Alinghi stumble

On another stunning day of America's Cup racing in Trapani

Monday October 3rd 2005, Author: Peter Rusch, Location: Italy
There was more sparkling action at the Trapani Louis Vuitton Acts on Sunday and the America's Cup Park was again filled to capacity as tens of thousands came down to enjoy the action, on a day full of important matches for the middle teams on the points table.

K-Challenge had an excellent day, earning two more wins, taking the French to five points from seven starts; that is the most victories the team has earned in a Louis Vuitton Act this year.

The highlight of the first flight today was an excellent tussle between Desafío Español and Shosholoza. The South Africans are sailing extremely well in Trapani, and gave Spain everything it could handle.

In the second flight the most interesting race was a surprising one - Alinghi had to battle back from a broken mainsail halyard moments after the start to overhaul United Internet Team Germany. The Germans were several hundred metres ahead by the time Alinghi fixed the problem and had the mainsail re-hoisted. But the Swiss were able to turn on the afterburners to run down the Germans before the first lap of the course was complete, thus keeping a perfect record for the season intact.

Conditions were fine for racing again on Sunday with 7 to 12 knot southerlies caressing the race courses off Trapani, the early sunshine highlighting the stunning backdrop of the Egadi Islands. It became more overcast as the afternoon wore on, and the second flight of matches started under squall clouds which generated tricky wind shifts. The sun was back by the end of the day however, and the teams returned to port with the sun settling to the west over the islands.

Flight six

China Team held its own in the pre-start against BMW Oracle and the two boats split tacks off the line. However, Chris Dickson soon tacked over to exert his advantage on Pierre Mas. China Team then lost a man overboard and because he was returned to the boat by one of the Umpire boats nearby, the Chinese had to accept a penalty. The American boat won by 3 minutes 22 seconds.

"After rounding the mark, we had one of our crew fall in the water because of problems with spinnaker handling," explained China Team's Philippe Mourniac. "Yesterday one of our foredeck people, Yannick, hurt his hand so we had to move people around which creates problems with crewwork."

Victory Challenge and Emirates Team New Zealand rolled off the line absolutely even, although the Kiwis had a slight pin-end advantage to the left of the Swedes. Dean Barker always had a speed edge in this race and sailed away to win.

K-Challenge led Sicily's +39 Challenge off the line by a second, bouncing the Italians off to the right. A tacking duel ensued, but K-Challenge maintained a slim advantage around the first mark. As the boats approached the leeward gate, K-Challenge's kite exploded and +39 pounced, surging past. However the Italians messed up their spinnaker drop, the big sail falling into the water in front of the boat, stopping them dead. The French rounded the mark safely and by the time Iain Percy got his bright blue boat under control again, K-Challenge was over 700 metres ahead and on its way to victory.

United Internet Team Germany won a penalty against Luna Rossa, the Italians failing to keep clear as windward boat during their pre-start dogfight. However, Luna Rossa pulled back the lead, rounding the first mark up by 39 seconds. The Italians eked out a sufficient advantage to offload their penalty up the second beat and the won the race by a comfortable margin.

Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team escaped the pre-start clutches of Alinghi, although the Swiss led the Italians off the line. The 'Latin Rascals' kept a tight game on the Swiss for much of the race, ready to pounce on any mistake by the Defenders. But no gift was forthcoming and Alinghi won its 28th consecutive match this year.

Shosholoza scored a beautiful start, leading Desafío Español off the line by half a boatlength. But the green boat held a small speed advantage and dragged the South Africans all the way to the port layline. Ian Ainslie and his team put Karol Jablonski's Spaniards under immense pressure all the way round the course but the Spanish held their nerve to cross the line 26 seconds ahead.

Flight seven

Victory won the pre-start as BMW Oracle struggled to get past the pin end of the starting line. But the Americans soon brought USA 76 up to pace and pulled past SWE 63. Magnus Holmberg kept the race tight down the first run to trail Chris Dickson by just 22 seconds at the leeward gate. The Swedes showed excellent pace in this contest and put the Americans under increasing pressure, coming home just 19 seconds behind.

BMW Oracle trimmer Paul Westlake later gave his opinion of the Swedish boat: "SWE 63 is a really good boat in under 13 knots. On the first beat we were in our comfort zone - it was around 14 knots - and then it got lighter on the second beat and they caught up to us a bit. The top half of the beat we were in 7 or 8 knots, and we had some really flat sails on, and we were struggling for power in that shifty, light air. They sailed really well upwind and they sailed aggressively. It was impressive.”

Emirates Team New Zealand gained control of +39 Challenge in the pre-start and herded the Italians well over to the right of the start line. Iain Percy sought refuge by using a media boat as a blocker, to get rid of Dean Barker and find a clear path back to the start box. However, +39 made a poor final approach to the line and the Kiwis won the start. The Italians gave the Kiwis a fight up the first beat, trailing by only 18 seconds at the first mark. +39 continued to match Kiwi speed and finished close behind, a good recovery for the Italians after a disappointing first match.

K-Challenge started slightly closer to the start line and took up immediate control of the match against China Team. Thierry Peponnet's crew looked very comfortable as they went on to score their second victory of the day in a straightforward match. The French team now comfortably hold the fifth place spot behind the 'big four' teams. "“We feel better, as each day goes on we come more together as a team, and our boat handling gets better and better," said grinder Christophe André of their fifth win in Trapani. "I know the changes to the afterguard are maybe a new mix for us. The communications are perhaps easier because Seb (Sébastien Col) and Thierry Peponnet speak in French. As for being in fifth place, we’re happy and confident, but we can’t lose our focus. We have to stay focussed.”

Luna Rossa took the fight to Shosholoza in the pre-start. While both boats were late to cross the line, the Italians led the South Africans by two boatlengths past the Race Committee boat and controlled the race from there. However, Shosholoza continues to show good form and kept the deficit to less than a minute at the finish.

United Internet Team Germany had a slightly better start against Alinghi, and then things went dramatically wrong for the Swiss. "We were winding in the main sheet and there was a big bang," recounted Peter Holmberg. "Immediately we looked around to see what it was, looked up and saw that the mainsail halyard lock mechanism had broken and so right away Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen hooked himself onto a halyard and shot up the rig. He effected a good temporary repair and once he gave us the go ahead, we sheeted the main back on and then eventually he came down. It probably took 5 to 8 minutes all told and the German team had got ahead of us. But once we were able to sheet back on and put the mighty beast Alinghi back on the wind."

Holmberg added that they had previous discussed a game plan for this type of incident - standard breakages such as the pole, boom, etc about a week or two ago. "We hadn’t rehearsed it but we had discussed a plan for it. It’s a good opportunity for us to have some adversity like this, prior to the big races coming along - a good little fire drill for everybody. The team coped well.”

By the time the Defenders had got back up to speed, the German lead appeared unassailable. But incredibly, SUI 75 turned on the afterburners to close to just 10 seconds behind GER 72 by the first mark. Down the first run, a tear opened up on the German spinnaker and it got bigger until it exploded. Jesper Bank's team responded quickly, hoisting a replacement sail within seconds. But the damage was done and Alinghi swept past. The speed of SUI 75 is undeniable and Ed Baird kept a perfect record for the team.

"It's scary stuff, how much they've got in reserve when they need to come back. They have an extra gear,” said United Internet skipper Jesper Bank later of the Swiss defenders.

Some aggressive pre-start manoeuvring between Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team and Desafío Español saw a penalty given against the Italians. Both boats started even but the Spanish gained a small advantage up the first beat. The green boat led by two boatlengths down the first run, but the Ferrari-red Italians rolled past their rivals and rounded the leeward gate 8 seconds to the good. Mascalzone took control of the race up the final beat and rounded the last mark 20 seconds in the lead. The Italians attempted a last-ditch luffing match on the Spanish hoping to unload their penalty by giving one to the Spanish, but the plan didn't work and Desafío sailed by to cross the line first.

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