Yachting: One boat races continue as gear gremlins plague regatta

By Paul Lewis

Regatta? Over the past two days it's been more like a Re-pair-gatta.

Two races in the Louis Vuitton Cup final and two races decided by gear failures. Team New Zealand had to endure the gremlins yesterday when their hydraulics failed, leaving them slopping round in the San Francisco Bay chop while Luna Rossa sailed on to a gift victory.

On Sunday the Italians suffered a daggerboard breakage in the first race which handed Emirates Team NZ their first point in the first-to-seven points in this best of 13 race series.

Oracle also had their two boats back on the race course yesterday only for Boat 1 to break a rudder.

Both days have seen wind and tide against each other, producing some messy chop. There were some thoughts that such conditions are harder on the highly strung AC72 catamarans, though most of the sailors discounted that yesterday.

However, as with any high-performance machinery, there is more that can fail. Team NZ skipper Dean Barker perhaps put it best: "It's the nature of these boats unfortunately - there are so many things that can go wrong and today it was a problem with the hydraulics. We have been very fortunate so far not to have had many issues until today but I guess this just reinforces the need to be 100 per cent before you sail."

Luna Rossa were probably glad the second race was called off when the wind got above allowable limits yesterday. They had a problem with their wingsail again demanding much attention and Italian at high volume.

"It was okay, we could have sailed in the second race - with a little bit of concern," said Xabi Fernandez, Luna Rossa's wing trimmer. "We heard a lot of noises and we looked at the areas with a little bit of stress but it was okay."

Oracle's problem with the rudder was a little more obvious. On Sunday Sir Ben Ainslie's Oracle Boat 1 fouled a ferry marker line on their way to race on the course. A diver was sent down, the boat was freed and only minor repairs were needed.

However, in racing against Jimmy Spithill's Boat 2 yesterday - which is likely to be the one to contest the America's Cup - the rudder snapped off. So the only yacht not suffering gear problem of some sort over the past two days was Oracle 2. However, with the kind of luck this regatta has had, they shouldn't be too cocky.

In all fairness, gear breakages and equipment failure are not uncommon in the America's Cup, even in the comparatively staid monohulls. Gearing up the performance in these ultra-quick catamarans (which can translate wind speed into two and a half times boat speed; so 15 knots of wind can produce 45 knots) also gears up the number of things that can go wrong, just as in a high-performance car. But let's not mention Nascar, the US motor racing series that this regatta was supposed to emulate in terms of thrills, spills and frills - though Russell Coutts maintains neither he nor Larry Ellison ever used that analogy.

The other slightly galling aspect of this regatta is the wind limits. They were lowered after the Andrew Simpson fatality and that has to be respected. Regatta director Iain Murray can also quite rightly point to Team NZ's efforts to be a submarine on Sunday as support for his safety recommendations.

The wind limit for the Louis Vuitton Cup is 21 knots. When that is adjusted for an outgoing tide, it cuts the limit further. Yesterday, the nett wind limit ended up at 18.7 knots.

San Francisco's unique climate generally sees the wind building as the day goes on and, by the time Team NZ and Luna Rossa were ready for the second race yesterday, the wind had built to 21 knots, ending hopes of a second race, race 3 in the series, which was postponed to today.

But the wind limit for the America's Cup match is 23 knots which, adjusting that for the same ebb tide as yesterday, would have seen yesterday's race just squeak inside allowable levels. So, a regatta which has suffered from one-boat races, one-sided races and now wall-to-wall gear breakages is also being halted for the sake of adjustable limits. Yet the boats that will race for the America's Cup are the same yachts racing in the Louis Vuitton Cup.

To get around the problem, organisers have decided to start today's races an hour earlier, before the wind builds.

It's not ideal (but then little is in the America's Cup. As Team NZ tactician Ray Davies said: "The only problem with the [earlier] start is when there are only light winds. With these high-powered catamarans, that can take some options away from you."

Today

* Race 3, 7.10am
* Race 4, 8.10am.

- NZ Herald

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