Yachting: Barker-less Team NZ cruise

By Paul Lewis

A change of helmsman was the most striking feature of Emirates Team New Zealand's second-to-last solo sail in the 34th America's Cup this morning.

Skipper Dean Barker watched the 'race' (challenger of record Artemis was absent again) from the chase boat while Glenn Ashby steered the 72-foot catamaran round the shorter, five-leg course in about 13 knots of wind.

The move was considered rotationally sensible - if Barker should be injured or ill, his back-up needs time on the wheel . The sail was uneventful, with the boat hitting a top speed of 33 knots (showing again the ability of these giant cats to more than double the wind speed) but it will have been a valuable outing for Ashby.

His usual place as wing trimmer was taken by Adam Beashel, normally a strategist in the afterguard, with Richard Meachem coming into the crew for today's sail. The Kiwis performed well enough, with perhaps less consistency of foiling and foiling gybes though the lighter airs will have had a lot to do with that.

Artemis have been out on the Bay for the last three days, winning praise for how quickly they have managed to foil their new boat after the long haul back from May's fatal accident. They opted for a day off the water today.

It's ironic perhaps, that they decided to have a day off when they were supposed to be racing against Team NZ but America's Cup Event Authority CEO Stephen Barclay is in no doubt that the Swedish syndicate will be racing soon.

"To everyone's surprise, on day one, seeing them lift that boat out of the water...I think it was inspirational. They have been doing that for three days now and have elected to be on shore today. I am looking forward to seeing them [race]."

The marine mammals of San Francisco Bay might be grateful for the comparatively light traffic (though all the usual commercial boating will still fill the Bay). Luna Rossa think they hit a dolphin last week and definitely hit a sea lion in May.

On that occasion, they recovered the body and brought it ashore. Oracle also hit a sea lion while training but were not able to recover the animal. The 72-foot catamaran has deep (two metres) and sharp rudders and the boats go so fast that anything struck stands the chance of severe damage - to boat and obstacle. Luna Rossa's rudder was broken after last week's suspected clash with a dolphin.

It says much about yachting's rules, regulations and red tape - and about San Franciscans love for their environment - that teams have to fill out a report to the Marine Mammal Centre if they have such an encounter with a mammal.

The crews would prefer to be having encounters with other teams on the Bay, but this is hopefully the last week of solo races, with Team NZ due to meet Luna Rossa again tomorrow and one more solo sail (presumably) against Artemis scheduled for Friday (NZT).

The Louis Vuitton semifinals are set to begin on August 7 (NZT).

- Herald on Sunday

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