The fifth day of the Copa América was undoubtedly the most moving. After four days of stalemate and the races decided 5 minutes after the start, Emirates Team New Zealand today put 2 points on the scoreboard and took a 2-win lead over Luna Rossa.
For the first time in this Copa América, both sleeves underwent leadership changes. The unstable and light winds played an important role in the luck change, as being on the foils meant the difference between leading and losing.
With the score at 5: 3, the deadlock has been broken and tomorrow will be a key day. Will the Kiwis keep up the momentum and win again or will the Italians fight and take the Cup to a seventh day? The answer, tomorrow at 4:15 pm.
As the clock ticked off the countdown to the seventh nanga, the wind was within bounds, oscillating between 9-12 knots. But the direction was not that constant with a variation of around 25 degrees and a phase every five minutes. Could this provide the passing opportunities that have been lacking in previous races?
As Luna Rossa entered the pre-start zone from the left side, Emirates Team New Zealand rushed to the tail as they both headed towards the right side of the zone. When the pair returned to the starting line, they both arrived early, Luna Rossa was well above the line while the New Zealand team stayed low.
In the final seconds, Luna Rossa had more speed as they crossed the line and passed over the kiwis who tried to luff to stop them. But the movement failed. In an identical start to the first regatta of the 36th America’s Cup, the roles had been reversed, now it was the Kiwis who were lagging behind. Barely a minute and a half into the race and the Italians had a 150m lead, sailing high and getting onto the Kiwi track. Emirates Team New Zealand was forced to tack to starboard. But the left paid and the Kiwis benefited, in addition to going fast. In another minute they had halved the distance between themselves and the Italians to 70m.
Upon reaching Gate 1, both boats took the mark on the right and went down the first section downwind, taking their time to jibe. The distance between the two was now just 50m, but you didn’t need the numbers to see the pressure the Defenders were putting on the Challengers, either upwind or downwind. The big change came after the downwind leg.
Luna Rossa led for 10 seconds and headed left leaving the kiwis to round the same mark, but turned to head right instantly after rounding the buoy. When they returned, Kiwis to starboard and Luna Rossa to port, the Italians were forced to tack behind. This allowed the Kiwis to take control of the pace. A minute later, Emirates Team New Zealand was in command completing gate 3, 19 seconds ahead.
By the end of the second section downwind, they had increased their lead to 29 seconds. And from there, the margin just grew step by step as Emirates Team New Zealand claimed a victory by crossing the finish line 58 seconds ahead of Luna Rossa.
Until now, in the 36th Copa América neither team had won two games in a row, was this the moment when the game changed?
The shift to the left that had been present in the final stages of the first race of the day had persisted forcing race director Iain Murray to change the axis of the course. The breeze had also dropped slightly and was now at 9 knots.
Luna Rossa was using a larger jib than Emirates Team New Zealand, would this be worth it in the lightest breeze?
In the area, the Italians tried to get in line with the kiwis, but very slowly. The kiwis got out of trouble momentarily.
When they turned to return, Luna Rossa was already ahead in leeward. Seconds later it was an even start with the Italians at the top end. Sailing high they managed to bounce off the kiwis, forcing them to veer to the right. If the Italians wanted the left, now they had it for themselves.
The wind stayed low, this was a different sleeve than the previous one. When they joined Luna Rossa entering from the left they were ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand, with a margin of 60 meters.
When they crossed they changed sides of the field. With the breeze now dropping to around 8-9 knots, keeping up and avoiding costly maneuvers was now key.
At the second crossing, the Italians were still ahead and had extended their lead. At the top of the field, both boats had congregated on the right side of the field. The Wind still showed signs of staying at 8-9 knots.
When Luna Rossa reached Gate 1 they were 16 seconds ahead and took the mark on the right. Kiwis took the same note. Seconds later, during the gybe, it appeared that the Italian jib could not trim properly and had been overloaded for some time, costing them distance the entire time. In a matter of seconds, the race was closed, but there was more drama to come as the breeze dropped and the kiwis dropped their hull in the water, leaving them dead.
The Luna Rossa appeared to have regained control of her jib and was still at speed, launching towards Gate 2 at 34 knots against 14 knots for the Kiwis.
When the Italians came through the gate they were almost a stage ahead and, although the next step to come was close, the boats were in different stages, the Italians almost 2 km ahead.
By the time the kiwis rounded the lower door, they were 4:08 ahead. But at Gate 3 there were problems for the Italians. The wind had dropped further and their last tack to the layline sent them tumbling off their foils. They managed to slide around the mark on the right and slide to the right side of the field. But the wind was not blowing there and the Italians could not get back on their folis.
Then came the news that the race would be shortened to 5 sections, ending at Gate 5, the last beat.
Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand kept flying and making up for lost distance. The breeze was so light that the Italians had not been able to move in the direction of the wind, compounding their problems.
Emirates Team New Zealand managed to make a clean course and stay on the foils that were dragging into the distance quickly. Now the tables were turning, the kiwis were still flying, the Italians trapped in the water and headed to the limit as the kiwis surpassed their opponents.
Penalty after penalty for the Italians as they navigated the limit. As the Kiwis continued to sail at high speed, every gybe from here was crucial to maintaining their lead. And while there was still a reasonable amount of breeze at the bottom of the stage, there was still a tricky upwind stage to come. But Emirates Team New Zealand pulled it off perfectly and although the Italians were back on their foils, they were now over 2km away with just over one stage to go.
And from there nothing changed as Emirates Team New Zealand won the second heat of the day.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism