Pitchpoled into the whipped up waters of Bermuda's Great Sound, Team New Zealand's America's Cup challenge quite literally teetered on the brink.

It's hard to know what was running through the mind of the preternaturally composed helmsman Peter Burling as he sat suspended in the airborne starboard hull after Wednesday's shocking capsize, but it was unlikely to have been, "I wonder who we'll face in the final?"

Just 48 hours after the near-catastrophic crash, Emirates Team New Zealand secured their place in the America's Cup challenger final with a courageous show of sailing. Putting aside the nerves, the doubts and the questions over the reliability of their battered boat, the Kiwi team notched up the required two wins to wrap up their semi-final series against British outfit Ben Ainslie Racing.

There were a couple of stumbles along the way. An issue with their port daggerboard in the prestart of the opening race seemed to confirm fears the New Zealand boat may still have "a few gremlins in the system" after being submerged.


Team NZ recovered from the setback, overhauling a 26-second deficit to notch up a confidence-boosting win - only to, as skipper Glenn Ashby so colourfully put it, "sail like a bucket of spanners", in the second race of the day.

Under intense pressure to stitch up the series in the third race and give the crew a much-needed day off after a draining week, not to mention buying the shore team some precious extra hours refining the New Zealand boat, Burling and co delivered their most comprehensive performance of what must surely have been the most dramatic semi-final series in America's Cup history.

That Team NZ were even out on the race course yesterday was quite remarkable.

The cat came back - not the very next day, but the team says it could have, thanks to the endurance of the shore crew, who worked through the night painstakingly piecing the boat back together.

The damage was significant, but aside from the mangled wingsail, upon which the boat came to rest following its terrifying plunge, it was mostly cosmetic. The force of the water as the bows dug deep into the Great Sound ripped most of the aerodynamic fairings from the boat.

"They have quite a good warranty if they're in the air, but not so good if they're under water," Ashby joked.

As the team's wing trimmer - a highly specialised artform involving micro-adjustments to the towering 24m wingsail that powers the boat - it particularly pained Ashby to see the wing in such bad shape.

"It hurts seeing my baby all banged up like that," he said as he cast his eye across to the skeletal remnants.


The team's family and friends felt that hurt as well. Once they knew their loved ones were safe, their attention turned to what shape the catamaran named Aotearoa would be in when it returned to the dock.

"The kids love that boat," said Ashby's wife, Mel.

Martin McElwee, one of the team's boat-builders, estimated the repair job would have ordinarily taken about a week. They had the catamaran back at what team boss Grant Dalton reckons was about 98 per cent yesterday, having been handed extra day in the shed by the weather gods they were cursing a day earlier.

Team NZ's capsize was a harrowing end to a chaotic afternoon of racing in squalls and wind that gusted up to 27 knots. The earlier match-up between Artemis and Team Japan saw the crews ripping loose fairings from their vessel and tossing them overboard, as their chase boats picked up the pieces behind.

Many believe these high-powered, but extremely skittish yachts should not have been sailing in such conditions - a point regatta director Iain Murray has angrily refuted. Murray wasn't willing to allow racing to go ahead the following day however, allowing Team NZ an extra 24 hours to put their boat back together.

"It's a bit patched up, but that just gives it character," one of the shore crew joked to an onlooker as Team NZ set off from the dock before yesterday's races.


Several crew also had to be patched up. Cyclors Blair Tuke, Andy Maloney and Josh Junior took a bit of bashing when they were violently thrown from the yacht. Maloney required stitches to a gash on his shin and others nursed head knocks, sore ribs and nasty bruising.

All three were back in the saddle, so to speak, for yesterday's racing.

What wasn't known until yesterday was just how much psychological damage the shocking setback would cause the camp. Would Burling be more conservative at the helm? Would the team have the confidence to push as hard as they need to? Would the team be vulnerable to British skipper Ben Ainslie's aggressive tactics.

A stoic, grim-faced Burling acknowledged after racing the incident will be "on our minds for a while", but said Kiwis are a resilient bunch.

Tuke, Burling's Olympic sailing partner, promised the incident would not stop them from going after what they came to Bermuda for - the America's Cup.

"We're still gonna send it", he posted on Instagram, hours after the incident.
Perhaps for Team NZ, going to the brink means they no longer fear what is on the other side.