15 March 2021
The AC75s are rewriting the rules of match racing in the America’s Cup. In today’s second match, one of the most bizarre yet thrilling duels in the 170-year history of the event, the Kiwis were their usual relaxed, methodical selves as they chomped down on the Italians’ lead on the first downwind leg.
As Te Rehutai closed to just 60 metres behind Luna Rossa, Pete Burling and Co. threw the boat into a routine foiling gybe and promptly fell off the foils. Initially the TV commentators wondered if they’d gybed into a hole, but that’s very unlike the ETNZ brains trust of Burling, Tuke and Ashby.
What seems more likely is they gybed through the dirty backwash of Luna Rossa’s sails which stalled the flow over Te Rehutai’s sailplan and brought the six-ton flying machine down to the surface.
Six-time match racing World Champion Ian Williams observed on Facebook: “The problem is that they (ETNZ) came out of the gybe so high they sailed back up to the dirty air. Maybe they had to to keep the hull up, but I would have expected them to be able keep ahead of the dirty air if they’d stayed lower, maybe with windward foil down.”
Ian has a point, and maybe next time in a similar scenario ETNZ would ‘go Eagle’ and put both foils down through gybe as an added insurance policy to stay in the air. ETNZ - and Luna Rossa for that matter - are learning on the fly. Every manoeuvre adds to their knowledge of how to sail an AC75 to its optimum.
What happened to ETNZ today reminds me of what befell Luna Rossa a couple of days ago when they gybed around and fell off the foils, again possibly caused by sailing back through their own backwash. Increasingly it looks like ‘the hook’, the traditional method of diving to leeward of your opponent and forcing them towards the start line sooner than they would like, doesn’t work in AC75s. Maybe the dirty air is too strong to make this a viable attacking move for the chasing boat in the pre-start.
As for ETNZ falling off the foils in race 8, it looked like game over to the untrained eye. But up in the sky, David ‘Freddie’ Carr was calling the patchiness of the breeze at the top of the course. When Luna Rossa mistimed (only very slightly) the lowering of their starboard foil as they tacked on to port, the Italians dropped to the water and were sitting ducks as the rejuvenated and extremely wary Kiwis scythed their way past from 2km behind to 2km in front. “Better to be lucky than good,” as Burling commented afterwards, tipping his hat to the bad luck of the Italians.
As race 7 showed, when we finally witnessed the first passing move of the 36th America’s Cup, Te Rehutai will be hard to stop if the breeze gets consistently over 12 knots.
It was expected to be windier today than it proved. If that happens again, and the stronger wind fails to materialise, the Italians have a chance of turning the tables. If the breeze kicks in, as Nathan Outteridge puts it, the Italians will have to get ahead at the start and try to stick their elbows out as wide as they can. It seems like there is some truth after all to the much-vaunted rumour that the Kiwis have a stupid-fast boat.
P.S. I’ll be digging into the detail of this Cup with Hamish Willcox when it’s all over and done with. If you’re not already, make sure you’re on the mailing list for Road To Gold. www.roadtogold.net