Skid Row

It’s a very short journey from the Ritz to skid row. The fickle nature of sport can be cruel and if you’re an Italian fan, bleary-eyed from a morning call at the dead of night in Europe, you’re nursing a strong sense that today just wasn’t your day. The week ahead feels like a long haul already. If you’re a Kiwi fan, it’s elation. Thunder Road turned into Desperation Alley but the scorecard reads 5-3 and Team New Zealand are two wins from defending the America’s Cup. But after a second race today that was nerve shredding frustration personified for both teams, in the back of everyone’s mind there’s a nagging feeling that this isn’t over by a long shot.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

After the sheer disappointment of no racing on Sunday before a record crowd of spectators, Monday on Course E should have come with a Parental Guidance warning. The potential for a horror show, bad language and mild scenes of violence would rightly have elicited an ‘R’ rating – young children’s eyes should have been shielded. But the first race was a classic where at last we saw a pass with Team New Zealand showing the world what two knots extra boatspeed and some massive tweaks to their tacking style can produce.

It was raw horsepower being harnessed by the very best sailors on the planet who have figured out a way to generate forward power and acceleration through their manoeuvres right at the moment when it mattered most. Still Team New Zealand are being schooled by Spithill and Bruni in the pre-starts but they’ve figured out that a level start or even one with a slight disadvantage is no barrier to them getting clear, breaking cover and then laying down the rubber on the racetrack.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Such was the inherent speed of Te Rehutai with its J1.5 jib up, as compared to the Italians’ full-fat J3, that they were carrying less drag all around the course and looked like a different boat. They could tack faster whilst remaining somewhere in the same postcode as Luna Rossa on point, narrowing the VMG loss but with dynamite speed that is just so hard to counter.

The AC75 code was well and truly cracked and after a first lap behind the Italians, they split the cover at the leeward gate where Luna Rossa was forced into a late eagle gybe and head up to get round the right hand mark and track out to the favoured port boundary, whilst the Kiwis executed the full JK rounding to head up, tack quickly and go to the starboard hand side of the upwind leg. From that set up, the Kiwis could play the rapidly shifting right hand oscillation and eke through. Once ahead, it was a cakewalk to victory for the Kiwis. There was just no way they were letting the Italians have a piece of the action and the resultant 58 second win looked like the script was being written for a rapid conclusion to this match-up.

But the wind Gods in sailing are nothing if not inconsistent. They take no prisoners. They don’t read scripts and they disrespect form in its entirety. As the late summer breezes started to fade and die, huge holes began appearing at the top of the course and although conditions were good enough to start race eight it was a rapidly deteriorating scene. Again, Luna Rossa bossed the start with as close to perfection on the pin end as is humanly possible. A hike up in high mode, burning a little speed but dramatically closing the gauge, forced the Kiwis to tack off to the unfavoured starboard side of the course and by mark one Luna Rossa was in the commanding lead position with its big jib flying and all the aces in the pack.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

But a quarter of the way down the run, something was wrong onboard Luna Rossa, the jib wouldn’t set correctly and a hundred metre lead evaporated as Te Rehutai soaked down onto their quarter. Pete Burling didn’t fancy the left hand side (looking down the course) so opted for a quarter gybe to cross Luna Rossa’s stern and again we saw the vortex shedding come back into play. Such was the hole left in the wind that the Kiwis fell off their foils and were left stranded half way down the run as the Italians smoked off into what looked like a truly unassailable lead. It was desperate. The Kiwis were doing everything to try and rise the beast from its slumber. No matter how they poked, prodded, teased and cajoled, it just wouldn’t shed water and stayed resolutely stuck to the surface tension like a dropped peanut butter sandwich on a stone floor.

Luna Rossa was off. This was going to be 4-4 by the end of the day as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. By the time Team New Zealand got flying again, the Italians were over a leg ahead. All the Kiwis could do was try and save face, sail the course and pray for a miracle. Today, God was a Kiwi and all his disciples descended from Maori stock.

With the race co-ordinators calling a shortened course, everything was going Italy’s way right up until the final tack of leg three with just a quick up and down left to run. A slow final tack, just a fraction off pace as they came into the top mark, and Luna Rossa was down. Despite eking around the mark, they just couldn’t get flying again as they sat in light oscillations unable to generate the apparent wind and get airborne. Traversing from boundary to boundary and beyond it was like watching a madman in a padded cell. You felt desperately sorry. Sport shouldn’t be like this and with the Kiwis flying up behind, using every trick of camber, cant and skill to stay flying, it was a horrible sight to see the Italians in such distress.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Te Rehutai blasted around, stole the lead and romped away from the light winds at the top of the course into more pressure and an unassailable lead. They sailed ridiculous angles on the final upwind desperate to keep flying and by the time they approached the finish line they were going from reach to reach with the tacking angle of a supertanker. The finishing delta of 3 minutes 55 seconds was a final insult to the Italians who have every sympathy from the sporting public and know that it’s in no way a reflection of the closeness of this Match. Some days this happens. And with games of chance, sometimes the fickle finger of fate plays against you. They’ll be back in the gambling salon tomorrow and with the wind staying in the lower regions for the rest of the week, this just isn’t over by a long shot for the Italians.

But with a double-win raceday finally secured, Team New Zealand has it all to lose now. Win two and the Cup is secured and they will have overcome a mighty challenge in true Kiwi fashion. What we know for sure though is that the next couple of days are going to see Italian fireworks that only the southern crater of Mount Etna will challenge for sheer spectacle. Luna Rossa will fight to the death and the Kiwis will need every ounce of guile, cunning and that click of boatspeed to secure the Cup in the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron for another four years.

The head has it all New Zealand. The heart has it going to the wire. The gambler is on Italy. The pundits are all Kiwi. The wind Gods will decide.

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14 thoughts on “Skid Row

  1. The race wind limits 6.5 to 21 knots were set many months ago, prior to these foiling monohulls being put in the water. When it became apparent that the lower level was too marginal all the other competitors agreed to increase it – except the Italians who considered themselves advantaged in the lighter winds. As it had to be a unanimous vote to change it remained 6.5 which is obviously too low.

    Well deserved Karma for the Italians in Race 8 today.


    1. Karma? Ah ah ah! If you talk about Karma it could also turn into a NZ sinking because they are faster


  2. Contrary to popular belief, LR don’t have an advantage in the light due the larger foils .. the opposite is true, the have 2 large sea anchors which may provide lift, but require velocity to activate it (velocity they cant achieve in light winds while dragging 2 large objects through the drink) … All the bets on LR in the light are fraught, in fact to my mind the only place they are useful is in the start box and even then only in a narrow window where ETNZ are weak … Lets see what happens, but drag is not your friend and LR had plenty today.


  3. This is the kind of racing that will intrigue non sailors. No one wants to know what the result is only 2 minutes into a 30 minute race. As for olde worlde PRE AC75 sailing tactics and manoeuvres, these will become increasingly redundant as core and primary principles and be made subservient to the tactics and rules of flying. The gybe that put ETNZ in the drink made every sense in single skin sailing and boats where the vortices don’t matter. It was insanity in these conditions of failing light wind and dirty air funnels. The tack of LRPP below speed, lifting the foil too soon and heading up into failing lighter air was also insanity. The new principles will be 1. stay on the foils no matter what heading, where you are or how you achieve it and 2. get back on the foils as fast as possible no matter what heading, where you are or how you achieve it. But it is no good being too “wise” or wiseacre for me or anyone else right now. These are still prototypes, the rules are not all yet known or leant by the teams, and they, not us, are the ones with their face to the grindstone of hard hard hard racing demands. Lessons learned in these situations can be easily forgotten and also can be subject to confusion with other “principles” of flying these vessels. Anyone remember how LRPP learned these lessons of 1. and 2. earlier than anyone else in similar light winds against American Magic in the Round Robins? How they followed the principles of rules 1 and 2 to the letter and when both teams came off their foils, LRPP was criticised for heading in the “wrong” direction? They chose to sail (when displaced and trying to foil) not towards the mark and lighter pressure but into the higher pressure despite the risk of boundary penalties? In Race 8 When LRPP came off their foils they simply forgot to do exactly that and drawn by the closeness and gravity of the top mark, unfortunately continued heading for the mark and went into increasingly lighter pressure around that top right hand mark. ETNZ were luckily heading into marginally higher and marginally increasing pressure when they came off their foils. ETNZ were lucky in that they got foiling again quicker than LRPP. To me that was the major difference in Race 8.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmmh, having sailed a foiled Moth for a couple years, I thought the first principal, after a lot of bad experiences, for coming off the foils close to the mark, as LRPP did, is to lowride around the mark as than you have a better chance to get back up on the foils. They did round the mark, other than the ITGB during their misfortune of dropping down. It makes no sense to sail miles always from the windward mark to get foiling on a beam reach. Dońt you think so?

      @ Magnus: What shall I say. Great summary of the races. MY first read with the late morning tea after taking another nap at the end of the races. Did you see the end of the transmission, when the composer of the music explained how and why he did it? Very emotionell and again a music which will trigger the AC 36 whenever it comes up.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Goodt analysis, Peter. Would also add lesson 3: Forget about penalties – other than in the start box or within the last half of the final leg they are completely inconsequential.


  4. Manfred, if you were on a Moth, you with experience, should do Moth stuff. These are not Moths. Moths do not have the hull weight or the vortices or the relative kinetic energy problems these have. The “bot” simulators will tell them all. If you can get back up within 1 minute by sailing away to good air, you will have 4 to 6 times the speed when foiling as when displacement. “Going away” is a geographical or geometric concern. Going faster is the key. Again, you look at aero racing, I use the example of the multi aeroplane races in Reno every year.. To overtake, they have to go away, on a longer, further distance course than the one ahead, but higher, and faster from the rounding mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “To overtake, they have to go away, on a longer, further distance course than the one ahead, but higher, and faster from the rounding mark.”
      Hej Peter,
      this reminds me to the slalom course racing in windsurfing (non foiling, done that). Whilst I try to follow your arguments, to me, the LRPP had been close to round the mark and would have increased their chance of getting back up to the foils on the run, reaching of course. But… the island and the spectator fleet caused a bubble in the wind. Otherwise… we will never know.

      The only thing I am hoping for is that the Italians are able to fight back to live another day. This is the real highlight during lockdown days. And I appreciate very much the splendid coverage, the commentary, the music to go with it with a flair of Kiwi culture. It makes up for a wonderful time and I know already that I will miss it.
      Thank you very much New Zealand!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Manfred – very sorry I cannot click to like your comments – I would like all these comments and posts – but I cannot register with my email account for some reason and unless you register you cannot click “like”!
    Yes, it is surely a series of fascination because an awful lot of it is counterintuitive. So I went back to the virtual eye version of Race 8 and looked at the distance from the mark,the distance to the Right hand and left hand side course boundaries, the wind speed where they fell off, at the mark and on the end of boundary area and the time and distance they had against ETNZ as well as the commentary between the only two I could hear – Francesco and Jimmy. They nearly got it is my view, but by accident when they fell off and Jimmy said that he thought they could get up foiling if they just carried on – at 90 degrees to the mark, so they would miss the mark but get foiling. Unfortunately, they didn’t as the boat momentum under displacement was taking them to the mark so then the conversation took them to “well, we could make the mark and then try it from there”. A fatal compromise to their chances it turns out. At the height up the course they were when they fell off, the wind was falling. The wind for foiling was further down the course than the mark. Eventually they got foiling at the same point up the course to the mark on their third trip across the width of the course, plus some 300 metres more outside. On the journey they made for that successful foil, they were doing 13 knots, not going as fast as they were 15 knots – at the point they fell off the foils and decided to go to the mark. Heading for the mark killed their speed. The rounding of the mark took them further up into poorer winds and more importantly left them only a short distance to the boundary, insufficient distance in those light winds to get foiling without incurring a boundary penalty. In stronger winds, rounding the mark would have been a good decision option as the risk of having insufficient wind and distance to manufacture enough speed to foil within the course boundaries would have been minimal. When I looked back at the pre Xmas races and especially the first one between ETNZ and Luna Rossa, ETNZ was in this similar situation when they fell off the foil, allowing LRPP an 880 metre lead. They rounded the upwind mark, gybed onto starboard, and used the larger width of the course from Right Hand Side mark to Left Hand boundary (to build up speed from the mark all the way to the Left Hand side boundary) and finally got foiling much further down the course. They also later caught up with LRPP and won that race. I think the point I am making is not that hindsight is just a wonderful thing, but that even these most advanced sailors are still “prototypes” for this prototypical sailing! Eventually experience will provide the means to calculate the odds of going one way or another but from the data, it looks like Jimmys and Francescos first exchange about just carrying on from the midpoint of the course to the Right hand boundary was correct. What is going to happen tomorrow? Wife says ETNZ another 2 wins. I think 1:1.

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