Tuesday, July 03, 2007

America's Cup Match - Day 8: Alinghi wins most thrilling race ever

We couldn't have asked for a better race to drop the curtain of the 32nd America's Cup in Valencia. Alinghi won by just 1 second after a nail biting, roller-coaster race where the lead changed a handful of times and wind speed dropped from 15 to 2 knots a couple of hundred of meters from the finish line.

When the gun was fired at 3pm, weather conditions where excellent. It was a sunny, bright and the sea breeze was constant and strong at 15 knots. Once again, the prestart was intense but without any incidents. In fact during the 7 races of the 32nd America's Cup Match, no penalties were given during the prestarts. Both boats hit the starting line at full speed on starboard tack, Emirates Team Nz on the left and Alinghi on the right.

In a replay of the previous first legs, Alinghi was the first to tack right. The two teams engaged in a tacking duel up the first beat with the New Zealanders always having a small lead. Nevertheless, Alinghi successfully defended the right side and NZL-92 never built the necessary advantage to cross ahead of SUI-100. At the apporach to the top mark, Alinghi pushed Emirates Team NZ over the left layline and rounded 7 seconds ahead of them.

In the first run the tables were turned. Alinghi's crew work was poor and after a couple of very bad gybes, the New Zealanders took the opportunity to pass them. As the two boats were approaching the leeward gate with NZL-92 ahead, history was repeated again. Terry Hutchinson, the New Zealand tactician, again decided to round the left gate while Alinghi went for the right.

The kiwis still rounded the gate 14 seconds ahead of the Swiss but they started the second beat in a tactically-compromised position. Both boats headed to the right side of the course, but again Alinghi had the right advantage. Once again, Emirates Team NZ were unable to gain a lead big enough to cross in front of Alinghi and in the ensuing tacking duel up the beat, the Swiss were closely behind. Adding insult to injury, near the top mark the kiwis took a decision that cost them the race. They went beyond the left layline. While tacking back, Ed Baird had strategically placed SUI-100 to force the kiwis into a port-starboard incident and get them penalized.

It seemed the race was over and Alinghi rounded the top mark ahead of the kiwis and with the advantage of the penalty. During the last leg the press releases talking of Alinghi's victory were getting ready until the winds decided, momentarily, it wouldn't be that easy.

A few hundred meters before the finish line, wind dropped from 11 knots to 2-3 and changed in direction about 120 degrees. Emirates Team NZ were first to drop the spinnaker and hoist their genoa, but Alinghi was caught by surprised. The huge wind shift broke their spinnaker pole and brought their boat to standstill. By the time they dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the genoa, NZL-92 not only had advanced and erased the Swiss advantage, they had gained enough lead to carry out their penalty and still be ahead.

As a result, a few meters before the finish line, the kiwis were ahead and looked as if they were going to steal a last-second victory. Nevertheless, the winds switched back to Alinghi's favor. After circling, NZL-92 stalled while SUI-100 had already picked up enough speed. The last seconds were a real thriller. Alinghi was faster and crossed a split second ahead!!!! Without any doubt this was the best race I watched in Valencia since the beginning of the America's Cup.

Emirates Team NZ and Alinghi in the prestart of the last race of the 32nd America's Cup. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Emirates Team NZ and Alinghi in the prestart of the last race of the 32nd America's Cup. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Emirates Team NZ and Alinghi in the prestart of the last race of the 32nd America's Cup. The prestart was close but without any incidents. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Both boats hit the starting line at full speed at the same time. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

The first stretch of the first leg was a repeat of previous ones. Both boats on starboard tack head toward the left layline. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

One of the many tacks during the first leg. Emirates Team NZ never built a lead big enough to cross in front of Alinghi. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

One of Alinghi's poorly executed gybes in the first run that gave Emirates Team NZ the opportunity to pass ahead. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

At the approach to the leeward gate Emirates Team NZ were leading the race. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Emirates Team NZ go left at the leeward gate and Alinghi right. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Again one of the many tacks of the second beat. Emirates Team NZ were again unable to cross in front of Alinghi. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Halfway down the last leg Emirates Team NZ were able to shrink most of Alinghi's lead, but still had the penalty to offload. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

It ain't over till it's over. While everybody was preparing for Alinghi's victory, the Swiss got caught by the huge wind shift and the edge of their spinnaker pole broke. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Alinghi are struggling to hoist the genoa... Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

but when Alinghi finally managed to sort out the problems with the genoa and spinnaker... Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Kiwi adrenaline was pumping hard as NZL-92 had picked up speed. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

Emirates Team NZ successfully offloaded their penalty under the watchful eyes of the umpires... Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

... and it appeared they were going to cross the finish line ahead of Alinghi... Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

... but the wind changed its mind once again and a small puff pushed Alinghi ahead. They crossed the finish line a mere second ahead of the kiwis. Valencia, 3 July 2007. Photo copyright Pierre Orphanidis / Valencia Sailing

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1 Comments:

At 10:17 AM, Anonymous trebormat said...

Thanks for all nice photos during this cup.
"he kiwis took a decision that cost them the race." Why Deano took this decision ?
I find some video for this thriller day on this blog (here). It's bad quality but it's very interesting. The blog is in french but the video are in english.
Yet, thanks a lot for your nice photo in high quality.
Mat

 

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