Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Drama as fleet racing wraps up

Team New Zealand have made a seamless transition into the new era of America's Cup racing, taking out the preliminary rounds at the first world series regatta in Cascais.

The team have dominated the early events of the new-look regatta format, where the competing teams race identical wing-sailed catamarans.

Emirates Team NZ topped the leaderboard on 35 points at the end of fleet racing, and had the fastest run through in the 500m speed trial with a top speed of 42.35km/h.

Second overall at the fleet racing was Oracle Racing 5, skippered by Russell Coutts, on 31 points and third was Artemis on 29 points.

The regatta now moves on to the match-racing stages, where Dean Barker said his crew would be looking to complete a clean sweep.

"We are happy how it went," said Barker. "But we know we have a lot to keep up with. It's nice; a good feeling to start the week, but there is a lot we need to improve on."

Team NZ also scooped the prize for most dramatic incident of the day. In the last of the fleet races yesterday Barker and his crew of Glenn Ashby, Ray Davies, Winston Macfarlane and James Dagg, got off to a flawless start and quickly built a commanding 300m lead.

Halfway into the race Barker's lead looked unassailable as he relentlessly extended. But disaster struck as they rounded the second mark when Macfarlane, one of the big grinders on board, was washed overboard.

Macfarlane was grinding a winch when the winch handle snapped and he lost his balance as the boat accelerated out of the turn.

While Macfarlane swam to safety and hauled himself on to the nearby mark-boat, Barker's crew had to sail the rest of the course short-handed.

Sailing the second half of the race with just four men meant their crew work was slower and they had less weight on the side of the boat to balance the power of the wing rig. Coutts could smell blood and attacked the vulnerable Kiwi crew on the final beat to the finish, finally stealing victory in the dying moments of the race. Barker said that the lack of Macfarlane's 100kg was sorely felt on the upwind leg.

"We were doing all right downwind, but missed Winston on the beat," he said.

Despite the loss in the race, Emirates Team NZ could claim an historic double win on the day, launching their campaign for the 34th America's Cup in style.

- NZ Herald

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