Photography by Carlo Borlenghi
A race that will be long-remembered for the dramatic events that followed it got off to a challenging start for American Magic. The team was caught out of position in the pre-start and entered the starting box both late and in a vulnerable position. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli tried to take advantage of the mistake and force a foul, but the umpires waved it off. After this close call, the remainder of the pre-start was an even affair. Both boats charged across the line in sync, with American Magic in the windward position.
Luna Rossa earned the first cross, but the race soon turned in favor of American Magic. Both boats sailed the first beat in 15 to 20 knots of breeze, and the day was a showcase of the immense upwind performance of the AC75 class.
The two Challengers charged up the course at nearly 40 knots of boatspeed.
Helmsman Dean Barker and Skipper/Tactician Terry Hutchinson took advantage of a favourable lefthand shift in the breeze, and what appeared to be a slight speed advantage, to put American Magic in position to lead Luna Rossa into the top mark.
After another unsuccessful penalty request from Luna Rossa, Dean Barker steered Patriot through the windward gate 6 seconds ahead of the Italians.
A solid run saw the lead double to 13 seconds. Both boats rounded the lefthand gate in a very fresh breeze. Halfway up the second beat, Luna Rossa incurred a penalty for a boundary violation and dropped a little further behind. The lead doubled to nearly 30 seconds at the top mark and with a big shift to the left, American Magic was able to lay the leeward gate on starboard jibe after just a short stretch on port jibe around the top mark.
“That squall was moving down the left side of the racetrack, and so we came in around the bottom mark, we trimmed up and sailed 20 seconds to the boundary and tacked,” said Hutchinson. “We tacked in like nine knots of breeze, after having much more than that for most of the race. The breeze was just evaporating all over the place. And so, you know, as we’ve learned over the last couple of days, you have to be in the pressure or the breeze can evaporate on you.”
The final upwind leg was similarly one-sided and American Magic took advantage of the bias to increase its advantage heading into the final mark. This is when disaster struck for the Americans in the form of another left shift and a significant increase in the windspeed due to an oncoming squall.
Patriot went for the left gate mark, rounded, and then reared up, crashed down and capsized to port.
“Dean made the correct decision to tack around the left gate, keep us in the pressure and just try to deliver us down to the finish. We got hit by a reasonably big gust. When you’re racing the boat, you’re racing the boat.”
As the AC75’s are not self-righting, the race against Luna Rossa was over. A second race began almost immediately to save a damaged PATRIOT from sinking. The unfortunate series of events ripped away a much-needed first Prada Cup victory from the U.S. team. Luna Rossa was awarded their second point of the regatta.
“Obviously it’s not exactly the day that we wanted,” said Hutchinson. “We had a good race going and the boat was going really well.”