooth helming through the manoeuvres was paramount and by the time racing concluded, a pattern emerged.
The race committee initiated three match-race practice starts with ITA vs USA, FRA vs SUI and GBR vs NZ, all remarkable for the errors that crept in to all three race flights. In the first start, Luna Rossa came off their foils on a circling gybe, losing grip on the rudder, nose-diving and ending their race. In the second start the French were OCS and so too in the third race, INEOS Britannia were called over. The format of these practice match races was for the boats to sail for just three minutes upwind and then head back. Little to take away other than all teams were a way away from perfect so the team coaches will have much to discuss in the debriefs. The best by a mile were Emirates Team New Zealand, NYYC American Magic and Alinghi Red Bull Racing – and there was a sense that time in the simulator and on the water was paying dividends for these three teams.
After the match-racing, quickly the race management team moved into the three fleet races as the breeze remained constant around the 7-10 knot mark.
Fleet Race 1
NYYC American Magic and Emirates Team New Zealand were eyeing each other up at the committee boat end of the line and it was Tom Slingsby who put the first really aggressive move onto the Kiwis, squeezing them out at the buoy and effectively ending their race. INEOS Britannia made a brilliant start mid line and with pace and point, headed out to the port boundary and ended up leading at the top mark starboard exit. Orient Express gave chase with Luna Rossa but the story of the race was how American Magic kept in contention and then pounced right when it mattered. With no less than five International Moth World Championships and two Olympic Gold medals between them, Tom Slingsby and Paul Goodison were sensational, grinding away with a foiling smoothness that was a class apart. It was a close battle though all the way with INEOS Britannia, and the key moment was the final port mark windward rounding where INEOS came in hot after making big gains out to the right, American Magic tacked inside and a very near collision occurred with an unsighted Ben Ainslie bearing away over the bow of Tom Slingsby who was struggling to keep clear.
The British copped a penalty that they didn’t take, this was a practice race after all and a great place to test boatspeed, and at the finish line, although disqualified, INEOS Britannia took the first place with American Magic second. Alinghi Red Bull Racing had a quiet race but eked third on the water, second officially, after a super-close finish with Luna Rossa. Emirates Team New Zealand clawed back to 5th with Orient Express in sixth after coming off their foils on a downwind whilst leading early on and never recovering. Great first race.
Michael Menninger, Trimmer, New York Yacht Club American Magic: “I think in the race we won, we did a pretty good job staying out of phase with the rest of the fleet and in that amount of True Wind Speed the fleet causes so much bad air so it’s all about sailing a clean race. The pre-start is so critical…it’s all about having the bow of the boat on the line at speed. I think we have all the tools to win the regatta and that we’ll progress as the event continues.”
Marco Gradoni, Helmsman, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: “I think these sailors are the best in the world so it’s really difficult, but we have to do our best and not think of this. There is no pressure we just have to be better than the day before and if we do that we can be on the top.”
Vittorio Bissaro, Trimmer, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli: “Marco and Rugi did an awesome job on the helm today. In the days leading up to the regatta they have been so professional, so talented and most importantly they are confident inside and they don’t feel to be lower than these very experienced America’s Cup sailors so we can show everybody that if we have the opportunity, we can take the race.”
Fleet Race 2
The tale of the tape was a dominant start to finish performance from Emirates Team New Zealand who came off a packed start-line and tacked with INEOS Britannia off to the right-hand side of the course. Alinghi Red Bull Racing copped an early pre-start boundary penalty. Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott looked rapid off the line and briefly held a lead but a tack just before the boundary saw the Kiwis take a leeward position and apply a big squeeze on a starboard tack drag-race that saw the British gassed and forced to tack away.
From there it was all Emirates Team New Zealand as they rounded the port gate with Alinghi Red Bull Racing in second whilst third placed Orient Express took the starboard gate in third place. The French took the left side of the course (looking downwind), clicked into a bit more pressure and for a moment looked like they might have eked a lead as they gybed back to the middle of the course and the first cross. However, Nathan Outteridge on Emirates Team New Zealand called it beautifully, crossed Orient Express to seize the right and the added pressure and from there it was a case of building an enormous lead of some 900 metres by the finish. Devastating boatspeed, superb trim and ultra-smooth flight saw the Kiwis take the victory after three laps with Alinghi Red Bull Racing in second and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in third after a very close Italy/Swiss battle to the finish line. Ominous from the Emirates Team New Zealand team but interestingly, NYYC American Magic, after an off-foil start managed to ease through the back markers into 4th and to the naked eye, the two fastest boats in a straight-line and through manoeuvres once again look to be New Zealand and America. Hopefully race three will see both boats start clean, and we may perhaps get some answers as to who’s fastest. Alinghi Red Bull Racing with two second places, however, are looking the most consistent. All to play for.
Post-race, Orient Express Racing Team reported an unspecified hydraulic issue that was resolved before the third race start.
Blair Tuke, Trimmer, Emirates Team New Zealand: “The smoothness in how you sail and having the boat in the right mode as much as possible is something that we work hard at. Trying to keep in the right phases of the breeze today was difficult, it was actually more shifty than it looked, especially as the day went on…all the teams are getting closer now and it’s the team that puts it all together that will be in front.”
Kevin Peponnet, Helmsman, Orient Express Racing Team: “Yeah good day. The starts were pretty good, the speed was good, we had a leak of oil in the first race so a hydraulic issue and the trimmers had less reactivity on the trimming and also issue with the board manipulation. We also had one or two bad manoeuvres that cost us. It’s a good place to sail, quite challenging, it is warm so the wind has a little less density but a lovely sea state.”
Fleet Race 3
The America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM came alive with an utterly thrilling race from start to finish that saw INEOS Britannia shade arguably the most tactical race ever seen in the AC40 class. Off the start-line, INEOS Britannia led the fleet back and nailed the pin-end to head out to the port boundary in pole position. However it was close and with Alinghi Red Bull Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand playing the middle of the course, it was wind bends that were dictating the outcome. Unfortunately pre-start, American Magic fell off their foils and were scored OCS (over the line) and their day was done. The rest of the fleet headed off in a pack and emerging fast on the right side wind bend was Alinghi Red Bull Racing who appeared to have a click more speed. Their race was to be undone however by an umpire call at the top mark as they bore away over the bow of INEOS Britannia and then were awarded a further three penalties and ultimately a disqualification whilst leading.
The race therefore was a three-way battle between the British, Kiwis and Italians who swapped places as the wind filled and died around the 7-9 knot mark. After three laps, there was nothing to choose between them and at the final windward mark gate, the Kiwis squeezed beneath the Italians on a brilliant inside manoeuvre followed by a bear-away to set up a thrilling three-way battle downwind. Ben Ainslie called for a split gybe out to the left side (looking downwind) and set up for a starboard gybe fast reach close to the layline to the finish whilst Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand match raced down the right side. When the fleet came together it was the British who held the most slender of leads, just metres, and a smart gybe with pace saw them cross the line and take their first win of the regatta and first win in the AC40 class. Awesome sailing from the British and smiles all round. Emirates Team New Zealand were second, Luna Rossa third but it was the quality of the racing and the sailing that stood out in perfect Jeddah that sets up the first day of racing for real tomorrow, Thursday 30th November. Stay tuned.
Bleddyn Mon, Trimmer, INEOS Britannia: Full credit to everyone in the team, the sailors, the performance guys and the technical team that have been working on the boat over the last few months to eke every bit of performance they can. I think our understanding of the boat is a lot better than it was in Vilanova but also as you saw in the racing today, we had different teams in the lead in various races, it’s really close and one mistake and you are right out of the back and especially in that windspeed when there’s a lot of dirty breeze…it’s really hard to pull through. Happy with today and looking forward to tomorrow.”
“We want to bank what we’ve learned today on our boat and looking at the other boats too. We’ll have a good look around at the other teams but now that we’ve got more confidence in the boat, how we’re sailing it and how we’re setting it up, it gives us more time for that tactical conversation to happen and that’s what this one design racing comes down to.”
Yves Detrey, Trimmer, Alinghi Red Bull Racing: “We had the pace in Vilanova, but we didn’t have the opportunity to prove it…of course we’ve had quite a bit of practice here in Jeddah so we’ve tried to put everything in to be good for the event. Today we looked consistent but it’s tomorrow that counts.”
“Personally, I love it here in Jeddah, it’s warm, the water’s warm and the sea breeze kicks in at 12pm every day. It gets dark at 6pm so you are getting quality not quantity sailing, and I like it.”
LOUIS VUITTON 37TH AMERICA’S CUP BARCELONA