As if it were written in the script, day 3 of the America’s Cup is closed again with Emirates Team New Zealand and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli in a 3-3 draw. To lift the Hundred Guineas Jug one of them needs to win 7 races.
Today’s races were a copy of yesterday’s and the day before, the starts were crucial and played an important role in shaping the final result and the light breeze made staying in foils a priority.
Unlike many previous boats, these lightweight flying AC75s only need a small window to offer an exciting regatta sailing with an average speed of 30 knots achieved with less than 10 knots of wind.
On the water we came to another spectacular scene, as more than 1,500 spectator boats lined the limits of the race course.
In the minutes before the startup sequence began, the average wind speed was hovering in the 7-8 knot range, just above the average minimum of 6.5 knots required for sailing.
Under these conditions, the expectation so far has been that this would favor Italians with kiwis less comfortable in light winds.
When confirmation came that the minimum wind speed conditions had been met, the race was underway, the fifth round was about to start with only 8 knots of true wind.
In the pre-start, after their march towards the right side of the zone, both boats met early for their return to the starting line. This meant slowing down, but it was a risky move with the threat of dislodging the foils in the process. But there seemed to be few other options and, when both boats settled on the surface of the water, Emirates Team New Zealand was in a more difficult position and had more to lose.
As the Luna Rossa got under way again and made its way to the starting line, the Kiwis got stuck, struggling to get back to the foils and sailing at a deep angle away from the line to do so.
The net result was that while the Italians made a clean start on time, the Kiwis were struggling and were forced to veer.
Finally, the New Zealand team got on their foils, but the rivals had left them behind, who were free to head to the left side of the field, where there was a stronger breeze.
Barely a few minutes after the start, the Italian lead was 250m. Having said that, as both boats advanced, the Kiwis appeared to be reducing the Italian lead.
As Luna Rossa approached Gate 1, the leadership was not enough, as Spithill and Bruni discussed their tactics for rounding off the first mark.
“I don’t want to jibe too early because I want to get gasoline on top”Bruni said in reference to their ability to increase Kiwi’s troubles by giving them a turbulent air as they passed them on their way to course 2.
The Italians had rounded 32 seconds ahead. On the lower gate, the difference was exactly the same, as the pair chose opposite markings to round off. At least this seemed to suggest that the speeds between the two boats remained practically the same and the distance between them in this heat was the result of an unforced error at the start.
At the second windward gate, the Italians were still in the lead, but Emirates Team New Zealand had managed to go back 10 seconds. The defenders were still paying the price for a bad start, but they clearly had a fast machine upwind when they could navigate their own course in clean air.
At the top gate for the third and final time, the Kiwis fell back some 23 seconds ago, a gain, but the track record in this race suggested that a final stage win would be the big question.
And indeed, that’s how it turned out when Luna Rossa crossed the finish line 18 seconds ahead for their third victory in the 36th Copa América.
For the sixth race, the second of the day, the wind remained practically the same, but the pressure on the defenders had increased significantly.
When Luna Rossa reached the pre-start, Emirates Team New Zealand was eager to get behind them very quickly and gybed into hot pursuit.
Both ships headed for the right-hand limit, Luna Rossa gybing as the Kiwis turned. The Italian jibe was not good as they struggled to get through a light streak and regain speed after the jibe.
Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand had good speed as they moved away from their high position in the right corner in the pre-start area.
As the final seconds counted, roles had been reversed from the first race of the day with the defenders sailing 10 knots faster through the water as they crossed the starting line as the rivals struggled to keep up.
At first glance, Peter Burling had perfected his beginning, while Jimmy Spithill seemed to have been wrong. However, there was another potential problem at play, the wind.
While the minimum wind speed was reached, the breeze was becoming more erratic. Now it was easier to get caught.
At Gate 1, Emirates Team New Zealand was 51 seconds ahead, a physical distance of around 800m in the water, a huge advantage for the first half of the first lap. Going back to this regatta for the Italians was going to be a big question.
At Gate 2, little had changed except that Kiwi’s lead had increased slightly to 1 minute 7 seconds. At the end of the second lap, more of the same in 1 min 13 seconds.
At the top gate, for the last time, the Kiwis were 1400m ahead, there was only one crisis between Emirates Team New Zealand and their third victory. On the other side of the line they were 1 min 41 seconds ahead. But time did not matter, win or lose, that was all that mattered.
“That was a good one”said Emirates Team New Zealand flight controller Blair Tuke. “A good way to end another busy day.”
“We got caught in a patch of light before departure and couldn’t get to the line.”said Luna Rossa’s co-helmsman, “after that there weren’t many passing lanes to come back after that”.
So, three days of racing and three victories each, an extraordinary result that few if any had predicted. The 36th America’s Cup couldn’t be closer.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism