Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Loudest cheers for Artemis in emotional debut

Luna Rossa have taken the first point of the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, but the loudest cheers were reserved for Swedish team Artemis, which produced a creditable performance in their emotional debut at the regatta.

Artemis were well-beaten by the Italians, finishing two minutes off the pace in their first competitive outing since the horrific capsize in May that killed crewman Andrew Simpson and destroyed their first boat.

Even with a torn wingsail, Luna Rossa had a healthy speed advantage over Artemis, averaging 2-4 knots faster downwind, and were much sharper with their crew-work and manoeuvres.

But the Swedish team, who took to the race course for the first time yesterday after just nine days of training on their newly relaunched AC72, can be satisfied with many aspects of their performance.

It was a gutsy first-up effort that showed plenty of promise but the reality is the Louis Vuitton semifinals a best-of-seven series and Artemis don't have the time to fulfil that promise.

Skipper Iain Percy said that simply making it to the startline is a major win given the setbacks the team have endured in the build-up.

"We're really, really pumped in Artemis Racing and super proud," said Percy.

"To think that one week after launching we'd be sailing around the racecourse in 20 knots is beyond my wildest imagination.

"All the team support boats came over after the race and were cheering and clapping."

Showing few signs of nerves, Artemis Racing helmsman Nathan Outteridge won the start and led around the first mark, eliciting a loud round of applause from team supporters around San Francisco Bay.

But soon after the mark rounding the Swedish team gybed to port and their lack of time in the boat showed - the team's AC72 came off its hydrofoils and slowed dramatically as Luna Rossa passed the Swedes' stern and pulled off a perfect foil-to-foil gybe.

"As we knew, the difference between the boats is downwind and in manoeuvres," said Percy. "We suffer from a legacy of our boat not originally being foiling. The rudder positions and the size of the rudder elevators makes gybing harder, but we'll improve our gybes. When we're up and running and trucking I think we're fine. It's literally those transitions, and practice will help."

It was not all smooth sailing for Luna Rossa, with the crew experiencing problems before the start gun when the plastic film on the wing, known as Clysar, started peeling off the frames. Bowman Nick Hutton attempted to fix the issue with tape, but with winds averaging 16 knots the team's wingsail was not in good shape. The Italians were sailing with their first generation wing, after incurring damage to their second wing during a training run last week.

Skipper Max Sirena said he hopes the issue will be resolved for today's second race.

"Obviously, we're happy to have the point, but I'm not happy with what happened to the wing because it's something we should avoid at this level," said Sirena.

"But it's been a good day for us. I think we took some pressure off of us and for sure tomorrow we'll sail better than today. Touch wood, we'll have no problems."

- NZ Herald

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