Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Left is a long way round

The leeward gate was a new feature of the America’s Cup. It proved the undoing of Emirates Team New Zealand. Today the Kiwis repeated the error from the previous race in choosing the left-hand gate and allowing Alinghi to take the right.

Although there were many key moments in the most epic race in
America’s Cup history, it was this seemingly innocuous part of the course which would later lead to that dial-down and subsequent penalty against the Kiwis.

“The one that will haunt me until at least the next America’s Cup is the bottom gate,” Terry Hutchinson admitted. “We came into the bottom on a 138-135 wind direction. So we chose the left gate for the bias and a clean rounding, picked a nice pressure lane, the shift went our way, breeze went back a little right, and yet again they had a little piece of us.”

Brad Butterworth saw an opportunity and grabbed it, just as he had done in Race 6. “TNZ did a great job of pushing down [on the run]. Then they chose again to take the right-hand mark looking down. We did a nice job of delaying our choice until the end. It’s a big deal going round the right-hand mark, having to come round and tack without starboard rights.”

When ETNZ engaged Alinghi in a tacking duel, they were more than a boatlength ahead. At every engagement, however, the Swiss were tacking better and gaining a few metres. Eventually Hutchinson was forced to disengage and try to boatspeed around the left side of his opponent. It wasn’t enough. When Barker tacked on the layline he spun the wheel deep into a dial-down. They failed to keep clear of Alinghi and were given a penalty from which they would never recover.

Or would they? With gear failure on Alinghi’s spinnaker pole combined with a sudden windshift and drop in pressure, ETNZ nearly achieved the impossible, sweeping past Alinghi and completing their penalty oh so close to the finish line. Alinghi limped past to leeward, no one knew who’d won until the blue flag went aloft on the committee boat. It was Alinghi. By 1 second.

The 5-2 score does no justice to how tight this contest was throughout. As Grant Simmer said after Race 6, this America’s Cup was a battle of metres. Today it was a battle of millimetres.

No comments: