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America's Cup Rialto: January 16 - The surprises continue

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World NZ 17 Jan 03:45 NZDT 17 January 2021
American Magic - Patriot - Day 2 Prada Cup - Waitemata Harbour - January 16, 2021 - 36th America's Cup © Richard Gladwell - Sail-World.com / nz

Day 2 of the Qualifiers for the Challenger Selection Series, in the 36th America's Cup had as many surprises as the first day of the event.

INEOS Team UK continued as they did on the first day of the regatta, scoring three wins from three races, and is the clear leader of the first of four Round Robins.

The win was surprising, because it came in light conditions in which the Brits had been truly dreadful in the final day of the America's Cup World Series and Xmas Cup held in mid-December.

Such is the degree of transformation in the British challenger, that having not been able to win a single race in the two December regattas, they have now won three on the trot. All have looked to be convincing wins, when just a month ago they were routinely losing races by over a leg of the course.

At yesterday's media conference skipper Ben Ainslie indicated that he didn't know how his revamped charge would perform in the light. Whatever has been changed, Britannia is a completely different boat from December. Even better for the Brits it would seem that Britannia is now a strong performer right across the range of conditions.

We'll have a better gauge tomorrow, when winds close to the upper end of the wind limit are forecast.

Today it was American Magic's turn to look sticky in the light - an "attribute" that INEOS Team UK owned pre-Christmas, and by all accounts had done so from the time she was launched.

Surprisingly American Magic did not change to her biggest jib, when it was obvious conditions were going to be light for the second of two races today. The teams seem to be very quick to change down jibs and often get caught under-canvassed, when the breeze drops contrary to forecast expectations. But interestingly Luna Rossa also sported a less than maximum hoist jib in the first race of the day.

Generally speaking the teams seem to be hugely reliant on forecasts as to what is expected to happen in the short-term with breeze. Conventional wisdom has it that you rig for the conditions, and have to dump power if the breeze increases more than expected at the start. These are only 25 minute long races. Auckland's weather can do anything in that time, and the locals tend to rely more on real-time observations from monitoring stations now dotted around the coastline.

Today was one of puddle-jumping from pressure zone to pressure zone, rather than hitching a rise on a puff or increased pressure as it moved down the course. North Head, the 50metre high volcanic cone that dominates the northern side of the Waitemata seemed to have pressure around it mid-afternoon. We could feel the breeze on our back, as we moved close to the boundary line.

Surprisingly helicopters were flying to windward of the AC75's to the point where the downdraft was clearly visible on the water a few metres from the AC75's. On audio, American Magic's Terry Hutchinson could be clearly heard wondering if they could get something useful from the downdraft. Had that been possible, it would have been race changing if the fortunate recipient been able to lift onto its foils and ride the breeze all the way down the course boundary.

Again, the Fractional Code Zero jibs remained in the sail locker.

Of the six days of racing held across the two pre-Xmas series, and two days of racing so far in the Prada Cup, FR0's would have within effective range on three of those race days.

Our intel has it that the FR0's cross-over is around 8.5kts and the sail is most effective downwind. Someone is going to break ranks with the group-think on the use of the FR0 - and two wins on a light air marginal foiling day, like today, in fact 50% of the race days to date, could well be a Cup winning move.

The bookies have reacted to the British hat-trick by reducing INEOS Team UK to just $1.75 to win the Prada Cup, with Luna Rossa paying $3.00 and former favorite American Magic on $5.00 after being on $1.75 at the start of the week. The Brits were paying $8.00 at the start of the week.

INEOS Team UK's performance has lengthened the odds on the Kiwis retaining the Cup, now out to $1.65 from a previous $1.37. And with INEOS now at just $3.20 having been at $21.00 last week and $13.00 after the Practice racing on Tuesday.

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