The sun and warmth were back out in Vilanova i La Geltrú on Saturday, but the wind was indecisive if it wanted to join the occasion.


Initial forecasts were marginal, but all the teams were hopeful albiet the forecast hovering around the very  lower end of the wind range.

Some puffs of promise were coming through enough to draw a sizable spectator fleet on the race course boundary and on Ribes Roges beach front. All gathered to watch an unorthodox first race day of 37th America’s Cup which ultimately highlighted the efficiency of foiling vs displacement and finesse in flying. The teams that managed to fly, looked famous the and the difference in speeds vast.


Race 1 – After a couple of push-backs, the Race Committee finally attained a wind reading over a five-minute period above 6.5 knots to allow racing to get underway under cloudless skies, 26-degree heat and 7-8 knots at the start. If the start is reckoned to determine 70% of the result, it was a surprise to see so many boats trapped above the line to start cleanly with Alinghi Red Bull Racing far to windward and INEOS Britannia struggling to get back. A slight drop in the wind caused havoc but for NYYC American Magic who dipped the line and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli who appeared to do the same, both appeared to ace the start down at the pin end and headed out to the left-hand boundary.

Emirates Team New Zealand were caught short on their time-on-distance out at the starboard end of the line, but along with INEOS Britannia, managed to eke across the line a good 25 seconds down. INEOS Britannia went for a port tack start and fell off their foils almost immediately. As the Americans and Italians tacked at the boundary on to port, the Kiwis were at full pace on starboard tack and incredibly crossed ahead of the Italians before hitting the left boundary and executing a perfect foiling tack with plenty of aggressive pumping of the mainsail to keep flying. This was not a race for tacking, manoeuvres were both costly and risky, and the Americans wisely headed over far right, bringing the Italians with them but as they both tacked back, Emirates Team New Zealand were in the lead.

However, the story of the leg, and indeed the race, were the French Orient Express Racing Team who kept flying, almost anonymously, and then thundered through onto the layline for the port gate, catching everyone by surprsie. Poor judgement of the layline at the starboard top gate saw the Kiwis forced to squeeze and in doing so, dropped off the foils and as the wind faltered, were never able to get back again.

Orient Express rounded the port gate at pace and stole the lead whilst Luna Rossa filed past the wallowing Kiwis and headed off downwind. Pretty soon the whole fleet were off their foils after their initial gybes and a desperate displacement run ensued as the race committee shortened the course to just two legs with the finish at the end of the first downwind. With the wind almost shutting down completely, it was a three-boat race to the finish with Orient Express holding the ace cards in the middle of the course whilst American Magic went right (looking down the course) and Luna Rossa played the left.

Bouncing between the two extremes, Quentin Delapierre and his team kept the boat rolling with the crews out of their pods, shifting their bodyweight around and a crucial port/starboard low-speed gybing duel, although no contact, with Luna Rossa saw the Italians gain a penalty for their foil radius being too close to the French with just metres to run to the finish line. It effectively handed the win to the French who headed out to cover the Americans, gybed on their line and kept it tight to the finish to secure a memorable win - first blood to the brilliance of France as they rolled to glory.

(After crossing the line, Luna Rossa were informed that they hadn’t started correctly and were scored a DNS.)  

UPDATE: ** After crossing the line, Luna Rossa were informed that they hadn’t started correctly and were scored a DNS. Update at 9pm: Following a review of the starting protocols undertaken on course, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli has been re-instated in second place in Race 1, scoring 7 points.)**


Race 2 – An extraordinary race that began with five of the six boats in displacement and only Alinghi Red Bull Racing up on their foils. As the gun went to start, the Swiss were actually still way out towards the right-hand boundary (looking upwind) heading in the opposite direction but a smart gybe, 15 seconds after the gun, brought the Swiss back to execute a dip-line start and storm out to the left-hand boundary.

Building an enormous lead as the rest of the fleet wallowed in displacement at speeds from 5-9 knots, Alinghi Red Bull Racing were flying at in excess of 20 knots, leaving everyone for dead and sailing wide angles, crossing the course from boundary to boundary to minimise the manoeuvres. It was a brilliant tactic and spectators held their breath as they went into every tack, rising high on the foils to try and avoid splashdown. The Swiss were on fire, and as they hit the final left boundary for their third tack, they executed magnificently and rode into the starboard gate marker buoy on a brilliant layline. Rounding at speed and still with the whole fleet sailing in displacement mode, this was a race that they never looked like losing.

However, suddenly from dead, flat last, Emirates Team New Zealand managed to rise from the briny, get on their foils and suddenly we had a race. The Kiwis were on port tack heading for the left-hand boundary and needed to nail a high technique tack to keep foiling and as Nathan Outteridge dialled into the tack from the port helm, Peter Burling picked up on the starboard side as the boat smoothly executed with Andy Maloney trimming sweetly behind Pete to maintain flight. It was the tack of the day and in seconds, Emirates Team New Zealand were carving through the rest of the fleet that were trying everything to get on the foils. Crew members were hanging off shrouds, running forward, ooching backwards but it was all completely in vein. Emirates Team New Zealand were the only boat to get foiling from displacement unassisted. This was a tough day at the office for the fleet. 

Emirates Team New Zealand almost certainly looked like they were sailing for second place but a smart, and again smooth, tack at the left boundary brought them into the layline and this time there was no pinching as the starboard marker approached. The Kiwis rounded smoothly some 1200 metres behind Alinghi Red Bull Racing who had navigated three-quarters of the leg, playing every zephyr of a dying breeze and sailing to their first win, for sure, of the 37th America’s Cup.

However, with the layline to the starboard downwind gate approaching, the Swiss went for a gybe and arguably kept the angle too deep and, agonisingly, on the windward heel post the gybe, they dug the starboard transom in and the Bull fell from her foils to a desperate displacement that they just couldn’t get out of.

Now it was full excitement as Emirates Team New Zealand tramped down the run, nailing every gybe, keeping their exit angles high whilst keeping their patience, safe in the knowledge that if they could keep flying, they would soar past the Swiss and take the lead. This wasn’t a given but with outstanding boat-handling and devastating trimming from Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney, the helms just kept it smooth, hit the starboard gate layline and rounded up with the lead in their pocket.

Now came the trickiest of upwind legs with maintaining flight, in any feasible way, the only game in town. Emirates Team New Zealand performed on another level, rising high through the crucial tacks and keeping the power on through co-ordinated mainsail and jib trimming. It was close but they eked through the tacks, played every whisper of wind, concentrated hard and with the Race Committee calling a shortened course at the windward mark, kept everything tight to nail a final tack on the left-hand boundary into the finish layline.

In the conditions, even the easiest of laylines was a problem but in a mark of their dedication to flight, they ignored the layline, kept the power on and then tacked over to starboard to finish. On the final tack, they fell from the foils but with just a few metres to run, Nathan Outteridge came scampering to the windward side and their momentum carried them through to an unlikely but utterly brilliant, oustanding win.

Alinghi Red Bull Racing were scored in second, with rest of the fleet scored their positions from the first gate - as the last point of certainty.

Helmsman Peter Burling was satisfied in what was a Super tricky day, right at the bottom end of the wind strength. “

“In the first race it was a real shame to drop off the foils at that first top mark after a really good first leg which was close with four teams.” Said Burling.

“We've been working really hard and continuing to improve as a team in that light air performance, so really happy to salvage a 3rd place in the first race.”

“In the second race we misjudged some of where the wind shadows were in and obviously were out the back, but I feel we did a really good job just being patient and taking the opportunity when there was enough wind to get up and going.

Obviously the others were caught up in a bit more of a battle than us at that stage, so we were focused on staying up on the foils with clean maneuverers to get back through the fleet. So very happy to take that win in the second race.”