The America's Cup foiling monohulls have taken about 1000 years of boating evolution to get here but when they finally flew on to the race course for the first time in serious racing mode on Thursday, 17 December 2020, they were a perfect Christmas present. For this Christmas, foil is not what you cover turkeys with; it's how you fly a boat.
In terms of watching the America's Cup, I'm a nervous passenger. If two boats get within a length of each other, if a boat rears up on its hind legs like a stallion at a mouse, if a boat is doing 40 knots with 3 seconds to the start and is still 50 metres away... honestly, I'm a mess of clenched fist-at-mouth, forgetting to breathe and usually hitting the person next to me, in case they are not doing something to avert the disaster.
Having endured three days of AC75 foiling monohull racing 17 to 19 December, I am delighted to say that I spent most of that time in a pent-up state, as described above.
Any qualms I had that 75ft boats flying above the water at 40 knots in a match race might get dull were abolished. Put like that, it seems ridiculous that I was ever worried. But let's get to the points, well, a few of them anyway.
Race one of the PRADA Auckland World Series Race started like this:
Peter Burling of Emirates Team New Zealand whipped over the top of Luna Rossa in the pre-start, nailed it and led to the finish with a final delta of 3 minutes, 13 seconds, and nearly 2km ahead. But Jimmy Spithill is at his best when he’s down.
Team New Zealand did a great job there, he drawled casually. “They were just getting around the corners much better than we were.”
The home crowd were delighted to see their boys doing so well, but such great margins didn't last long.
Race four didn’t start well for the Kiwis. They were late into the box and then took a rest to sit down in the water instead of flying above it, as American Magic, helmed by former Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Dean Barker, disappeared at motorway speed.
Barker is a matchracer and kept a tight cover on the Kiwis. NZL tried to break free as they came out of the second gate but it was an ambitious tack and cost them dearly. On the next leg, they instigated a tacking duel and thrilled the viewers by throwing boats from port tack to starboard tack and back, all the while staying airborne. ETNZ definitely seemed quicker in the tacks and took chunks out of the lead.
Coming into gate 5, both boats were ripping into the mark; ETNZ got the inside – yay! – and USA got a penalty. The Kiwis were in the lead.
But then ETNZ did a slow gybe, and opened the door for USA and trailed them over the finish by 12 seconds.
Exciting stuff. The next two days proved that skills in foiling are going to be tested again and again; and that in light airs falling off the foils can mean staying in displacement mode for the rest of the race. Ineos UK had a shocker of a regatta, without taking even one win, but on day three they got the unofficial award for fastest speed of the day and for the Christmas Race on day four, showed they are the fastest boat in displacement mode.
With the cancellation of the first two America's Cup World Series originally scheduled for Italy in April and UK in June, this event showed that the teams need as much racing experience as they can get. Race director Iain Murray thinks his team also need to hone their skills and there is talk of a two-day return to the race track in early January. The 1.5m viewers who followed the recent ACWS will be happy to hear that.
Hey, even I'm happy to hear it. I just need a cuppa and a lie-down afterwards.