It was another difficult day to be racing on the waters off Valencia. The wind was strong, but still very shifty, and no lead was safe until the finish line had been crossed. But in these very difficult conditions, it was the Defender of the America’s Cup, Alinghi, who excelled, earning two race victories to vault into the overall lead.
Behind them, the mixed up results mean five boats are within two points of second place, with BMW ORACLE Racing and Emirates Team New Zealand a shade ahead of Desafío Español, Mascalzone Latino – Capitalia Team and Luna Rossa.
The second race was where the action was on Wednesday, as strong conditions early in the race tested men and machine. A very close first leg saw nearly the entire fleet converge at the top mark, and in close quarters, the new mast on +39 Challenge came tumbling down. Shortly afterwards, United Internet Team Germany who were in close proximity when the +39 Challenge rig came down, also retired from the race. Then, on the second beat upwind, Shosholoza saw its jib pull out of the forestay track, pushing the South Africans to the back of the fleet. They would go on to finish the race however.
Then, on the final run to the finish, the race turned upside down with trailing boats bringing wind down the course with them. At one point, just a few hundred metres from the finishing line, at least six boats appeared capable of earning the victory. Alinghi emerged from the pack, tacking on the downwind run, and squeezing in ahead of a charging Luna Rossa.
On Tuesday it was Alinghi who had to restart, but today in a strong 16-knot breeze it was BMW ORACLE Racing and Areva Challenge who broke the line. Alinghi’s Ed Baird was late into the right-hand of the line and had to tack away to find clear air. Not that this was a bad move because it meant the Defender was one of the first teams over to the rain cloud that was skewing the breeze around to the right.
Desafío Español led in the early stages and was tussling with Alinghi up the right-hand side. However, at the first mark Alinghi had taken a narrow lead ahead of Spain, with Luna Rossa a few boatlengths back and just ahead of Shosholoza in 4th place. With the wind having shifted so severely, the downwind leg called for an early gybe and in the strong conditions this really showed the teams with the best boathandling. BMW ORACLE Racing executed a perfect gybe-set and soon leapt from 8th up to 4th, while the Kiwis climbed from 5th to 3rd place.
Luna Rossa slipped back into 5th with the team now leading a trio of Italian boats in the middle of the fleet – Luna Rossa, Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team and +39 Challenge. With the wind so far round to the right, the whole fleet sailed directly to the leeward gate so there were few overtaking lanes. However China Team slipped further behind when its boom vang broke, allowing the mainsail to sky up in the air, billowing and uncontrolled.
The Race Committee moved the windward mark to realign the course for the final lap, but by now gaps had started to appear in the fleet, with Alinghi appearing strong at the head of the fleet. Around the final mark, Victory Challenge slipped to 11th after a tight mark rounding, allowed Areva Challenge and United Internet Team Germany to sweep past.
After a final gybe that looked a little out of control, Ed Baird maintained a firm grip on SUI 91 to finish first ahead of Desafio Espanol who looked delighted with 2nd place in a testing race.
At the start, it was Desafío Español’s turn to break the line too early, forcing the green boat back to restart. BMW ORACLE and Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team took excellent starts and these teams respectively took charge of the left and right-hand side of the first windward leg. Alinghi had made a poor start and was forced off to the right-hand side in the wake of Mascalzone, but Ed Baird turned on the afterburners aboard SUI 91 to seize the lead at the first mark.
Just behind Alinghi and Mascalzone, the fleet was converging on the windward mark from both sides of the course and the boats came dangerously close to each other – this was when the +39 mast came down and the German team retired from the race.
Things settled down for a while, but towards the top of the final windward leg, BMW ORACLE found a good windshift to pull back on level terms with Alinghi and sneak around the top mark just ahead. Chris Dickson sailed to a lead of a few boatlengths down the final run, but the wind had a nasty surprise in store. First it died, then a new wind arrived from a new direction. As the new wind arrived, the boats were struggling to make the finish with their spinnakers and foredeck crew hurriedly scrambled to hoist jibs as the wind switched around 180 degrees. Spinnakers were flailing wildly and BMW ORACLE’s spinnaker pole shattered under the load.
Then the wind died again, and with just 200 metres to the finish, any one of six or seven teams could have won the race. In the end Alinghi scrambled across the line first, ahead of two teams that had not featured in the race until the moment it mattered, with Luna Rossa and the Spanish stealing 2nd and 3rd. BMW ORACLE, after a fortunate victory yesterday couldn’t repeat the experience, falling to 7th across the line.