“The wind is made of haunting souls that moan and groan in whistles and whispers,” is a favourite line from ‘Slaying Dragons’ by Richelle Goodrich and in desperate conditions out on the Hauraki Gulf it was American Magic that was the dragon put to the sword in the opening race of the day by Prada. Not so much racing as high-stakes gambling, the fiery Italians did the best job of playing dot-to-dot with the puffs in a game of leapfrog that could have gone either way. On this form, Jimmy and Checco should buy a lottery ticket tonight for the Auckland powerball.
On American Magic it was haunted souls all round as they wallowed in displacement agonisingly after seizing the lead having negated a seven and a half minute deficit at the first mark as the Race Committee shortened the course with the time limit in focus. As the cat’s paws filtered down the racecourse, it favoured the trailing Italians who popped on to their foils and at one point were enjoying a 30 knot speed differential – bananas racing.
As a contest, this eagerly anticipated match-up revealed little. Prada stayed up on the foils – just – and did a horizon job, eventually finishing almost a leg ahead. Magic failed to finish and are in the unenviable position, despite the back-story, of ending Round Robin 1 on zero points with no race wins. Head scratching all round. Slumped demeanour from Dean Barker – this wasn’t in the brochure. The other Challengers seem to have whistled by them on a development zephyr and left them wallowing in a sea of despair. Not quite panic stations but getting close.
Round Robin 2 was a chance to reset for American Magic with the opening flight against an up-for-it Ben Ainslie steering a team of lions with confidence oozing from every pore (paw?). Can you just imagine the mood in the base coming off the water yesterday? If you could bottle it, you would be a rich man. Confidence is a cumulative endeavour that is so hard to build but when you’ve got it, it’s obvious. Ineos has it.
So after an hour’s delay as a cooler, late afternoon breeze filtered in under grey skies, the temperature rose tantalisingly with Ineos absolutely on fire right from the get-go. Entering the start-box perfectly was the British story whereas for Magic it was a disaster. Dean Barker got his time-on-distance completely out, incurred a penalty, tried to correct the mistake by slowing down with a resultant splash down. It was a fatal mistake in torturously light conditions, Ben Ainslie was flying high on his foils – what light-air deficiency (?) – and literally ran circles around the Americans. Off to the horizon they flew with their enormous jib up but it was a date with a parking lot at the top mark that awaited as both boats sat agonisingly in displacement.
In the World Series that would have been game over for Ineos but in the new world of the Prada Cup, with a radically altered boat and a simply beautiful sail plan, the Brits kept ice cool as the race officer again called for a shortened course. I was hiding behind the sofa, willing Ineos to find the breeze and offering my undeniable armchair admiral genius – and it worked. Ineos were never headed, sailing absolutely beautifully with once again the Ben & Giles show communicating effectively and solving the grandest of jigsaw puzzles.
Magic looked like a beached whale. Total, deflating agony for them. Ineos was nearly a leg ahead in desperate conditions. It wasn’t plain sailing for the Brits by any means as the wind shut down at the final top mark and the final run started against the clock with just under 15 minutes left. Ineos splashed down in displacement whilst the Americans picked up some breeze. The tension was unbearable. Ineos got going again as the zephyrs filtered down and rose powerfully on her foils as Ben bounced off the left hand boundary, coming amazingly close to the spectator fleet with the gybe of the tournament so far. Ripping down the racecourse at 34 knots, Ineos buzzed the line with just a couple of minutes left on the clock.
That’s three points on the board. Three points from three races! Say that slowly. Ineos are the outstanding performers of the Challengers. It’s a devastating hammer-blow laid down on the whole event and as for not being fast in the light well, as suspected, that was a false flag. Ineos is rapid across the wind ranges. Combine a stable platform with the best sailors on the planet and the results flow. Let it be said, Ineos has never been behind in the Prada Cup. Never.
We are in a wonderland. A dreamland. It’s slaughter on the water.