The America’s Cup certainly knows how to crescendo to a climax. Undaunted, Oracle’s Spithill turned in a remarkable performance. With a spectator fleet of 1,000 vessels and tens of thousands on shore, the day in the upper 60s had good visibility with winds gusting above 20 knots chopping the water as it ebbed through the Golden Gate.
In the early afternoon before the races, the Blue Angels entertained all spectators surrounding San Francisco Bay for almost three hours. They demonstrated their legendary precision flying supersonically in tight acrobatic formations. As the planes passed one heard the thunder of their engines and saw the glowing jets sparkling like two taillights. Oracle’s daredevil red biplane pilot also amazed all with death-defying stunts.
The format for today was the match race semifinals to decide the final two competitors. Then two fleet races were held to determine which two boats would compete in tomorrow’s single race to determine the overall champion of this regatta. And finally, in the early evening the final was held to determine the Match Race Champion. In respect to those readers who may be watching the finals broadcast Sunday on NBC-TV, I will not discuss the champion today. There is enough to cover without that.
The Swedes were remarkable in having both their boats compete in the match racing semifinals. Unfortunately both of them were defeated but not without amazing contests. In the first round of the semifinals, Artemis-White (Hutchinson) was matched against US-Spithill. Just before crossing the starting line, Hutchinson (AR-W) ducked behind Spithill (US-S) to block his wind. Starting AR-W has the shortest distance with commentators marveling at his daring. But US-S caught the wind and spurted ahead as they started. And Spithill was able to keep that advantage, crossing the finish 10 seconds ahead of the Swedes, though it was such a tight race that it could have gone either way.
In the second semifinals the Swedish team’s Nate Outteridge in Artemis-Red challenged the former AC Champion, Emirate Team New Zealand’s Dean Barker. The latter tried to get under the former at the start but Nate kept him off by shifting in front of him. Going into the turn at Mark-1 AR-R had ENTZ only 5 seconds behind. The Kiwis quickly ran down Artemis and kept them in their dirty wind. s they tacked, the boats brushed each other and Outteridge was assessed a 2-boat length penalty. The Kiwis lead thereafter, rounding Mark-4 and speeding across the finish line at 23 knots, 18 seconds ahead of Sweden’s boat.
The first of the two Fleet Races was the most dramatic of the day. As the fleet rounded Mark-1, Spithill’s bow dug into the bay and the boat flipped. Fortunately neither crew nor boat were hurt. After their chase-boat righted the catamaran, they left the course (DNF) to race again in the day’s Match Race championship.
Turning Gate-2 tightly, Barker was well ahead with China and Korea in pursuit, until Italy’s Swordfish cut in front of them and was penalized; moments later China was penalized for a collision. As Barker approached Gate-3, he led by 150 meters, Korea’s young Burling in chase. With Spithill out of the running and ahead of both Hutchinson and Ainsley, New Zealand won at the expense of his top competitors. Korea was second; Sweden, third; Great Britain, fourth.
Fleet Race #6 followed, with Spithill’s team in the middle as the pack crossed together. From the beginning Ainsley tried to edge out Hutchinson and dump dirty air on him as they rounded the first Mark, letting Hutchinson and Spithill skirmish for second. Approaching Gate-5 with Ainslie well in the lead, Spithill had to slow down for AR-W but still got the penalty. As Ainslie finished 41 seconds ahead, Spithill edged out Hutchinson.
Going into Super Sunday’s Fleet Championship the leaders were:
1) Ainslie (GBR, 63 pts);
2) Hutchinson (Swe, 52);
3) Barker (NZl, 47);
4) Spithill (USA, 39);
5) Outteridge (Swe, 39).
In Sunday’s championship, the point spread is great.
The Match Race Champion was determined today, but we’ll discuss that tomorrow together with the Fleet Race Champion, the regatta’s winner.
You can watch all races with commentary at www.youtube.com/americascup
Reporting from the America's Cup races on San Francisco Bay for Nordstjernan
PHOTOS: ACEA 2012. Photographer: Gilles Martin-Raget / all photos used by permission