Coutts Wins Race 2 With Last-Minute Charge

Stuart Streuli

The result in Race 2 of the America's Cup mirrored the previous day both in the nationality of the victor and the stunned reaction of everyone watching on the Hauraki Gulf. But outside of that the first two races couldn't have been more opposite. After winning the opening race when NZL-82 started to fall apart shortly after the start in a heavy southerly, Russell Coutts and his Alinghi crew won this one--sailed in a moderate northerly sea breeze--with a last-minute charge. It was a astounding show of downwind power, especially considering Team New Zealand was expected to have an edge off the breeze with their longer waterline and extra sail area. But today it was Alinghi, by forcing the defender to sail higher downwind angles with a fuller spinnaker on that final run, that rolled to windward of the Team New Zealand just minutes from the finish and took a 2-0 lead in the America's Cup.

After the heartbreaking gear failures of Race 1, Team New Zealand needed a strong result today, and for the first 90 percent of the race it looked like the men in black were going to get exactly that. Though Coutts took the early lead in a 9- to 12-knot northerly that progressively backed throughout the day, and rounded the first mark with a 12-second lead, TNZ helmsman Dean Barker and tactician Hamish Pepper made a tremendous gain on the first downwind leg, splitting to the left side of the course and gaining 46 seconds. With the breeze fairly steady, it seemed this gain might be the affirmation of the speed potential of the team’s radical hull appendage--the "Hula"--which Team New Zealand supporters have eagerly anticipated for over a month. But it also looked like a slight left shift and a bit more pressure might have played a significant role in the lead change.

With Alinghi showing a little better height and Team New Zealand a touch of forward speed the two boats played it rather conservatively on the second beat. Barker forced Coutts to the left side of the course, protecting the starboard advantage. With the breeze continuing to back, now passing due north after being as far right as 028, Coutts reduced Barker’s lead to 26 seconds at the second windward mark and then continued to chomp away at the margin off the wind, taking another 14 second off on the second run and putting in doubt the Hula’s supposed downwind superiority.

After rounding the second leeward mark hot on the heels of his former protege, Coutts immediately engaged Barker in a tacking duel, running through nine quick tacks in a matter of a few minutes. All told the two teams combined for 66 tacks on that leg, but Team New Zealand’s advantage only increased. With one run to go, the 26-second lead seemed almost unbeatable. Alinghi initially showed a port pole, but switched to a jibe set at the last minute and with Team New Zealand, which executed a bear away set, in pursuit, raced to the left corner.

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| Stuart Streuli|

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| Disappointed Team New Zealand fans express their emotions after a tough loss in Race 2 of the America's Cup.* * *|

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Sailing with a flatter spinnaker, Alinghi kept the angles hot and slowly closed the gap. When the two boats jibed to port, Alinghi was less than two boatlengths behind. Coutts trimmed in and ground over the top of the defender. It was a remarkable pass, reminiscent of Oracle's last gasp effort in the closing moments of Race 6 of the Louis Vuitton Finals, but infinitely more impressive. Coutts was then able to slide in front and jibe and then hold off Team New Zealand for a seven-second win, the closest since America3 beat Il Moro di Venezia by three seconds in Race 2 of the 1992 America's Cup.