Yachting: Team NZ show raw power

By Paul Lewis

Crushing single-sail victory by Kiwis confirms suspicions that this boat is quick.

The joke around Emirates Team New Zealand yesterday was that jib trimmer James Dagg was a worried man.

That's because the $20,000 headsail he trims was left in the drink after it came crashing down when a halyard shackle broke.

Down a sail, down on speed - it looked ominous for Team NZ as Luna Rossa closed in and Dagg was left underemployed. Then came a moment that confirmed what we all knew but had not seen in such stark detail - Emirates Team New Zealand are really, really fast.

The boat is a greyhound; the crew slick. It suggests that the Cup match everyone expects - Team NZ v Oracle - could hinge on minute detail or weather, or luck.

Yesterday, after some initial struggles with the jib, the crew recovered, slipping straight back into match-racing mode by covering the Italians' moves. Then, with the 72-foot catamaran still powered by the 40m wingsail, they pulled away.

Jib? What jib? Who needs a jib? That was the thrust of the teasing Dagg got as his job description supposedly slipped dangerously closer to "redundant".

"A bit of a holiday," was how skipper Dean Barker put it, with a wry grin. "I think the sail guys are seriously worried too that their sail budget will be slashed."

All jokes aside, this crushing victory underlined the speed of the Kiwi boat. The jib balances the boat, adding control in tacks and gybes and helping to sail closer to the wind.

"We have done a bit of sailing without a jib, but just mucking around, heading out into the [Hauraki] Gulf, not proper sailing," said Barker. "In a way it was good - you have to be able, on these short courses, to recover quickly. There is no time to jury rig anything or anything like that."

It seemed scarcely believable for those raised on traditional monohull sailing, where losing the ability to hoist a headsail would be catastrophic in a race. But the New Zealanders not only coped, they increased their lead.

They still managed a number of foiling gybes, though Barker felt some were not as good as they could have been: "It was a matter of getting used to the different balance of the boat."

Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena was not surprised by the Kiwi boat's speed, even when down a sail: "It was the first thing I said to the crew. Nothing will change, I said. They are still going to go fast.

"It's not like the old boats [America's Cup monohulls] when, in that situation, you would probably pass them upwind. But in these boats, you just put the bow down a couple of degrees and you go faster. You sail a little bit lower upwind and then downwind you can sail faster because you don't have the drag of the front sail."

The breakage happened on the way to the bottom mark the first time. At that stage, the Kiwis were about 270m up on Luna Rossa but that looked a much slimmer margin as Team NZ slowed with their flapping headsail.

As Adam Beashel painfully peeled the sail off, the race looked poised for an upset. But Team NZ increased their lead to about 280m at the next mark, consistently sailing in better pressure.

"You don't want to have reliability issues," Barker said. "We pride ourselves on being reliable and I think it's amazing how these things happen when you are racing. I mean, we have sailed 40 or 50 days in Auckland and San Francisco and we have never, ever had a failure before. You wonder why it chooses race day to do it."

By the third mark, Luna Rossa were 42 seconds down, about 380m behind. The Italians did not help themselves with a couple of slow gybes and, seeking stronger wind, they strayed over the course boundary, copping a "go slow" penalty. By the end of the race, Emirates Team New Zealand were 2m 20s ahead.

A protest looked possible for a time after the Team NZ chase boat ducked in to pick up the abandoned jib, seeming to get in the way of a closing Luna Rossa. However, it looked worse on TV than on the water - the Italians were 300m away at the time and a tack is preferable to getting a sail wrapped round a foil at that pace.

The Italians appeared relaxed about the incident.

Sirena said, with a particularly Italian shrug: "You have to win on the water. Obviously we could have continued to go straight but we will talk about it in the debrief."

- NZ Herald

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