Dana Johannsen

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Yachting: Team NZ plunge into 'death zone' ... but race on to win

Crew shrug off bumps and bruises and concentrate on repairs for today's racing.

Faced with a torrent of water blasting at him as the bows of Team New Zealand's high-powered catamaran crashed into the water, grinder Chris McAsey clung on and wondered if "it was our turn" to capsize.

Team NZ narrowly avoided disaster in yesterday's opening race of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, after the bows of their AC72 became buried in the water while performing a difficult manoeuvre as they transitioned from upwind to downwind - often referred to in sailing as the "death zone".

As the bows dug in, the boat slowed from 40.7 knots to 13 in the space of a boat-length - the sudden deceleration combined with the huge wash of water pitching Rob Waddell and Chris Ward overboard.

"It took me back to my childhood days back on the west coast down in Taranaki with a six-foot wall of water coming over you, there wasn't much time to think when it was happening," said McAsey.

"I was just holding on so tight, I don't think I've ever held on to anything so tight in my life."

Sitting towards the front of the boat, McAsey bore the full force of the tonnes of water that flooded over the bows, but believes his teammates fared worse as they were collected by crew sent flying in the wash.

"I bore the brunt of the water, I think the guys behind me bore the brunt of each other. There's quite a few bruises about and I think they're from the guys in front getting washed back on to them," said McAsey.

"All I remembered is someone linked their arm with me - that was Derek Saward as it turned out - and he was also trying to hold on to Rob Waddell and then behind him was Chris Ward."

Waddell and Ward were unharmed in the fall, suffering only minor bumps and bruises, and were quickly retrieved by the chase boat as the nine remaining crew completed the race to take a 1-0 lead in the finals series against Luna Rossa.

McAsey, who played a key role in developing the team's safety equipment for the new on-the-edge class of yacht, said in those heart-stopping seconds when the bows dug in, he thought the team were about to copy Cup defenders Oracle 10 months ago, when their first AC72 pitch-poled, performing an almost identical manoeuvre. Swedish team Artemis also capsized on San Francisco Bay in more tragic consequences - British sailor Andrew Simpson was killed in the May training accident.

While his crew were more animated about the incident, Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker was typically understated, claiming it looked worse than it was.

"It didn't feel like we were ever in danger of tipping it over but it was about as hard as you can push it without tipping it, I'd imagine," he said, concluding that "in the end, we didn't manage the top mark as well as we should have".

As one sailing writer joked, "you'd think we were just talking about him tripping as he walked into a bar the way [Barker] described it".

The force of the water ripped the fairing from the platform and tore a hole in the trampoline but the team were confident the damage could be repaired overnight for today's racing.

Kiwis at the Cup

What brings a motorsport enthusiast to the America's Cup village?I'm out here for the IndyCar races in Sonoma. I work for a team called Andretti Autosport. The teams have flown home for a week and I decided to stay out here to see some of the America's Cup races.

Is this the first America's Cup you've been to?

I actually went back to New Zealand for the 2000 America's Cup and I had friends who were down for the one in San Diego [in 1995], so I stopped by that one as well.

So you're a seasoned America's Cup follower?

Yeah, I really enjoy it. I've been really impressed this time around by the boats - they remind me more of a race car. I love old-style yachting as well, but now the technology they use is just fantastic, that has brought my interest level up even more.

Do you think these new AC72 boats have the same excitement factor as IndyCars?

I believe they do. I love when they come out of the water [on foils] and fly. To me, that is like racing - you're pushing things to the limit. The speed is now fantastic and the overall preparation it takes to get to this point is huge, so to me, the new boats are really, really good.

Would you be brave enough to go out on one?Oh, I'd give my left arm to go out on one. If I was here for a bit longer I would have tried to get out on the water just to get up close to the action.

Have you ever sailed yourself?I've never had my own boat. I've been travelling since I was in my teens. I haven't lived in New Zealand for 30 years, but my family is still there and I go back there quite a bit. I've always loved the ocean - I live in Indianapolis now, so about as far away from the water as you can get.

Any tips for Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton finals?Don't do what we did in the last race. The last [IndyCar] race we had [Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay] was in the lead and we strategised ourselves out of winning the race. We tried to do a two-stop strategy and the team that won were on a three-stop strategy. So for me, they just need to go out there and run hard and beat them.

- NZ Herald

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