Only a Rizla in it...

The fag paper metaphor is back in a desperately close first race...

It’s arguable that the first race of the Louis Vuitton Final was decided before Luna Rossa and Emirates TNZ even entered the pre-start box – if you assume that from the moment the weather calls were made, both crews would execute the rest of the race almost perfectly. I was always told that if we assume anything in sailboat racing it will make an ass out of u and me, but that’s pretty much the way it played out. There were no pre-start fireworks – ETNZ wanted the right, and Luna Rossa were happy with the left. But it was the right that came good at the first cross, and ETNZ kept a narrow advantage to win by eight seconds.

So, those weather calls… Luna Rossa’s navigator, Michele Ivaldi did the initial post-race interview and said that their call was not a ‘must-have’ right – which is the name for a race track when you absolutely, gotta have the right-hand side to win. In fact, they thought there might be a little more pressure to the left.

In contrast, Ray Davies is ETNZ’s race boat contact point for Roger Badham’s weather team, and when he was interviewed afterwards he said that they felt that neither side was particularly favoured, but that on such an even track it would be a long way round for a boat on the left trying to pass a starboard tacker.

And so a conventional dial-up was broken up by Luna Rossa, leading away downwind into the pre-start box, with the Kiwis ignoring a circle from the Italians and continuing downwind. So it was ETNZ that made the gybe onto starboard and back towards the line first. And I think the timing of this Kiwi gybe was perfect (calculated by navigator Kevin Hall), because when the Italians chose to gybe in front of them, Luna Rossa knew there was too much ‘time to burn’ (the spare time they have left to the start gun, over and above the time it’ll take to sail at full speed back to the line) for them to comfortably lead back to the line and hold the right. And if they went past the Kiwis, there wasn’t enough ‘time to burn’ to push the Kiwis back to the line and over early.

So when Luna Rossa started their gybe in front of Emirates TNZ, and the Kiwis turned up sharply to take the right, the Italians – bearing in mind that their weather call was a neutral, best-start – had to sail a little further downwind to make the hook impossible, before making their gybe to starboard and setting up to leeward of ETNZ. With both boats happy with their sides, that was pretty much the deal. Luna Rossa closed it up to get tight-to-leeward, but not close enough (and perhaps it should have been) to get the Kiwis to tack immediately after the start before they’d fully accelerated. And that meant a completely even start.

When ETNZ did tack to port, Luna Rossa followed them and what we then saw was an extraordinarily even display of boat speed. In the end it was a little right hand shift that made the difference, and when ETNZ took it out of the right hand corner, Luna Rossa couldn’t quite make the leebow stick and that was the race. Another right hand puff took ETNZ away another length just before the first windward mark and it was enough to make their downwind lead defensible.

But the Kiwis had to defend hard all the way round, despite the wind continuing to go right. It could have gone either way even on the penultimate gybe. Luna Rossa tried to pick a perfect layline from over a mile out, which put pressure on ETNZ to either go with them – and risk getting rolled – or carry on and gybe with their air clear behind the Italians. ETNZ believed there was a little bit more race track in front of them (Kevin Hall again), calmly sailed on and gybed with air clear behind. The Kiwis laid the line beautifully, with just a final defensive gybe, to finish at the advantaged committee boat end of the line.

It was a day of great subtlety, with all the big and little things being done almost perfectly on both boats. But it was Michele Ivaldi that pointed out in his post race interview what Luna Rossa will take away from today - they finished just eight seconds behind the Kiwis, after being on the wrong side of a wind shift from 105 to 140 degrees through the race. That tells you there is nothing between the boats – if we hadn’t already worked that out, watching them sail upwind and down at identical speeds, with flawless crew work…

Don’t give up your seat, there’s plenty more to come in this series.

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©