Despite a terrifying collision with an umpire boat, Nathan Outteridge and his crew on Artemis held their nerve and won the Bermuda leg of the America's Cup World Series on Sunday.
After the disappointment of no wind on Saturday, Bermuda finally delivered the perfect sailing conditions that Sir Russell Coutts cited as a reason to hold the 35th Match on this tropical island. A steady 15 knots was blowing across the enclosed harbour, allowing the highly-trained skippers and crews to show off their foiling tacks and gybes.
In an effort to get three races completed, the organisers set a short course meaning smooth manoeuvres would be at a premium.
Sitting in fourth place after disappointing results in Portsmouth and Gothenburg, Artemis needed a strong regatta to silence their critics. And as he has done so many times in the past, Nathan Outteridge delivered with a grin.
He nailed the start of the first race and reached away at speed to round the first mark in front of Oracle. Downwind the blue boat was flying and at the bottom mark the lead had extended. Oracle held second, ahead BAR, ETNZ and Softbank Team Japan, with Groupama in sixth, a position they would hold throughout the three races.
Showing all the skills, including a beautifully balanced run and effortless foiling gybes, Artemis held the lead while changes took place behind. It wasn't until the final beat that Oracle emerged from the pack and threatened the Swedish boat.
The race went right down to the wire, with Oracle running deeper and faster on the opposite side of the course to Artemis. It appeared that tactician Tom Slingsby might have over-reached and Oracle needed an extra gybe, which should have seen
Artemis able to cross first as they flew towards the mark. But Jimmy Spithill and the crew on Oracle barely lost boatspeed as they went through the gybe on their foils to win by a length.
BAR, Softbank, ETNZ and France followed Artemis, in that order.
As the second race got underway, commentator Tucker Thompson declared that Artemis was in irons, but a closer examination showed something much worse. Slipping up the extreme edge of start box, Outteridge and an umpire boat missed seeing each completely.
“F-ing hell” was the expletive yelled as the umpire RIB slid neatly between the two hulls and severed the kingpost which holds up the bowsprit. The race was recalled, while the Artemis shore crew and sailors frantically tried to clear the wreckage. Luke Parkinson was in the water with a pair of pliers, furiously undoing shackles and clearing lines.
Common sense prevailed when, with two minutes to the rescheduled start, race officers asked Outteridge how they were getting on. He asked for two more minutes, which were granted.
Most crews would have been rattled by the events that had unfolded and most skippers would be distracted at the very least. But when the gun went, Artemis hit the line at speed and again raced away to the first mark, with Oracle and ETNZ on either side but half a boat length behind.
A perfect foiling gybe from Artemis increased their lead, which they held down the run. But upwind it was all change.
Ben Ainslie had his boat working perfectly and Giles Scott called for a split. Up the left-hand side they went, allowing them to cross ahead of Oracle and Artemis. But at the mark confusion reigned on board. It appeared that there was a communication problem between Scott and Ainslie about whether to tack or bear away and suddenly the British boat was at a complete stop. Four boats swept past and headed away downwind.
Again, Outteridge had the Artemis boat flying perfectly and with two legs left the impossible looked likely, although Artemis, ETNZ, Oracle and Japan rounded the bottom mark within 15 seconds of each other.
Again there were changes upwind and Oracle took the lead. But Artemis was perfectly balanced on the run and when the crew executed a perfect foiling gybe, they swept across the line for a popular victory.
“This is the best I've ever seen this team perform,” Outteridge told Tucker Thompson on live TV. “I'm confident the boat's going to hold together,” he added.
To win the regatta Oracle needed to put one boat between them and Artemis and it didn't start well. Outteridge put a slam-dunk on Spithill during the pre-start and when the gun went Oracle was in irons and was last away. Again, Artemis got a good start but it was Peter Burling on ETNZ who led at the first mark, gassing BAR on the reach.
The series leaders ETNZ were not out of contention for the regatta win, if Artemis and Oracle finished down the fleet.
Again we were shown that passing is possible in these craft, as the lead changed upwind on both beats. Dean Barker was having a good race on Softbank and looked to be playing spoiler.
Oracle was working back into the race and at one stage had the Japanese boat between them and Artemis, which would have been enough to beat the Swedish boat although not good enough to stop ETNZ who at this stage would have won on a countback.
But Outteridge and Artemis were not to be denied. Although ETNZ and BAR had cleared out to a big lead, suddenly Barker was clear of Oracle and Artemis. This meant Artemis needed to beat Oracle to stay ahead of ETNZ. They took matters into their own hands, again flying down the final run and executing a magnificent gybe to glide past the American boat and into fourth place.
It was a great day for the Swedish team who had been under pressure to perform. The final points were:
ETNZ still leads the series on 122 points, 10 ahead of Oracle and 13 ahead of BAR. Artemis has closed the gap on third to just four points, with Softbank and Groupama now well out of it.
– Roger McMillan