Red Sea conditions deliver much awaited AC40 spectacular on second day in Jeddah
For the second day of the America’s Cup preliminary regatta in Jeddah the weather gods produced perfect racing conditions allowing the teams to deliver a barnstorming day of racing out on the Red Sea
It’s what sailing fans around the world have been avidly waiting for since the AC40 foiling monohull concept was first announced. Although it’s been an interminably long time coming, finally today, on the second day of the America’s Cup preliminary regatta in Jeddah, the weather gods produced perfect racing conditions and the teams delivered a barnstorming day of racing out on the waters of the Red Sea.
If you haven’t watched the day’s three incredible races that were sailed in 11 to 14 knots of breeze and a moderate chop then do yourself a favour and make sure you do so – as soon as you finish reading this update, of course.
Ruggero Tita and Marco Gradoni – the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team’s youthful helming duo and the America’s Cup’s new sensations – quickly proved that the team’s comprehensive win in the final race yesterday had been no flash in the pan by clocking up another bullet in the opening race, ahead of overnight leaders Emirates Team New Zealand.
The second race saw a truly incredible six-leg no-hold-barred dogfight between the Kiwis and the Italians, with the two crews trading the lead by a handful of metres throughout the race, before Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge’s experienced New Zealand crew eked their way ahead halfway down the final downwind to take the win – their third of the event.
The final race of the day was another thriller that saw the New Zealand America’s Cup holders assert their dominance with another race win but only after a compelling race-long three-way scrap with a much-improved NYYC American Magic and Alinghi Red Bull Racing.
No more than five seconds separated this trio throughout the race with the teams finishing in that order ahead of the hard-chasing Italians who had pulled back from a poor start to take fourth.
With six races sailed now, the Kiwis remain at the top of the table on 49 points, the Italians stay in second on 38 points, comfortably ahead of the Swiss on 27 points.
I caught up with sailors from the top two teams after racing to find out how the day’s breathtaking racing action had felt from onboard.
Emirates Team New Zealand helmsman Nathan Outteridge told me the Kiwi crew had been excited about the prospect of going racing in a decent breeze for the first time.
“We knew it was going to be a great day of racing regardless of the results,” he said. “The weather was fantastic and I haven't had a chance to see any of the footage yet, but know the racing felt really close the whole time.
“It was a lot of fun. You're just crisscrossing with boats everywhere. We knew this would happen because the boats are so evenly matched in performance and it becomes a real tactical battle out there.
Asked about what it is like to race at such high speeds (30 knots+ upwind and 40 knots+ downwind) Outteridge said the speeds that the boats were capable of meant they were always on a knife edge.
“The autopilot does a good job, but you've got to steer and trim around to make sure that it behaves. Especially in those pre-starts when you get the ‘train’ is going one way and then they turn and come back at you, the closing speed is pretty intense.
“So you've got to be really good at making your calls on which side of boats you're going to go, and the lay lines come at you super quick.
“In those conditions accuracy is really important. We’ve spent a lot of time sailing in conditions like that and speeds like that, but it was nice to do it in race mode today with six boats.”
Having duked it out at the front of the fleet with Luna Rossa so fiercely in two out of the day’s three races, Outteridge was hugely complimentary about the Kiwi’s Italian rivals.
“Very impressive, very fast, very slippery,” was his summation. “In the first race we gave them an inch and they just disappeared. I know Ruggero quite well from Nacra sailing and I know he knows how to make a boat go really fast. They showed what they were made of today and let's see how they go tomorrow.
“They're doing a great job and I think Jimmy [Spithill] and Cecco [Bruni] might need to be looking over their shoulders a bit.”
Despite the New Zealand team’s dominance of this regatta so far, trimmer Blair Tuke said he felt there was still plenty of room for improvement.
“We have already had a quick capture meeting and we know there's some things we can do to improve our speed, especially upwind. I think Luna Ross had a couple of moments where they were going pretty quick and we got a little bit out of sync, which was a bit of a shame. There will be similar conditions tomorrow so we'll have to try to iron those out and just try and eke everything out of the boat that we can.”
When I asked how – in general terms – the crews change modes on the AC40 to suit the conditions, Tuke said that, like conventional sailboats there were a variety of things that can be adjusted.
“Like on a normal sailboat you can change the sail shapes, you can change the mode that you sail – how close or far away from the wind you are, the true wind angle and then the speed you are travelling through the water. On the AC40 specifically you can change the cant angle and the height that the autopilot is trying to track to, and the trim of the boat.
“So there's lots of different factors and it's about getting that combination right around the sweet spot, and getting it right through the acceleration phase to your top end.
“All the teams are trying to figure out just how to do that. We've been doing it pretty nicely I think but hopefully we can get a bit more out of it tomorrow.”
Despite being just 19 years old Luna Rossa helmsman Marco Gradoni seems surprisingly unfazed by he and his crew’s impressive performance so far against so many of the America’s Cup’s top protagonists.
“All the best sailors in the world are here – but we are not yet the best sailors in the world,” he told me. “We have to think day-by-day how we want to sail and to try each day to do better and better and better. That way you can probably one day be one of them.
The Italian AC40 is clearly well set up, but although Gradoni acknowledged that they were not lacking in the speed department, he believed that today’s performance was more about the way they had sailed the boat.
“The boat is fast, we are sailing fast, it’s pretty nice,” he said. “The Kiwis are the ones with the most number of hours [in the AC40] so we always look at them closely. But I think today was more a matter of how we raced, and things went pretty smoothly today.
“What I liked about today was that in the last race, when things were not going well – we lost Ruggero on the comms and we didn’t get a good start – but still we were able to slowly come back through the fleet. This is the mentality we need to have until the last race.”
Gradoni was the first Optimist sailor ever to win three successive world championship titles and when he was awarded the Rolex World Sailor of The Year Award in 2019 he became its youngest recipient.
Dismayed after watching Luna Rossa’s defeat at the hands of Emirates Team New Zealand in the 36th America’s Cup from at home in Italy, he called team boss Max Sirena and pledged his support in any way he could. Smartly, Sirena took him up on his offer and invited him to join the team.
“I said to Max I would like to help Luna Rossa in any way I can to win the America’s Cup. I think I am very lucky because Max believed in me and now I am here to compete for Luna Rossa.
“It is such a good opportunity and I want to be able to say to Max at the end of this regatta that we gave everything we had. This is my goal and we have one day to go now – so our focus is now on tomorrow.”
Saturday’s third and final day of racing at the 37th America’s Cup preliminary regatta in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will feature two more fleet races before a final winner-take-all single match race between the top two teams to decide the regatta winner.
With conditions expected to be similar to today we can expect more fireworks out on the Red Sea as the six teams fight it out for the podium positions.
Due to a tight travel schedule tomorrow my final report from this event will be delayed until I make it back to Europe.
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