Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful venues in the world for high-performance sailing, the Red Sea served up challenging afternoon conditions for the sailors in the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM. As the sea-breeze filtered in, bang on cue ahead of racing, it was a day of high technique where Emirates Team New Zealand exerted their dominance on the fleet, sailing with real consistency and a smoothness that was exemplary in the first two races.
Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge put on a masterclass of fleet racing, securing the lead early with two brilliant starts and then proved to be exemplary front-runners, stretching away into commanding leads that just built and built. It was looking ominous for the rest of the contenders who were sailing hard for the podium positions with some superb boat on boat action all the way down the fleet.
Andy Maloney, Trimmer behind Peter Burling in the starboard pod of the AC40, summed up the day for the Kiwis, saying: “It was light winds so the difference between a good race and a great race was pretty small. Good day for us with two wins and then unfortunately we had an unforced error in that last race and didn’t get a good result. We were fortunate to get two great starts in those first two races and execute well from there.”
The Kiwis didn’t have it all their own way and in race three it was the young sailing talent of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli with Olympic Gold medallist Ruggero Tita and 19-year-old Marco Gradoni who started brilliantly, read the conditions perfectly and sailed off into the distance to secure a resounding race win. Brilliant sailing and outstanding front-running from the Italians, the wire-to-wire win was a marker of intent and perhaps a big indicator of what to expect in the future. The dominant Kiwis fell off their foils downwind and dropped out of contention as Orient Express Racing Team from France took second and Alinghi Red Bull Racing from Switzerland secured third.
Ruggero Tita, helmsman for Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, spoke afterwards saying: “We are super happy about this last race win. Of course, it was a super-tricky race, but we managed to arrive at the end on the foils which means that we did a really good job. The first two races were not so good, we did some mistakes, but we kept on pushing and were able to gain some positions so happy about the day. To be honest we know that it’s going to be two more hard days, but we will try to push hard to do our best…Jimmy (Spithill) told us that ‘everything is possible’ but we stay low profile and try to do our best day by day and race by race.”
The end of the day standings sees Emirates Team New Zealand clear at the top of the leaderboard, but they know that any mistakes will be capitalised on by the fleet. INEOS Britannia, reinvigorated after an excellent Practice Day yesterday, continued their fabulous form, showing great speed and real accuracy through the manoeuvres. Alinghi Red Bull Racing were doggedly persistent throughout the three races and ended the day tied with INEOS Britannia in third place with the stage set for a thrilling day two battle between these two.
Sir Ben Ainslie praised his team for the huge performance leap, saying: “Certainly a lot of people have talked about our performance in Vilanova and that’s really tough for any sports team…so when you go down to those depths, I always say it’s when you find out if you’ve got a team or not. We’ve been through some tough times as an organisation and each time you’re down, you figure out how to get out the other side better, and that’s what’s happened here. As frustrated as we were, everyone’s pulled together.”
Arnaud Psarofaghis, helmsman for Alinghi Red Bull Racing commented: “We had a great battle with INEOS Britannia and other teams, but it was great because we really had to push ourselves into all the details to be able to come out ahead. I think you can see from the outside that if you make a mistake, it’s not over but it’s very close and you have to push all the time and see if you can do things better…the fleet were sailing really well, and I think it’s great for the sport and everyone watching.”
Orient Express Racing Team secured a superb second place in Race Three and tactically have been very astute, sailing the shifts, reading the breeze and showing some serious straight-line speed but the almost inexplicable performance of the day was NYYC American Magic who, over three races, had a whole host of issues falling off their foils before the starts and copping numerous umpire penalties that leaves them at the foot of the table with just 1 point gained from the day. A mountain to climb for the Americans if they are to have a say in this regatta by the end.
Speaking afterwards Tom Slingsby was hard on himself and the performance, saying: “A really tough day, I don’t think I’ve had a day like that before. I don’t know what to say, we’re frustrated, embarrassed, it’s not good enough and we need to do a better job. We know we can sail better than that. We’re still the team that won in Vilanova, but we made mistakes today and we’ve got to make sure we learn from them and don’t make them again.”
The forecast for race day two here in Jeddah is for a more solid northerly breeze on Friday afternoon and with the leaderboard crowded and close on points, it’s anyone’s regatta to win from here.