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America's Cup Match Day 6 - Kiwis on Match Point but Luna Rossa still has good chance

by Ben Gladwell - Sail-World NZL 16 Mar 18:59 NZDT 16 March 2021
Emirates Team NZ - America's Cup - Day 6 - March 16, 2021 Course C © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

Emirates Team New Zealand took another step towards a successful Defence of the America's Cup, after a come from behind win against Italian Challenger Luna Rossa who led for much of the six-leg race.

Race 9 of the 36th Match took place on the stadium-style Course C which is perfect for both overtaking and land-based spectating. The breeze was a solid 12-14 knots with plenty of shifts for the crews to work on.

Only one race was sailed today after the breeze took a while to settle in direction. It then dropped in strength and turned funky close to the deadline of a 6.00pm start, and Regatta Director Iain Murray wisely decided to abandon the start of the second race.

The series will continue on Wednesday with Luna Rossa required to win every race of the four left in the 13 race series and Emirates Team New Zealand having to win just one more race. However a comeback of this nature is not a big ask - once a Challenger or Defender get on a roll, the results seem to keep coming - particularly when two races are held each day only an hour apart, in similar conditions.

The forecast for tomorrow is for winds from the SE - and racing should again be back on Course A.

Here's how today's action unfolded.

Race 9

Emirates Team New Zealand entered the start box on port, sailing at a click under 50 knots, this is certainly the strongest breeze we have seen in the Match thus far. The stronger winds meant that the boats were covering ground significantly faster than usual, having to turn at the boundary inside the start box with almost 1:30 to go until the start. ETNZ would gybe and set up deep in the start box while Luna Rossa elected to tack and set themselves well to windward.

On completing their tack, Luna Rossa dove down to leeward, trying to get down closer to the Kiwi crew and set themselves up on the layline to make for the right hand end of the start line. Both boats carved some sharp arcs inside the start box and then put both boards down and foiled directly into the wind trying to wash off some of the immense speed they were carrying. Luna Rossa was set slightly beyond the right hand end of the start line, giving themselves plenty of room to accelerate, however ETNZ was pinching well up towards the same end of the line and as the right-of-way boat trying to shut Luna Rossa out of the start line.

ETNZ would cross the start line slightly ahead of Luna Rossa but the Italian boat was far enough to windward of the Kiwis so that they were unaffected by their dirty air. The typical pinching-contest ensued, with both boats trying to sail as high as possible as they made their way to the left hand boundary. In a change to the usual course of proceedings, ETNZ looked to have the better high-mode and shut down the gap between themselves and Luna Rossa and pushed out ahead of them.

When they tacked in sync at the boundary, they swapped places with ETNZ then assuming the the windward position. It took Luna Rossa some time to assert their usual dominance in this situation, with ETNZ holding on until 2/3 of the way across the course, eventually splitting off and handing Luna Rossa a 20 metre lead. The boats approached the top mark from opposite sides of the course and rounded opposite top marks, setting up a natural split for the next leg which played perfectly into the hands of ETNZ. Whether it was boat speed, more favourable winds, or a combination of the two; the Kiwi’s raced past the Italian crew, showing VMG numbers 2-3 knots faster all the time on this first downwind.

The Kiwi boat was posting VMG of nearly 40 knots at times, something not seen from any of the other AC75s. As they entered the bottom of the course, Luna Rossa picked up a nice shift and got back in front on the left hand side of the course. They would gybe back to match the Kiwis and stay in sync and hold them all the way out until they were ready to gybe. Francesco Bruni and Jimmy Spithill made the most of their rights to sail the Kiwi boat off the course and held them out well beyond the layline at the bottom mark, making the Kiwis wait for the Italian boat to gybe before they could head for the mark. Luna Rossa would round 8 seconds in front.

For the second upwind, the Kiwi boat would head to the right early on and the Italians to the left. The right looked to be the better side of the course and the lead that Luna Rossa had established began to erode as the boats bounced off opposite boundaries. ETNZ showed impressive pace upwind, sailing through to their opponents to leeward but were unable to make it stick and the Italians were rescued by the boundary which forced the boats to tack and put Luna Rossa directly in front of the Kiwis and preventing them rolling through. ETNZ would round the top mark 9 seconds back.

Again on the downwind, ETNZ showed VMG numbers well higher than Luna Rossa but the Italian crew was doing a magnificent job of holding them at bay and keeping the Kiwis in their wing wash and unable to pass without doing a lot of extra manoeuvres. Big gains came to ETNZ at the bottom of the course, getting a split course for the next leg and rounding the mark just 3 seconds back. When the boats converged at the first cross after the bottom mark, ETNZ crossed barely a boatlength behind. Luna Rossa had to let them go by without a covering tack as ETNZ was so close that they wouldn’t be able to accelerate in time and the Kiwis would have passed them.

If yesterdays sailing was exciting, today’s lifted the bar again. A long range tacking duel ensued in the top half of this beat, with the boats bouncing off their respective boundaries and then coming back to meet in the middle of the course, only separated by a boat length or so before they headed back to their boundary. ETNZ would get the better of this exchange and made some good gains at the last tack, crossing ahead of Luna Rossa and eventually rounding the mark 18 behind. Spithill and Bruni went for the gybe straight after the mark and the Kiwi boat followed them with a loose cover.

The Kiwi lead would stretch out to around 500m on the final leg, eventually crossing the line 30 seconds ahead and go to match point in this 36th America’s Cup. The next race is do or die for Luna Rossa.

RACE 10 ABANDONED

Further racing was prevented from getting underway by fickle and shifting winds this evening. Racing will resume tomorrow at 16:15.

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