Goggles on. Fire hydrant spray. Capsize. Near sinking. It was a wet, wild and dramatic day three of the Prada Cup with a gusty, shifting breeze beneath leaden, rain-filled skies. Race Director Iain Murray called for a big boys day out on Course A, the most exposed of all the courses available to him and it didn’t disappoint. 16 knots gusting 30. Wow. And it was enthralling. Engrossing. And the drama was heart-stopping.
Seeing these boats in big winds is something to behold and you just have to admire the talent on display. The sailors were the stars of the show. All those lonely hours of training married with the relentless beastings in the gym, showed the athletes at their finest. It also showed that even the best in the world can get it wrong but it underlines just how thrilling the AC75 boats are and what a spectacle they are capable of putting on. But the weather was doing its best to not only be the determinant today but the story. Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott had other ideas. Patriot stole the headlines.
Race two of Round Robin 2 was the opening race of the day, with the eagerly anticipated match-up between Ineos and Prada. It was a heavyweight slug-fest right from the off. Jimmy versus Ben. And it was the Italians who bossed the first start to lead off and stretch into a big lead that at one point was 44 seconds. It was looking like being a tough day for Ineos but the weather fronts pulsing down the course were about to have their say. A 90 degree shift reversed the race order and the Race Committee were quick to abandon as is the agreed race protocol and both Prada and Ineos hunkered down as the storm clouds rolled over. Race over. Time for a power bar, a nutrient drink, a banana or two and a thorough debrief and reset.
And boy did Team Ineos come back smoking.
At the restart, after a lengthy delay, the sun came out and the wind stabilised at a solid 16 knots and it was all-on tactical warfare. If you had to have a sailor to race for your life, Ainslie would be the choice, no doubt, and he and Giles Scott put on a pure racing masterclass. It was almost Olympic Finn racing – just at 40 knots and on a bigger stage with an even bigger prize than a gold medal. It was sensational.
Off the start line, Ineos kept it close and split to the right boundary. Prada had the early lead and led by 10 seconds at the top mark. No panic from the Brits. Ineos smoked down the first run, having split gates at the windward mark and reduced the delta to 7 seconds by the bottom but then came the tutelage in the final throws of leg 3. It was classic schooling.
Thinking five steps ahead of the Italians, Ineos hugged the left hand boundary in the final quarter of the beat before ducking Prada coming across on starboard to hold the right side to then come back on the dominant return starboard tack. A little extra pressure and Ineos was ahead, 26 seconds up, just when it mattered most. Masterful, straight out of the Olympic textbook.
Ben was never going to lose it. Giles Scott was on fire calling the right hand mark to bear away on port but then hold the starboard advantage after the first gybe. This was tactical brilliance on display. The Italians had just been out gold medalled. Genius. And Ineos looked sublime, matching Prada for boatspeed and as I’ve said before, all Ben & Giles need is an equivalent platform and they will win.
Good night. It was curtains for the Italians who started to sail a bit ragged despite closing the delta to 12 seconds at the final windward gate. The Brits again exited on the right hand mark, peeling away on port gybe beautifully. By the time they came back on starboard, the lead was extended and they cruised to the line to record a truly outstanding 18 second victory.
That’s ‘4 and 0’ and it’s a regatta where Team Ineos are just getting better and better. It was the first time they had been behind but the onboard comms emitted a calmness and a calculation that oozed confidence and talent – let it not be understated, this is pure sailing, tactical brilliance on display. Spithill and Checco have just been mugged down a dark alley on the Hauraki Gulf and they must be looking at the Brits wondering how on earth they are going to beat them.
An absolute masterclass. We are witnessing sailing genius from the British.
In the final race of the day, and the final race of Round Robin 2, the under-fire American Magic team faced off against a fired-up, protest-ready Prada and started to show some of the form that had many, me included, picking them as Prada Cup finalists. I was still on that ticket but it was hard work right from the start. Barker made a dog’s dinner of the start and was saved by some curious tactics from Prada who were clearly struggling with electronics and comms.
The Magic boat looked rapid and muscular as they took control of the race and extended into a huge lead, testament to their sheer pace but oh my goodness me, the world turned upside down at the final windward mark as the team went into a difficult tack-bear-away as a massive gust came down the course.
Patriot yawed out of control as they struggled to release their leeward runner on the bear away having flown through the initial tack, pinning in the mainsail, stalling out the foils, rearing dramatically and a capsize was inevitable. It’s one of the hardest moves to pull off in these boats and the margins for error are tiny – Paul Goodison was calling the difficulty down the lines but once they were committed it was all-on. I’ve rarely witnessed such a heart-stopping moment watching the America’s Cup. Thankfully there were no injuries onboard and the chase boats were in fast.
Devastating for the Magic Team who must be wondering what on earth they have to do to win a race in this series. Prada sailed through but with the result inevitable, the win was called for the Italians.
Tough day for the Americans. Really tough. And as the feed cut in the UK, the boat was wallowing, swamped and in danger of sinking. Reports of damage to the hull are coming in and it’s a truly horrible situation. This is a serious setback and if the boat is now a structural doubt they will struggle to repair it in the timescale. Desperately sad.
Wow – what a day. What a day. Breathless stuff. Ineos were full class. Prada eked a win on Super Sunday. For American Magic it could be all over. I hope that isn’t the case.
You have to watch this.
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