Al Dente

Like the pasta, it was a tough day out there for the Italians in the second race of the Louis Vuitton Final.

Emirates TNZ won the first cross again, but this time they extended at every mark to win by 40 seconds and go 2-0 up in the series. It’s not the defeat so much as the manner of it – unlike yesterday, when we saw two boats separated by the merest whisper, today the Kiwis looked much more in control.

ETNZ grabbed the race right from the get-go – no difference over the weather calls today, both boats looked like, and stated afterwards, that they wanted the right hand side. So while things started in a similar fashion to yesterday, it played out differently. ETNZ was the starboard entry boat and they bailed out of the dial-up pretty early and led into a circle, which Luna Rossa ignored to take the game deep into the pre-start box. It was the Italian’s turn to gybe back to the line first, and give ETNZ the choice of whether to turn inside them or go beyond them.

And here’s where the game changed, instead of a quick gybe and luff up towards the line as ETNZ did yesterday, Luna Rossa gybed and then continued downwind on starboard. As they did so, they got further downwind of the starboard tack layline for the committee boat. That appeared to give ETNZ the opportunity to tack round onto starboard, and take the right. Perhaps there was some confusion about where the layline was on Luna Rossa, or maybe they were actually considering taking the left at that point – because that’s almost how it looked – or perhaps I’m missing something… Either way, we now had the same set-up as yesterday, with Luna Rossa on the left, separated by some distance to leeward – but now they made it clear that they did want the right.

As they did yesterday, the Italians tacked to port, towards ETNZ, to close the separation up – but this time they did it more aggressively and the Kiwis responded in kind. Dean Barker bore away on starboard to point at Luna Rossa, and Jimmy Spithill ended up almost sailing away from the line to avoid ETNZ. The Kiwis made a show of waving flags, but I don’t think they expected the penalty and they didn’t get it – the move had already achieved its goal.

Although Luna Rossa had got to the right, they had to go a long way round to get it – they now had to luff up and tack back, and ended up trailing ETNZ towards the line without enough time on the clock to really push the Kiwis hard. The Italians had a go at getting the hook, but the Kiwis did a great job in the final approach and started right on Luna Rossa’s leebow – the Italians started slow and had to tack away off the line. So by the time ETNZ had settled and tacked to go with them, the Kiwis had about a length lead.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it got worse, as – ironically, given that both teams wanted the right so badly - the Kiwis eased out another length on a little puff that came from the left. So when Luna Rossa finally had to tack to avoid getting trapped in the right hand corner, ETNZ won the first cross by two lengths and had a comfortable lead. They never looked back. The Italians threw tacks at them upwind and gybes at them downwind, but ETNZ never really looked threatened – in contrast to yesterday.

So what was the difference? ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies confirmed at the press conference that the Kiwis had a different mainsail up today, because there was less wind at the start. Given that yesterday the breeze dropped quite a bit during the race, and ended up lighter than today, the Kiwis were presumably struggling with an under-range mainsail on yesterday’s second beat. I think that Luna Rossa had the same sail up both days - that might be a bit of the difference. There were also a lot more spectator boats out, perhaps the biggest fleet so far, and the water was more chopped up – opinion has been that the Italian boat might struggle a bit in a seaway.

But I don’t think we should take anything away from the tactical job that they did aboard the ETNZ. Terry Hutchinson sailed it a little looser today – the bigger gap up the first beat gave him that opportunity and he took it. He did a great job of getting in phase with the breeze and giving Torben Grael and Luna Rossa the choice between a rock and a hard place – follow ETNZ, or take a split on a bad shift with nothing to hope for except Italian luck changing. It didn’t, and it’s left Luna Rossa in a hole and looking for the way out.

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Mark Chisnell ©