America's Cup: The beast emerges in San Fran

By Paul Lewis

Remember the story of the US woman who had her face and hands torn off by her pet chimpanzee a couple of years ago? A horrific tale it was, an animal seemingly tamed and at peace with its handlers suddenly reverting to a wild state.

That tale came to mind when Emirates Team NZ's 72-foot catamaran Aotearoa came close to disaster yesterday during the first Louis Vuitton Cup final race against Luna Rossa, burying its bows beneath the waves.

The woman was well known to the chimp. It was her boss's pet but the woman knew it well. When the 14-year-old, 95kg chimp tried to escape, Charla Nash felt in no danger trying to restrain Travis.

The beast emerged. He tore off her hands and her face - her skin, her nose, her lips, eyelids, leading to years of reconstructive surgery.

The beast emerged in Team NZ's AC72 yesterday too. The boat was doing over 40 knots through a turn when the bows dug down, so far that it looked like they may only emerge somewhere near China.

Spectators gasped; it seemed inevitable that the regatta would have its third serious capsize after Oracle and Artemis. It was also a rare mistake for a skipper and crew who have won universal plaudits for their polished handling of these marine menaces - perhaps leading to a feeling of over-confidence, among observers anyway, that the chimp was safely in its cage.

The force of the impact was so great that crewmen Rob Waddell and Chris Ward, both big, powerful men, were flung overboard. Team NZ carried on and won the race - Luna Rossa were disabled by a broken daggerboard - but they may have been just inches from disaster.

Their bows had enough buoyancy to pop the giant catamaran up like a cork - and the boat's build remained true; only superficial damage to the fairings and the trampoline were reported at first and Team NZ reported no structural damage incurred straight after the race.

ETNZ have always been at pains to point out to media and observers that they are only ever one sail away from a disaster; the AC72s are the racing thoroughbreds of the yachting world -highly-strung, on the edge and capable of brilliance but also capable of taking a bite out of the handler's shoulder.

Sympathy for Team NZ skipper Dean Barker came from the man who could be his arch-rival in the America's Cup match next month, Jimmy Spithill.

"These boats are so powered up that if you make a mistake, they will tell on you," he said. "I only saw it on the replay but it looked bad." Asked if he knew what mistake the Kiwis had made, he said: "No, it was too quick."

Barker echoed the sentiments immediately after the race, telling interviewers: "It wasn't that extreme, but if you don't get everything right in these boats, you make it tough [for yourself].

Last night, Team NZ would have been thankful nothing vital was ripped off and corrective surgery was not required. But they will know they had a narrow escape.

Team boss and crew member Grant Dalton said he didn't know what had happened and wouldn't before the team unpicked matters.

"We took a big puff, I know that, but we never got close to pitch-polling [when the boat capsizes stern over bow]. That is testimony to some of the decisions that have been made. The bows went in but it stayed straight and came out.

"There's always drama in the first day [of the Louis Vuitton]; it's must be written in the bloody stones or something - something always happens in that first day. Still, that should get the ratings up."

- Herald on Sunday

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