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America's Cup Rialto: March 15 - A bizarre race - even for the America's Cup

by Richard Gladwell, 16 Mar 12:50 NZDT 15 March 2021
Emirates Team NZ - America's Cup - Day 5 - March 15, 2021, Course E © Richard Gladwell /

There was no racing on Sunday due to light NW winds that were below the required 6.5kts minimum on Course A, which was set closer to the East Coast Bays.

The second attempt at completing Races 7 and 8 got underway on Course E, with the windward mark laid to the east of Motuihe Island in the Sergeant Channel.

A modest sized spectator fleet was anchored mostly to west and north, and in the lee of Motuihe Island

With the Defender and Challenger winning one race apiece for the first three racing days, a situation unprecedented in 150 years of America’s Cup racing, the comeback in Race 8 proved to be the most bizarre incidents in Cup history.

At the bottom of the Course E the breeze appeared to be steady in strength, but not in direction with shifts of up to 25 degrees, to open the race up for lead changes – given that there had been only one around a mark for the past 108 race legs.

The Italians entered the start box from the left hand side. Both AC75’s had an unspectacular pre-start, with Luna Rossa emerging to windward, and building a 80 metre lead soon after tacking to avoid the left boundary line and headed across to the right.

Te Rehutai was the first to tack back to the left, and with clear wind, helmsman Peter Burling adopted a fast and free sailing style, typical of skiff sailing. Although sailing at a lower wind angle, the Kiwi’s were sailing at a faster speed through the water, and looking for a favourable windshift would give them a breakthrough on Luna Rossa.

The New Zealanders trailed by 7 secs or 150 metre around Mark 1, but then hit overdrive downwind, as they gybed over towards the western edge of the course – sailing 6-7kts faster, and with a VMG (speed towards the mark) 6-8kts faster.

The race winning move came at Mark 2 when the Italians opted for a more conservative rounding to head up the left hand side of the course. The Kiwis pulled off a high risk 270 degree tack, going into the mark on starboard tack, spinning the boat through the eye of the wind to emerge on port, and splitting away from the Italians. Although many commentators had it that the left hand corner offered good pickings, on the water it looked to be coffin corner. The lead changed about quarter of the way up the second leg soon after Luna Rossa tacked to avoid the port (lefthand) boundary. Luna Rossa regained the advantage briefly as the two converged on the next cross. However in these conditions and with Burling’s sailing style, the Kiwis were posting a much better VMG speed and managed to cement their advantage as the Italians (being port tack and give way boat) were forced to tack to leeward. Burling quickly found a passing lane to windward, where he could hold a good sailing line without being affected by turbulence off the Italian’s mainsail, and took control of the race.

Always turning in a better set of performance numbers, the Kiwis led through the halfway point of the race by over 300 metres, extending to a win by 58 secs or 846 metres.

The big win was a result of the Kiwis much better VMG – hitting over 30kts VMG, while Luna Rossa was on a more normal figure of 21kts. The course axis was not aligned to the wind – being about 15 degrees to the right of the true wind, and both AC75’s were able to sail straight down the final leg with just one short gybe at the end to make the finish line.

The leaderboard had the Kiwis move up with four wins to the Italians three in the best of 13 race series.

Race 8

The course was shifted 26 degrees to the left from the previous race and the breeze flicked either side, indicating that it was becoming more unstable.

After a low-key pre-start, the Kiwis were technically the first to away by a margin of just a couple of metres. They broke back to the right, after getting drawn into Luna Rossa, who kept heading into the left in what was probably the most extreme split to date of the regatta.

Although Peter Burling was producing his magic performance numbers again, he couldn’t shake the Italian lead. Soon after rounding Mark 1, Emirates Team New Zealand came off their foils when they gybed and the breeze dropped to 7kts.

Luna Rossa sailed away at speeds of up to 35kts, while the Kiwis languished, unable to get to foiling speed and unable to make progress to the next mark, dropping back to be over 2000metres behind Luna Rossa.

Emirates Team NZ got a puff of 8kts from NNW and managed to get on her feet, and heading to Mark 2 at 37kts, or over four times windspeed.

Meanwhile , the area around and just on the course at Mark 3, glassed out indicating no wind. Luna Rossa dropped off her foils trying to round the windward mark for the second time, and couldn’t lift off.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis continued foiling way, pulling Luna Rossa’s 2,000 metre lead back, and eventually over taking the hapless Italians, who were still off their foils and only able to sail at displacement speed.

Emirates Team New Zealand went to win the race, by a 2000 metres and the biggest time margin so far in the Match

Ashore everyone seemed very accepting of the situation, interview comments will be added when time permits.

Check out the latest odds offered by the TAB with the gap being closed between the Italians and Kiwis, but still with the Italians on a very good price - click here

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