Alinghi, the Swiss defending holder of The America's Cup have successfully defended their their crown by defeating Emirates Team New Zealand, 5 races to 2 in the best of nine series.
With strong winds approaching the maximum permissible for racing to take place, and good waves and strong sunshine, everything was set for good sailing. Past record would suggest that Alinghi's SUI100 vessel had an advantage in stronger winds, especially when downwind; the surprise of the Cup to date was how well New Zealand coped in such conditions.
The start saw the Kiwis pursuing Alinghi around the start box, with both boats crossing the start simultaneously - no delta at all as the race began. Emirates Team New Zealand might just have got the better of the upwind gusts to begin with, but ten minutes in, the advantage line was less than a boat length - all to play for. The swell kept the teams on their toes - these were conditions to punish any errors!
Alinghi managed to stay in touch with the Kiwis to prevent the challengers from getting sufficient advantage to cross and keep the advantage to the mark and the downwind 2nd leg, and Alinghi rounded the mark with a 7 second advantage - approaching a boat length but not quite.
A poorly executed series of gybes by Alinghi who struggled to keep their spinnaker filled enabled Team New Zealand to sit in front and serve Alinghi plenty of dirty air. The cost to Alinghi? The loss of their 7 second advantage and to round the mark with a 14 second deficit.
Tricky seas made a spectacle of the upwind tacking duel, both boats coming to an almost dead halt several times as high crests proved an obstacle. Much as the first leg, Team New Zealand seemed unable to address a closing Alinghi.
The approach to the final mark confirmed the win for Alinghi. Team New Zealand failed to observe the rules of dial down and avoid hindering the course of the opponents; Alinghi were forced to bear away, putting a penalty on the Kiwis. Worse still, Alinghi rounded the mark 12 seconds ahead. And the Kiwis have to serve their penalty by performing a 270 degree turn before the finish (or force a cancelling penalty on Alinghi - but they'd need to be in front to have any hope of that!).
On the run to the line the winds dropped significantly. The Kiwis put their headsail up; Alinghi suffered equipment failure with the Spinnaker boom; SUI100 stalled completely while the Kiwis took the advantage; as the Swiss team fought to regain control of their hardware to set sail and get the boat travelling, Team New Zealand raced ahead, looking likely to have sufficient advantage to take their penalty and still win. In classic sporting action, Alinghi struggled to find speed, as Team New Zealand fought to accelerate to the line. In the end, Alinghi made it, with an advantage of just 1 second, perhaps only 3-5 meters, an extraordinarily small margin by which a major sporting success was achieved.
This Cup, the first acknowledged series in Europe, has been a thrilling spectacle, and has featured some excellent sailing. Alinghi have proved themselves to be consistently excellent, and clearly the 31st wasn't just luck. To their credit, Team New Zealand ably demonstrated that they've improved greatly in the last 4 years - they were white washed by Alinghi 5-0 in the final of the 31st America's Cup - but alas again their efforts weren't enough.
During the first America's Cup back on 22nd August 1851, having witnessed the Yacht 'America' cross the line to win the race, Queen Victoria asked who had come second, to which came the reply, 'Ma'am, there is no second'. So it is today for Emirates Team New Zealand, who will have to return to Europe for the 33rd challenge in order to settle the score.
The Afterguard will fill the gap to the next cup by following the progress of TeamOrigin, Britain's recently formed team attempting to win the 33rd and 34th America's Cup, so check back soon.
Tuesday, 3 July 2007