The story of the day was one that the greatest fiction writers would struggle to script. Fickle winds with cruel zephyrs made flight on the foils the rarest, most precious, commodity and for even the best sailors on the planet, it was hard sailing. Race one produced a fine and deserved result with the Orient Express Racing Team scoring a memorable and morale-boosting win whilst in the second race, Emirates Team New Zealand romped to a thunderous victory, rising from their foils whilst the rest of the fleet remained in displacement mode, chased down Alinghi Red Bull Racing and recorded what can only be described an outstanding victory.
Overnight the leaderboard shows Orient Express Racing Team topping the standings on 15 points with Emirates Team New Zealand in second, close behind on 13 points after just two of the scheduled four races were completed as light airs from the south-south-east dogged the racecourse, rising hopefully above the pre-set lower limit of 6.5 knots to get racing underway before dropping cruelly.
In the ultimate game of snakes and ladders, persistence was rewarded but after sailing, the team of the moment, Orient Express Racing Team were rightly celebrating. Quentin Delapierre, the enigmatic new hero of French sailing spoke for the whole team afterwards saying: “I feel proud of the whole team, the sponsors also. Today we did a good job not just because of the result but because we improved so much technically. We still have so much to do for sure, but today it was a really good feeling to see the improvement against the others and as a group to know that we can achieve it.”
Quentin, with a broad smile, continued: “We can feel the energy inside the team, the dynamic, and obviously because we are quite new, it’s pretty cool to see smiles and it’s so rewarding for the technical team who worked so, so hard just to be here and able to race the others with no technical problems – that’s a real achievement. I’m super happy, when you come back to the base to applause, big smiles, we feel proud, and this is good for us now to have a bigger dynamic in the team.”
Andy Maloney, the trimmer in the starboard pod onboard Emirates Team New Zealand behind skipper Pete Burling, talked through the Kiwi light-airs technique, saying: “It definitely takes all four of us to tack the boat and we’ve all got to be super accurate through the manoeuvre. The difference is perhaps half a knot of breeze but we know exactly what we’re trying to achieve in those tacks and between races we did a good job of practicing them and then going into that second race we were really confident that if we could get up on the foils, that we’d be able to manoeuvre around the racetrack and we were just pretty pleased that once we did get up and foiling that we executed those manoeuvres.”
Talking about the final run where precision and execution were everything, Andy commented: “Once we were the only boat up and foiling it wasn’t about VMG, it was about staying on the foils, and we just wanted to make sure that we had enough pace to foil through the lulls and then hopefully link up with a nice little puff to execute the next manoeuvre.”
Yves Detrey, trimmer onboard Alinghi Red Bull Racing who were arguably one gybe away from a win in the second race, looked dejected at the result but positive about how the team are improving, saying: “You need a little bit of luck. We dropped off the foils just before the start (of the second race) and then we had that little puff to get back up on the foil and get back to the line and start racing. It was very marginal all the way around. We did some very nice manoeuvres at the right time, but unfortunately on the very last one, we didn’t quite nail it. It’s a fine balance between your entry speed, your exit, your positions on the sails, your trimming of the sails, board raise, everything together. It feels a little bit bitter for us because we didn’t get that last gybe but for sure we’ve been looking quite nice, and we take the positives through to tomorrow.”
Jimmy Spithill, helmsman of Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli was open and honest about the first race where the team were incorrectly scored a DNS (Did Not Start) and revealed that the team are challenging the decision at a hearing later this evening: “I think it’s quite clear that there’s a mistake that’s been made by the umpires and race management and we’re going to go to a hearing tonight.» (Note: Following that hearing and a review of the starting protocols undertaken on course, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have been re-instated in second place in Race 1, scoring 7 points.)
Jimmy did however give credit to Emirates Team New Zealand on a day where take-off and maintaining power was tough: “When there’s not enough wind, yes it’s very tricky to take off. We actually did the same (as Emirates Team New Zealand), we got up and going again in that last race on port tack but unfortunately at that point we ended up right at the boundary with no wind and had to tack. We just couldn’t finish the acceleration to pull off the tack, but the Kiwis did and full credit to them.”
Riley Gibbs, the 26 year-old trimmer onboard NYYC American Magic certainly wasn’t dwelling on the experience of the day saying: “After a day like that, it was quite punishing, but we’re really focussed on tomorrow and what’s ahead so we’re not going to dwell on it too hard… looking forward to tomorrow and we’re hopeful of a better forecast. In that last race we were actually ahead of New Zealand (before they got foiling) and we should have done a better job of covering them after the tack and yeah in these foiling boats, it’s a bit like surfing or any dynamic sport, you get a bit of a bump behind you and it’s easier to surf and accelerate. It was easier to get up on port tack with the waves behind, starboard was into the waves and despite the righty pressure it was always false hope.”
For Ben Ainslie, skipper of INEOS Britannia, he fronted the questions with his usual honesty saying: “It wasn’t a great day for us. Very difficult conditions and I think our lack of time in the boat really showed against some of the other teams who were much slicker than us and did a much better job than we did. I suppose if I was looking for positives, it feels like we are getting better in terms of sticking some of these lighter airs manoeuvres but still not as good as some of the other teams. We’re making steps forward but perhaps not quick enough for now and when you’re out racing you want to be at the front of the fleet and not the back.”
Racing continues tomorrow with what looks like an improving forecast and hopes are high that the first Preliminary Regatta on the road to the 37th America’s Cup will conclude in fine style.