Alinghi, Oracle, Victory, GBR Win

Protests mark first races of the Quarter Finals

From the start of the first race of the quarter finals, when Wight Lightning luffed up hard underneath Stars & Stripes and tattooed a penalty on the American boat, you could see that the tenor of racing had changed. Three out of the four races held Wednesday on the Hauraki Gulf included penalties as part of the already intense dynamic, and the warfare wasn’t restricted to the single-chance boats.

Communication between bowman Paolo Bassani and helmsman Francisco DeAngelis broke down at the worst possible time during Prada’s first downwind leg against Alinghi. Prada, showing great pace, was edging closer and closer to Alinghi, so close that Bassini went forward on the narrow bow to call the overlap. In the half second between an "clear" sign from Bassini, and a "not clear" sign, the wily master helmsman Russell Coutts pushed the stern of Alinghi ever so slightly and kissed Prada’s intrusive bow. Flag against Prada. The rest of the race, which included a fine dressing down of the crew of Alinghi by Coutts-"we’ll talk about this later"-was a great tussle. Prada, showing fantastic boatspeed against Alinghi, worked hard to lay a penalty on Coutts, but even with their speed, couldn’t ride out from underneath. Alinghi by 1m18s.

After holding a lead, and a penalty, for five and a half legs, and with Team GBR gaining fast, Team Dennis Conner made a desperate move near the end of the final downwind leg, heading up hard and steering straight for Wight Lightning in an attempt to cancel out their penalty. The umpires saw no foul, the Brits rolled over the top of USA-77, and the first win went to Team GBR. If there was any consolation for the American team, it was the fact that USA-77 seemed to be faster in both upwind and downwind mode. Delta: 1 minute.

The Oracle/OneWorld clash was a bare-knuckle brawl from beginning to end. Oracle, steered by Chris Dickson, slapped a penalty on OneWorld, and spent the rest of the race fending off their advances. On the first downwind leg, OneWorld got inside Oracle and pushed them well past the leeward mark. As both boats turned to head upwind for the mark, OneWorld jibed to close and was flagged. Despite close-quarter racing, OneWorld was never able to catch Oracle out and crossed the finish line behind by 12 seconds.

Sadly for the French, their match with the Swedes wasn’t close, wasn’t exciting, and was a loss. The Victory Challenge looks capable of handling the French easily, winning their first race by 2m:3s.

Alinghi def. Prada
Oracle def. OneWorld
Victory def. Le Defi
Team GBR def. Team Dennis Conner