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Who's got the most tricks left?

Races 7 and 8 in the 36th America’s Cup showed what Emirates Team New Zealand has been up to while Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli honed its skills in the Prada Cup.

The Italians have developed some race-winning foiling skills such as staying high on a leeward boat’s hip, darting in and out of tacking duels, and controlling the race course with its exhaust gases - but ETNZ has been developing another set of skills.

On 15 March, that combo of competitors provided one of the most thrilling days in America’s Cup history.

The teams arrived with three wins each but, with light winds predicted, the predictions were that the pre-start would write the script of the race. That probably favoured the Italians, but I didn’t want to say that out loud.

The Italians crossed the line with a click more speed and built their advantage, although Emirates Team New Zealand did take a cheeky bite at Prada’s space. It was a luff that didn’t stick but the attempt didn’t hurt the Kiwis. Further up the course, ETNZ initiated a tacking duel – even though LRPP is the king of tacking duels.

This was interesting, but the Italians were at a disadvantage: their headsail choice, made 10 minutes before race start, was bigger than the Kiwis’ headsail, and once the Italians were up on the foils, the extra sail area was more drag than drive in the 10-plus knots.

The last time these boats raced, on 13 March, ETNZ was revealing some of its rumoured, devastating speed. Prior to that, it had appeared the extra speed was a no-show, but it was concealed behind less efficient tacks and gybes, and lower sailing angles upwind.

Now, combined with more breeze, time in the simulator and the perfect jib against LRPP’s too-big jib, that extra speed was a 2-3 knot advantage on vmg.

On leg three, ETNZ got past. Its smaller jib and foils were low-drag, high-speed weapons.

Emirates Team New Zealand won by 58 seconds. S

oon it would have an even bigger story to tell.

Race 8 may have had LRPP against the ropes, but Jimmy Spithill never looks back. The breeze dropped to 7 knots and this time the Italians’ jib was perfect; the Kiwis, not so much. They were under-powered.

Again, the Italians emerged from the start in a better place but ETNZ stayed in touch and mowed down their opposition on the first downwind leg. We were heading for the first downwind pass of the America’s Cup – then the Kiwis blew it. They gybed to take Luna Rossa to starboard, hit an invisible wall of air from the Italians’ exhaust and an unfortunate lull. The Kiwis’ small jib lacked the grunt to sail them through and they splashed down to disaster.

Meanwhile Luna Rossa sailed on as ETNZ desperately sailed the wrong way, trying to generate lift in apparent wind. The lead grew to 2300m.

Then, disaster for the Italians as they failed to foil through a soft-breeze tack on approach to gate three. Even their bigger jib couldn’t get them up as they copped two penalties for being over the boundary line.

Around the same time, ETNZ pulled out another new trick: the ability to recover from splashdown while under-powered. From around four minutes behind at gate three, they went to four minutes ahead at the finish line. The Italians had recovered, but too late.

Looking ahead, we may never know all the tricks the Kiwis have in their box; we do know that the Italians have carbon fibre-strength determination to win this America’s Cup.

Going into races 9 and 10 scheduled for today, there are four possible options:

Racing is cancelled due to lack of wind – unlikely.

ETNZ wins both races, winning the America’s Cup.

LRPP wins both races, evening the score to five-all.

ETNZ and LRPP take one race each, putting the Kiwis on match-point.

Take your brave pills and tune in.

If you enjoy my writing style, please check out my new book, Wild Seas to Greenland, featured on my website

Photo credit: The Italians struggle for flight as the Kiwis recover and take the race in an upset that is pure AC-angst. Studio Borlenghi.

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