OPINION by AUT's Sailing Professor Mark Orams:
We've been a long time waiting for this day - to see these new AC75 yachts line up against each other on a racecourse.
It was both impressive and a little scary at the same time.
It's all very well watching these boats sail on their own in a straight line, as we have seen over the past few months, but when two of them enter a starting box at a combined closing speed of well over 100km/h it gets very real, very quickly.
I can't help thinking of the carnage if something went wrong with a control system or if someone makes a mistake. Perhaps I will get used to it – but seeing this at close proximity with the boats flying at high speeds for the first time found me forgetting to breathe for a few seconds!
I watched two starts today between Team New Zealand and American Magic.
While the points were evenly split, the Dean Barker-helmed American Magic impressed me. They looked the slickest boat out there in terms of manoeuvres and were more aggressive than I expected. Perhaps their confidence is because they are the team who has had the most time out sailing their version two boat. They look the most "race-ready" at this early stage.
Team New Zealand appeared more conservative and cautious, but Peter Burling's second start was a close dip behind American Magic. After about a minute both boats tacked and converged with Te Rehutai crossing comfortably ahead and three minutes or so later they had extended even further. It was a nice check-in and confidence booster for the Kiwis.
When TNZ and Luna Rossa lined up, I thought the Italians had a slight edge upwind, but I had the reverse impression when both yachts turned downwind, with Te Rehutai able to sail a noticeably lower angle and make faster progress towards the bottom mark. Both boats looked smooth and balanced in their flight.
When Luna Rossa and American Magic lined up they were quite some distance away but from where I was situated, the Italians did look pretty comfortable speedwise.
Team INEOS UK did not participate in the race practice today staying under tow with only their mainsail up. Perhaps they had a problem or were content to sit and watch. I think the former is more likely because after long hours testing and sailing alone, and with the Christmas Cup starting in a little over a week, every opportunity to practise racing is precious.
Overall, my impression is that this America's Cup will not only be about straight-line speed. These AC75s are so fast they reach the boundaries of the racecourse and start box very quickly and are forced to turn. If in turning they splash down, or especially if they fall off the foils, they are dead in the water and the opponent will fly off into the horizon for a convincing race win.
So, the ability to turn and stay flying will be a key aspect of this contest. Doing so in race conditions when you have turning marks, racecourse boundaries and especially an opponent who might force you into a high-risk manoeuvre will be very important.
Race practice is the best way to learn this – and the challengers have a lot more of this than Team New Zealand.
I have huge respect for and faith in the racing skills of Burling, Blair Tuke, Glenn Ashby and the crew – but this Christmas Cup series is really important for them to hone their skills and learn how the race these flying machines. It's the only chance they will get so they need to make the most of it.
Today was a big step forward in this 36th America's Cup and seeing all the boats out there created a tremendous sense of excitement. This is cutting-edge stuff, sailing as we've never seen it before. It's history in the making, and little old New Zealand is leading the way.
Enjoy smooth sailing to the Cup with Auckland Transport
• Avoid traffic congestion and parking niggles and download the AT Mobile app to plot your bus, train or ferry ride to race venues before you leave home.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It's the best way to ride to the Cup
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup