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Sailing’s Purest Essence: A Spectacular Day Sets the Stage for the 37th America’s Cup

A day that told us much and nothing all at the same time about form, was nonetheless a spectacle of otherworldly proportions that confirmed the vision of the current Defenders of the America’s Cup and the Challenger of Record, that the 37th America’s Cup will be a thriller. Every team tonight in the Port Vell have cause to celebrate small wins, great moments and fabulous tactical sailing whilst scratching their heads at inconsistency, speed deficiencies or plain cruel luck. Sailboat racing at its purest. A wonderful sight.

Three races got away in breeze that struggled above 10 knots all afternoon, but it was the swell that was the greatest headache for the finest foiling sailors of their generation. Giles Scott, helm on INEOS Britannia put it perfectly saying: “It was good to get racing for sure, conditions were it wasn’t too windy today which is not what was making things too difficult but the sea state certainly was, we had a building north-easterly swell underneath the wind chop which was building throughout the day, which was really quite tricky to manage with a few boats falling off the foils out there and yeah really good day, certainly lots of lessons I’m sure not just for us but for every team out there as we learn these boats and ultimately how we want to race them.”

And if today’s racing is anything to go by, the sailors want to race them hard and at close quarters with zero recognition for fame, adulation or racing record. From the outset it was just desperately close with the finest of margins on technique and race-craft that ultimately made the difference. INEOS Britannia looked absolutely electric off the start-line in race one winning from the middle of the line on a typically feisty Ben Ainslie-esque wriggle to hold pole position. There were no speed deficiencies and INEOS Britannia sailed over Emirates Team New Zealand whilst forcing Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli off and into what looked like a commanding lead but so fickle was the racetrack that by the top mark, they were third with Luna Rossa looking ominously good and high on technique.

Alex Carabi / America’s Cup

By the first leeward gate, the British were relegated to fourth as Alinghi Red Bull Racing muscled past but in a fashion that will have their coaches and analysts going deep into the data, by the next windward mark, INEOS Britannia was ahead. It was a ‘snakes and ladders’ kind of race so no surprise that on the final downwind leg, a slightly too long hold on starboard gybe after the rounding whilst Luna Rossa gybed over to the middle of the course, saw the British relinquish the lead but take second on the line with the Italians scoring first blood with the Kiwis in third.

Alex Carabi / America’s Cup

 All eyes then on the second race, with Luna Rossa becoming the ones to watch but with all the teams high on the occasion and the adrenaline rushing it was something of a classic. INEOS Britannia determinedly hit the pin end of the line whilst Alinghi Red Bull Racing lined up from the Committee Boat end and as the imaginary boundary approached, it was the Swiss that saw everyone ducking their stern and seized the lead. Emirates Team New Zealand peeled off on port early, quickly followed by Orient Express Racing Team and for all the world both boats looked dead and buried out right. A shift brought them back into the pack and the Kiwis wriggled into second place at the top mark, followed by Quentin Delapierre’s brand-new French team, but Switzerland were flying and held their lead to the leeward gate.

Then came an extraordinary beat that turned inside out with the hard charging Kiwis closing the gap and the Swiss fighting the fleet as they split. Luna Rossa and Orient Express headed out to the right but then tacked back to the middle at just the right time as a right-hand shift filtered down the course opening up a marvellous layline into the port-hand marker at the gate. The Swiss went too far right, the Kiwis too far left and the French, who remember, have only had an AC40 for eight sailing days so far, marched into a lead and reminded everyone that the most likeable team in this America’s Cup mean business.

After a decent gybe downwind, Orient Express looked nailed on for the win but one of the key areas that the established teams have been working on in training is downwind sailing. The Kiwis and Swiss rounded together at the starboard end of the gate and headed out to the left (looking down the course) before gybing with the Kiwis to leeward. The tiniest of drops off the foil on Alinghi Red Bull Racing and the door opened for the Kiwis who kept superb flight and trimmed like banshees and took them into second place and French breath was held as the final gybe was called. Sadly, for Quentin and his co-helm Kevin Peponnet, it didn’t stick, and the Kiwis thundered through to take what had looked like an unlikely win with the French ultimately finishing fourth. Small margins, small margins.

Race three was somewhat of a demonstration from Emirates Team New Zealand who made a brilliant start holding up to windward on the line to take a commanding starboard position with clear air and the ability to engage their super-high mode with the jib sheeted almost on the centreline. The Kiwis showed incredible foiling ability staying up when others dropped and although they were trailed hard by Alinghi Red Bull Racing and INEOS Britannia initially, the second beat was the Swiss and the British sailor’s undoing as both boats came off their foils soon after the leeward gate rounding. The Kiwis made no mistakes, moded the boat well and ended the day at the top of the standings with a 3-1-1 scoreline.

Talking afterwards, Nathan Outteridge gave a fascinating interview summing up the day saying: “Today we really had a bunch of goals that we wanted to take off in terms of how we’re setting up to do the starts and I think we’re pretty happy with our starting plans and execution and then a lot of it was about learning about the racecourse here trying to sail a little bit later in the day as that wind is building and transitioning to that right hand side where it seemed to be a bit favoured at times. The results will only matter when we’re actually racing in a couple of weeks’, but it was good to have a pretty solid day and the handling was quite good, our performance, straight-line speed we were happy with and yeah, the communication is quite a big one. Sailing around on your own, you’re often just looking at performance. As soon as you’ve got other boats it’s all about racing and really paying attention to the wind shifts and learning where you need to position your boat to keep fresh air on your behind and how you can hurt boats when you’re in front, so that was a good day for learning and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

For the Italians it was an up and down day with great success in the first race followed by a middling result just getting pipped at the post by Alinghi Red Bull Racing and then a race to forget at the end of the session. Andrea Tesei, the Flight Controller and Trimmer onboard was at a loss to explain the form saying: “We had a bit of a speed issue in the last two races, didn’t start the best, and we didn’t get really good boat speed, struggling a bit with that and yeah, we need to look into what didn’t work in those last two races. We were pretty happy with the first two and it was our first day out on the water after two weeks in Cagliari sailing our prototype so definitely some rust to take off as well.” When pushed further on whether the issues were down to the sailors or a problem with the boat, Andrea said: “We’re not sure, we need to look into some data. With these boats everything is happening so quick, it’s easy to jump to conclusions too fast and yeah go into the debrief and see what happens, take the boat out of the water so we don’t have any issues with our foils and see what it is.”

Quentin Delapierre meanwhile was full of enthusiasm and encouragement for the team and rightly so after an impressive debut performance. Talking about how he and the team felt after the racing, he commented: “Really good actually, a good day of learning for Orient Express Racing Team, only eight days on this beautiful machine, the AC40, and today we were really happy to race against the others and try to learn as much as we can because they have so much more experience than us and on this AC40. So yeah, really good day for the team and we tried different cant angles, different heel angles, and tried to put our tactics in a good place and yeah really good to see.”

With the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova only a fortnight away, Quentin is keeping the team’s feet on the ground saying: “There is always pressure in this kind of challenge or in this kind of racing, the America’s Cup is the biggest one in our sailing world so pressure is there for sure but I mean it’s also a really good point because if there is pressure it means that you are in the best challenge or the best league in your sport so I think everybody in this team can feel that and they just want to bring good energy, good vibes, and try to learn and improve every day.”

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

Pietro Sibello, one of the coaching team for Alinghi Red Bull Racing meanwhile was extremely happy with how the sailing team performed on this, their first day of fleet racing against the other teams in this America’s Cup cycle, saying: “For sure for us it was a great day, it was the first day in the campaign where we lined up with other teams so after having all the boys here pushing first to move into the base then working on the three-boat project and feeling kind of a race mode approaching it’s great and gives energy toward the team. For us it was great learnings, great conditions, great racing, the guys really managed well around the course, we were really consistent with the boat on the first day.”

And Pietro is keen to see more racing saying: “I hope we will have different conditions in the next days so we can really understand the behaviour of the boat and of the fleet in different conditions so we can have a bigger spectrum to understand where we have to improve, but so far yeah we are happy and tonight we will start debriefing and everything is starting towards the Cup and Vilanova of course.”

Ugo Fonollá / America’s Cup

Final word from the sailors today with Giles Scott perhaps speaking for the whole fleet when asked about how the mood in the team was tonight and honestly answered: “I think not up, not down, we had some good moments, we had some bad moments, but I think the most important thing is that there’s an awful lot off a lot of lessons out there for us that we have to capture.”

The only disappointment today was the election of NYYC American Magic to not race with Kyle Langford, the newly hired trim coach for the Americans explaining the decision to continue on with their two-boat AC40 testing schedule, saying: “We had the teams racing again today, we didn’t join because we thought it was important, or it is important, that we evaluate our foils as we’ve got a couple of design deadlines coming up it’s important that we get some answers and so just at this stage of the campaign the foil testing is a priority which means that the racing misses out.”

Overall, a cracking day on the water for all the teams with more fleet racing to come tomorrow as the Race Officers and Management team continue to test through the whole system ahead of the first Preliminary Regatta in Vilanova i La Geltrú that starts on the 14th September with a practice racing day before proper racing starts on the 15th through to the 17th September 2023.

Race Results – 3 three races:

Race 1:

  1. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
  2. INEOS Britannia
  3. Emirates Team New Zealand
  4. Alinghi Red Bull Racing
  5. Orient Express Racing Team

Race 2:

  1. Emirates Team New Zealand
  2. Alinghi Red Bull Racing
  3. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli
  4. Orient Express Racing Team
  5. INEOS Britannia

Race 3:

  1. Emirates Team New Zealand
  2. Alinghi Red Bull Racing
  3. INEOS Britannia
  4. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli

 (Orient Express Racing Team (OERT) did not participate in the third race)

ALEX CARABI / AMERICA’S CUP

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