Yachting: Team NZ win another solo 'race'

By Paul Lewis, in San Francisco

Team New Zealand raced alone for the third time. Photo / Chris Cameron/ETNZ
Team New Zealand raced alone for the third time. Photo / Chris Cameron/ETNZ

It was a 'testing' day for Emirates Team New Zealand in their solo sail, another race against no one, today.

That's testing as in trying things out as opposed to testing as in being physically and mentally extended. But as grinder Rob Waddell said after the "race" against no-shows Artemis - still desperately trying to get their second boat ready for the water - just sailing the giant 72-foot AC72 catamarans is always a test.

"It was a bit of a testing day today," he said when asked about the rationale of the Kiwis plumping for the 5-leg short course today as opposed to the normal 7-leg long course for the Louis Vuitton racing at this regatta. The giant catamarans contain so much technology - the daggerboards, the wing, the jib and the hydraulics, to name just a few - that no chance is missed to fine-tune the leading edge mechanics of the boat.

However, Team NZ has made much of using the race days, even the non-opposed variety, to polish their crew work.

"We are racing ourselves at the end of the day," said ETNZ pitman Jeremy Lomas.

"But there's heaps to improve on from yesterday [when they raced Luna Rossa] and today is about improving things."

"I think we did improve from yesterday," said Waddell. "The key thing in these boats is timing. You have to get the timing right; it makes a huge difference."

Waddell said he is 5-6 kilograms lighter than for the last America' s Cup campaign in 2007 on the old version 5 America's Cup monohulls: "I was heavier and stronger then - and I needed to be. I don't think anything is more intense than these boats [the AC72s] but they are more of a sprint.

"I'd compare it to boxing really - you have to be fit, fast and strong. We have been doing a lot of boxing training - you know, we don't get in the ring and hit each other but there's been a lot of bag and pads work."

Waddell added: "The old boats were a risk too - but not as much as these ones - and you could feel the strain in them from the 50 tonnes of ballast in the bottom to the top of the mast. You could feel the pressure on the boat trying to tear it apart and it made all sorts of moans and groans.

"It was physically exciting going round the bottom mark with the spinnaker up and in big seas. You had to be really on your game. Well, these boats [the AC72s] are faster than that and still very physical but it really comes down to timing; that's the key - when you do what you do. There are so many different systems on this boat, we just have to make sure we are doing the best we can."

The Louis Vuitton round robin races and semifinals are sailed on the longer almost-16 mile course. When the racing shifts to two races per day - for the Louis Vuitton final and the Cup match - it shifts to the shorter course of just under 10 nautical miles. But the teams have agreed - there's an unusual sentence pertaining to the America's Cup - that they can opt to sail the shorter course if they are on a solo run, with no opposition.

They can also choose to race for only five minutes, after which time the black flag (denoting a disqualification) is flown to mark the non-appearance of the opponent. But there's precious little training and testing time in five minutes and the big catamarans are so difficult to sail that time on the water, even after a year of hard work (for ETNZ), is essential.

That pay-off was seen yesterday, when the New Zealand boat blitzed the Italian challenge of Luna Rossa. Boat speed is one factor, crew work another and the Kiwis showed the value of time on the water and good teamwork as well as the technological advances they have made from version one of their boat (which the Italians have) and version two.

Today, the expected heavier winds forecast in the morning did not eventuate for the Team NZ race. Supposed to be 18-20 knots and thus on the cusp of the allowable limit of 20 knots, the changeable breeze (Waddell called it "puffy") dropped away to an average of 16 knots a little at race time.

Team NZ crossed the start line doing 28 knots, as opposed to the 30-plus knots they exposed Luna Rossa to yesterday. As the race progressed, they hit a top speed of nearly 41 knots, almost the same as yesterday.

- Herald on Sunday

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