Saturday, 14 February 2009
by Keith Taylor
The Swiss boat Alinghi got out of jail today at the start of its first race for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series trophy, and went on to defeat the host team, Emirates Team New Zealand by 22 seconds.
Trapped outside the start line by the Kiwi boat a minute before the starting gun, the Swiss boat with American Ed Baird at the helm was able to recover and pull off an even start against her opponent. Six minutes later a wind shift put the Swiss ahead. New Zealand’s Dean Barker fought for the lead but any hopes of winning went out the window when a halyard let go and the spinnaker flew loose, costing Emirates valuable time.
Racing in the Rangitoto Channel off Auckland’s North Head started in a 17-knot south-westerly breeze that increased in strength throughout the race, building to 28 knots by the time Alinghi finished.
The Race Committee delayed the next start while it waited for conditions to moderate. However, three hours later with the wind gusting over 30 knots, it abandoned racing for the day and said it would shorten the best-of-seven final to a best-of-five. Racing will resume tomorrow.
Dean Barker and his crew dominated the challengers in the pre-start. Barker had the favoured end and used it to advantage, adroitly pinning Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird out above the line during three reaches backwards and forwards, parallel with the line and leaving Baird no escape route.
Barker wanted to start on left side of the line and broke away from Alinghi during a port reach to make a long circling turn below the committee boat and make a high speed start in the middle. The move was an opportunity for Baird to start closer to the committee boat, but with plenty of separation.
The Kiwi boat enjoyed a slight lead for long minutes and was perfectly positioned for an anticipated left shift. It never materialized and the Swiss boat edged ahead on a small right shift to dominate.
“We had them under control,” said Emirates tactician Ray Davies. “And it came to the point when we had to sail away and get a clean start. We went off the line to leeward of them, waiting for a little left shift. It didn’t actually come for us. Any kinda lefty would have let us get rid of them and control the race from there but the breeze stayed in the right.”
Barker kept it close and was on the Swiss heels, only 12 seconds astern at the weather mark. Down the run, Emirates closed and gybed into more wind pressure and a windshift that promised a significant gain. In a rare accident the gennaker halyard let go and the chute flew out to windward, costing valuable time before it the crew reset it.
“We were ready to jump them on the gybe,” Davies said. “We were calling a lot of wind pressure going into the gybe and unfortunately our spinnaker halyard slipped through the jammer and the turns on the cleat. We haven’t had that happen before. They were able to sail away.”
On the last run the breeze was up to 28 knots with the boats on the edge of control. “We recorded 18 knots and we were digging a pretty big hole,” said Davies.”
Baird retorted: “We didn’t like that big hole, so we were only doing 17. It gets pretty hairy on these boats when you’re going that fast!”
Louis Vuitton Pacific Series