The first round for the America’s Cup challengers, The Prada Cup, began 15 January. There were three challengers, Great Britain, Italy, and the United States, all hoping to win this Cup and advance to face the defenders, Emirates Team New Zealand on 6 March.
The U. S. entry is PATRIOT of the American Magic challenge from the New York Yacht Club (NYYC). NYYC originally won the America’s Cup in a regatta at the Isle of Wight in 1851. The first defense was held in 1870 and from that time until 1983 they successfully defended The Cup from numerous challengers. Since 1983 when the Australians won The Cup at Newport, Rhode Island, they have challenged, but have not won it back. This is the first time in 18 years that they have made a challenge.
PATRIOT had done well in the America’s Cup World Series, which took place just before Christmas, placing second in the event. Terry Hutchinson, Skipper and Executive Director of the challenge, said that since the World Series the competition has gotten faster. He added that his team had been working on straight line speed and working on keeping PATRIOT up on her foils. The designers also made slight modifications, but Terry added that it was extremely important to sail as much as possible to optimize the crew’s ability to handle these cutting edge 75 footers that will reach speeds over 50 knots in all conditions.
In the first race of the Round Robins, PATRIOT faced off against BRITANNIA (INEOS Team UK), which failed to win a race in the World Series. PATRIOT and BRITANNIA hit the start line at the same time with PATRIOT to leeward. BRITANNIA tacked first and found more wind on the right side of the course. At their next crossing BRITANNIA had the lead and would round the top mark with an 8 second lead. PATRIOT chose to take the opposite side on the downwind run, but just could not get by. BRITANNIA went on to win by 1 minute 20 seconds.
As PATRIOT headed back to their compound BRITANNIA faced off against LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI and defeated them.
Even before the racing started the following day Terry Hutchinson said that it was not going to be an easy day due to the light conditions. Due to the very light winds, it was difficult to get the racers up on their foils, so much of the time they were in displacement mode. PATRIOT’s first race was against the Italians. Both boats were up on their foils as they entered the starting box, and when PATRIOT tried to force a penalty on LUNA ROSSA PRADE PIRELLI it caused her to come down off her foils. Then the Italians came off their foils just before the start. The Italians found the wind first and were back foiling, but PATRIOT was still trying to get up and well behind at the start. The bigger foils on the Italian boat seemed to help as PATRIOT wallowed in displacement mode. Then the Italians’ 500 metre lead disappeared when they went into displacement mode. As PATRIOT built up a 500 metre lead, they fell back into the water and LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI took the lead for good.
PATRIOT’s second race of the day, against BRITANNIA, did not go well either. PATRIOT did not time her entry into the starting box correctly and entered early. She turned sharply and came down off her foils could not get back to foiling until two minutes into the race. Then BRITANNIA came down and PATRIOT worked her way to within 100 metres, but a slow mark rounding and the British kept the lead. With the course shortened from six legs to four the only worry for BRITANNIA was crossing before the time limit expired.
At the end of the day the British were leading the first Round Robin with 3 wins followed by the Italians with one and the Americans none.
The following day there was plenty of wind and the Americans needed a win to bolster their confidence. Their first race of the day was against LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI and they were leading at the last mark when disaster struck. As she rounded the mark doing about 47 knots she was hit by a heavy gust of wind. Her bow went up in the air and she came down hard on her portside and ended up on beam ends. A quick count of crewmembers showed that all were accounted for and now their attention turned to the boat. What they did not realize was that when she landed the force of the impact tore a sizeable hole just forward of the port foiling arm. All three other America’s Cup entries were quickly on the scene to help as well as Coastguard New Zealand, harbor master and fire and police. PATRIOT was stabilized and they tried to get her back on an even keel. It was quickly noticed that she was floating low in the water and they knew they had a much bigger problem. When these boats are being righted the wind will get under the mainsail and they will re-right quickly. PATRIOT was not re-righting so the ran a jib under the boat to lessen the amount of water egress and then inflated two large life-rafts, which were placed on either side. Then, very carefully Team New Zealand’s chase boat towed her back to the American compound where she was raised out of the water late that evening.
The big question was could she be repaired in time to race in the second-round robin just 12 days away? They removed the rig and assessed the damaged and figured if they work around the clock, they would be able to get her back racing. Help was offered from the other syndicates and the New Zealand boatbuilding community with the quote “Whatever you need you’ve got.”
The first-round robin concluded with the British moving on to the third round and the Americans facing off against the Italians in a best of seven series.
Two days before PATRIOT was to face LUNA ROSSA PRADA PIRELLI she was finally repaired and, in the water, ready for a test sail. Where the hole was, she now sported two band-aids thanking the other competitors for their help getting them back in the water. She sailed in light air that built to a stronger breeze for seven hours and it seemed that everything went well.
29 January was the first day of racing in the next round with two races scheduled. Conditions were going to be challenging with the wind over 20 knots. Both racers entered the starting box late with neither gaining the upper hand. As the starting clocked ticked under a minute to go both racers tacked for the line with LUNA ROSA on the inside. This allowed her to force PATRIOT up and both boats came off their foils. The Italians had the position, held the American racer down, and got back to speed. The Italians controlled the race keeping their boat between PATRIOT and the mark. PATRIOT showed good speed, but never enough to threaten the Italian challenger. At one point, PATRIOT rounded the third windward gate, hit a speed of 53.3 knots, but came down off her foils hard when the rudder lost grip. PATRIOT finished 2:43 back of the Italians.
In the second race of the day the Italians got the advantage before the start and led at the starting gun. PATRIOT was back 17 seconds at the first mark and despite an Italian mistake PATRIOT could only get closer, but not make the pass. PATRIOT continued to have issues staying on her foils and was 3:07 behind at the finish line.
The day ended with the Italians winning both races and leading the best of seven event with two wins. The Americans needed to learn from their mistakes as they were now in a hole.
On the second day two more races were scheduled and the Americans needed both of them. However, if they lost them both the challenge was over.
At the start of the first race of the day PATRIOT was already in a vulnerable position, but both hit the line at the same time. PATRIOT tacked first followed by LUNA ROSSA. The Italian boat was to leeward and with her larger foils was able to point higher and forced PATRIOT to tack. The Italians were now in control and kept PATRIOT to the left in less air. LUNA ROSSA gained, but PATRIOT did find some downwind speed, but it was not enough as LUNA ROSSA crossed the finish line 35 seconds ahead.
The Americans were now in a must win situation. Once in the starting box the Italians took control and went to the left, which was favoured. PATRIOT rounded the windward mark and when they went to change foils the Foil Cant System failed. Now they could not tack and were headed beyond the boundary, trying to find a way to override the system. For the rest of the race the system worked intermittently and that was the final nail in the coffin. With that their hopes to challenge for the Cup came to an end.
The biggest issue for the Americans happened when PATRIOT went over on beam ends. The biggest factor was the sailing time lost. The Italians had obviously found more speed between the first and second rounds and that proved to be the advantage. They also seemed to have better starts as PATRIOT seemed to be at a consistent disadvantage. It will be interesting to see how this America’s Cup turns out and hopefully this does not sour the NYYC from issuing a challenge for the next event.