never say never

At the close of racing the day before yesterday Glen Ashby said “The regatta starts tomorrow”. Well. Actually turned out to be the day after. The races today blew the tale that if you ‘win the start you will win the race’ right out of the water. 

In race one the boats sported jibs 2 sizes different (LRPP 1.5 & ETNZ 3). They say that a fast boat makes a tactician look good and that is certainly true today. Of course the counter argument that you can design a fast boat but the skipper has to point it in the right direction is probably equally true.

Lua Rossa maintained their lead for the first 2 to 2.5 legs but weren’t able to particularly extend. The Kiwis threw their boat round the 1st bottom mark and immediately tacked and with the commentators talking about the left being favoured, the Kiwis off to the RIGHT rapidly gained helped by the fact they hadn’t been covered so when the boats came back together the Kiwi boat on starboard just sailed over the top of the Italians and threw a tighter cover on them which then saw the lead grow in Te Rehutai’s favour with at times a 4 knot VMG advantage.

Even so the lead at Gate 3 was only 19 seconds but downwind that grew to 29 seconds by gate 4. That continued to grow to 48 secs at gate 5 and 58 by the finish which equated to over 900m.

Nathan Outteridge was pretty convinced the Italian boat would downsize their jib for the next race but their weather gurus called the ball correctly with a softening breeze and they kept the samejib up, a softening breeze which would bring unbelievable drama.

Between races the wind shift which had made the final leg almost one gybe led the regatta director to spin the course 30 degrees putting an island dead upwind of the course with potentially shifty wind coming down across the race area.

Luna Rossa once again claimed the start with the Kiwis to windward being forced to tack away by Luna Rossa’s high mode. LRPP sailing into the better pressure and bounced the Kiwis at the first coming together and still looked good at the second tie then this time tacked on top and went on to lead at the top mark.

Early on in leg 2 the Kiwis gained handsomely to be right on Luna Rossa’s tail. In what appeared to be a hurried gybe to get inside the Italians as they sailed up to a deficit of just 17m, the Kiwis sailed through what appeared to be the disturbed air of the Italian boat, fell off their foils and basically parked leaving the Italians to sail off into the distance. 

At that moment, and for the rest of the leg, New Zealand hearts must have sunk as the lead grew to over 2 kilometres at one point equating to over 4 minutes deficit at Gate 2.

No way back, or so it seemed but Ken Read, almost prophetically, commented “There’s a long way to go”. Boy, it would turn out he called it right, the fat lady hadn’t even cleared her throat at this stage.

Up in the air Freddie Carr, in retrospect said You have to keep your hull dry to win this race with Nathan chiming in with the risk to Luna Rossa.

It was game over until…..it was LRPP turn to fall off the foils in the last tack before the top mark of the course which due to the falling breeze was shortened to 5 legs but they still had 1,600m in hand.

ETNZ were still up and doing 20+ knots chomping into the lead which the Italians couldn’t fail to see.

So started a series of boundary penalties (LRPP racked up a total of 5 boundary penalties including a double for deliberately breaking the rules – if I lost count I apologise) while the Kiwis managed to stay on their foils giving a 10+ knots speed difference completing the leg 4 minutes 27 seconds behind.

This incident clearly shows that the penalty system in this event just doesn’t work. Cheaper to have a penalty – even to deliberately break the rules than to stay on course while trying to get up on the foils. I am sure if there was a standard match race penalty in force teams might be a bit keener to avoid them.

It was a deficit which was turned on its head by the end of Leg 4 with ETNZ 2/3 of the way down the leg before LRPP got back up and almost at the next mark before they cleared their penalties. So a 4 minutes+ deficit flipped into a 4 minutes + lead.

That lead slowly came down up the final leg but not by much as Peter Burling tiptoe’d up the course with staying on the foils more important than outright speed but the Kiwis crossed the line just short of 4 minutes ahead to take the score to 5-3 in their favour.

I cannot recall having ever witnessed such a dramatic match race and by the end of the race was standing in front of the monitor. Whoever said watching yacht racing was boring! 

I think the (fat) lady today might just have been a kiwi, Dame Kiri Te Kanowa springs to mind.(no personal reference to her figure intended) – a most elegant lady AND not only a Kiwi but part Maori ). – SS.