America's Cup: Nosedive has Kiwis in damage control

By Dana Johannsen

Team NZ's AC72 catamaran nosedives during yesterday's dramatic bear-away manoeuvre-gone-wrong in which two crew members were washed overboard and some structural damage caused. Photo / ACE
Team NZ's AC72 catamaran nosedives during yesterday's dramatic bear-away manoeuvre-gone-wrong in which two crew members were washed overboard and some structural damage caused. Photo / ACE

It was supposed to be the day racing finally broke out at the America's Cup.

Instead the opening day of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals quickly deteriorated into further chaos yesterday, as Luna Rossa retired with gear damage while Team New Zealand narrowly avoided a catastrophic pitchpole as they completed the course solo to take the first point of the series.

That point came at a hefty price - the Kiwi boat suffering damage to its fairing in the dramatic incident, which also saw two men washed overboard.

Providing a stark reminder of just how on-the-edge the high-powered AC72 catamarans are, Aotearoa went into a terrifying nosedive as it rounded the windward mark, burying the hulls up to main crossbeam, which saw their speed drop from 40.7 knots to 13 knots in the space of one boat-length.

The sudden deceleration combined with the torrent of water that came flooding on board sent the crew flying, with burly grinders Rob Waddell and Chris Ward washed overboard like twigs. Both were unharmed and were quickly retrieved by the chase boat.

While it was a heart-stopping moment for the crew, Dean Barker said that when the sodden pair rejoined the team in one piece after the race, they received a bit of gentle ribbing.

"We asked them if they were going to charge us for a full day's work," Barker joked. "You're obviously very concerned that they don't get injured or struck by the rudder, but when it became apparent that everyone was okay, we were all very relieved."

The incident occurred at the third mark as Team NZ were performing the tricky bear-away manoeuvre when the boat transitioned from upwind to downwind.

Team NZ's AC72 catamaran nosedives during yesterday's dramatic bear-away manoeuvre-gone-wrong in which two crew members were washed overboard and some structural damage caused. Photo / ACE
Team NZ's AC72 catamaran nosedives during yesterday's dramatic bear-away manoeuvre-gone-wrong in which two crew members were washed overboard and some structural damage caused. Photo / ACE

Team NZ grinder Chris McAsey said his team had performed the manoeuvre thousands of times in all conditions and yesterday was the closest they had come to tipping the boat over.

"We just got hit by a big puff at the wrong time and before you knew it we were going down the mine," said McAsey. "We'd done that before, but when it kept going down you started to think in your mind 'is it our turn?', but thankfully we popped up again."

What saved the boat from going into a pitchpole were decisions made in the design room 18 months ago. The Kiwi boat has more volume in the bows than the likes of Oracle Team USA, giving it more stability if the bows dig in - the trade-off being it creates more drag upwind.

"We got a bit of stick when we launched the boat, a lot of people joked it looked like a Massey Ferguson. But we're pretty happy with our tractor right now - she's still going," said McAsey.

She may be still going, but she is looking a little worse for wear after the force of the water ripped the fairing on the aft side of the main crossbeam. The team were able to complete the race with the shredded carbon fibre flapping in the wind, and were even keen to compete in yesterday's second scheduled race, which was postponed because of strong winds. Team NZ's shore crew had a long night in the shed repairing the damage, which Dean Barker was at pains to emphasise was only superficial and not structural, ahead of today's second day of action.

One of the team members was thrown of the boat just after the nosedive.
One of the team members was thrown of the boat just after the nosedive.

Luna Rossa's maintenance team, meanwhile, had some serious issues to resolve with their daggerboard, after suffering pre-race damage.

The Italians frantically tried to effect repairs before the start-gun and looked to have resolved the situation, but their fix came unstuck just seconds into the race with their starboard daggerboard bobbing up and down in the water.

What happened ... in Dean Barker's words

The incident occurred at the third mark rounding as Team NZ were performing the tricky bear-away manoeuvre, switching from upwind to downwind.

"We got a pretty good increase in breeze just as we went to bear-away and we sort of committed to the turn and the breeze increased even more. The boat was set up, it felt like we had everything under control and then we picked up a bit more load and it put us right on the edge. Fortunately we had got through the worst of the power zone so the boat was going to unload at that point anyway."

Today's action

Race two: 8.10am
Race three: 9.10am

- NZ Herald

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