Sunday, 1 February 2009

LVPS: An enthralling battle on the Waitemata

Jero Lomas on the bow of the Emirates Team New Zealand boat, as they approach the top mark ahead of BMW ORACLE Racing. Image copyright Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW ORACLE Racing.

by Jane Eagleson

A toe to toe battle between BMW ORACLE Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand kept racing fans enthralled on the Waitemata Harbour in Auckland on 31 January.

Racing under sunny skies in a 10-15 knot southwesterly breeze, the yachts were neck and neck through most of the first three legs. The tight battle saw a couple of lead changes before Team NZ picked up a favourable windshift towards the top of the second windward leg and pulled away into the lead.

The New Zealand team maintained the lead to the finish and crossed the line with a 28 second advantage.

“It was a great race,” said BMW ORACLE Racing tactician Hamish Pepper. “It was always going to be a good battle against them. It was very close. We feel we sailed a good race and we made some opportunities, but we just did not manage to get past them. They did a good job of protecting their advantage.”

This match was much anticipated as BMW ORACLE Racing skipper Russell Coutts had not raced an America’s Cup class yacht since winning the America’s Cup in 2003, when he established an unprecedented record of 14 straight wins in Cup matches.

Coming off the startline, Emirates Team New Zealand set up to windward of BMW ORACLE Racing with both yachts on starboard tack. During a pre-start manoeuvre, BMW ORACLE Racing broke three battens in their mainsail.

“It would obviously have been better for us not to break the battens, but it was not the winning or losing of the match,” said Pepper.

There was very little in it during the first beat and Emirates Team New Zealand protected its right hand advantage to lead around the first mark by 14 seconds. Down the run, BMW ORACLE Racing skipper Russell Coutts and the crew kept the pressure on their rivals and, approaching the leeward gate, closed to within a boatlength.

The two yachts split through the gate, with Emirates Team New Zealand again taking the right-hand side of the course and BMW ORACLE Racing setting up on the left side just 2 seconds behind.

Towards the top of the second windward leg, BMW ORACLE Racing had established a narrow lead. When the yachts converged, Emirates Team New Zealand had the starboard tack right of way and BMW ORACLE Racing, on port tack, dipped behind their transom and crossed towards the right hand side of the course.

“We were a bit unfortunate there,” said Pepper. “Nine times out of ten, the yacht that dips accelerates and comes out with the advantage.” However, as the yachts crossed tracks, the breeze shifted to the left and Emirates Team New Zealand made a significant gain.

At the final mark rounding, Emirates Team New Zealand had a 24 second advantage and maintained their lead to the finish. “It was a bit disappointing we did not see that left hand shift,” said Pepper. “That was the decisive moment in the match.”

On 1 February BMW ORACLE Racing meets China Team.


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