In a thrilling winner-take-all final race, Emirates Team New Zealand unhooked itself from a starting buoy to win the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series New York with the high score of 52 points. No lead was ever safe on Sunday as the wind shifted through wide arcs from the west to the north and ranged anywhere from 5 to 20 knots.
In the first race, Ben Ainslie and the Land Rover BAR crew led the fleet out of the gate. Artemis racing got the lead as they rounded the second mark in first place, sparring with Emirates Team New Zealand on the downwind. As ETNZ took the lead, LandRoverBAR suffered a penalty. The shifty winds on the Hudson proved challenging as EmiratesTeamNZ, ArtemisRacing and LandRoverBAR were neck and neck down the course. ArtemisRacing made the right call toward Gate 4, taking the lead, and held on to win Race 1 in spite of the shifty breeze.
The second race started with penalties right out of the gate for OracleTeamUSA, SoftBankTeamJPN and ArtemisRacing. The first leg of the race found GroupamaTeamFr in the lead followed closely by EmiratesTeamNZ and OracleTeamUSA, with GroupamaTeamFr rounding first at the top mark. GroupamaTeamFr held on to their lead and won Race 2.
The Kiwi crew, led by Emirates Team New Zealand skipper Glenn Ashby and World Sailor of the year and Red Bull Youth America’s Cup champion helmsman Peter Burling, was literally dead in the water at the start of Race 3. Crewman Blair Tuke had to jump in the water to unhook the starting buoy’s anchor line from the catamaran’s rudder. Making matters worse, the port hull was punctured by the buoy and water was leaking into the hull throughout the race. “We saw the buoy coming at us with about 20 seconds to go,” said Ashby. “It wasn’t ideal but we were lucky in the end.”
“It was one of those series where everyone had good luck and bad luck, but we got our good luck at the end of the regatta,” said Ashby. “It was exciting and crazy at the same time. Today it was important to keep your cool and stay focused.”
The Kiwi crew’s luck came full circle on the next-to-last leg. They rounded the last windward mark in fifth place, about 42 seconds behind leading SoftBank Team Japan. But as all the crews began the downwind leg they sailed into a patch of no wind that engulfed the course.
As the leg was perpendicular to the southerly flowing current, some of the crews were being swept over the course boundary. Land Rover BAR, Groupama Team France and SoftBank Team Japan all were penalized for crossing the boundary in the current.
The Kiwis, further behind, held in the middle of the course and when the wind filled in the Kiwis took off on their hydrofoils at 16 to 20 knots boatspeed, leaving the rest of the fleet gasping in disbelief.
At one point during the final race ORACLE TEAM USA looked to be in position to win. Skipper Jimmy Spithill and crew won the start and led around the first two mark roundings. But Dean Barker’s SoftBank Team Japan grabbed the lead by working the right side of the course while ORACLE TEAM USA struggled on the right side. In the end the reigning America’s Cup champion placed second in the race and second for the series.
“The crowd was insane,” said Spithill. “Today was great for the fans. In these conditions you have to roll with the punches and keep fighting. We wanted to win but we’ll take the second place. The Kiwis got a Hail Mary there at the end, but you have to take your hat off to them and congratulate them.”
Third went to Franck Cammas’ Groupama Team France, winner of Race 2. SoftBank Team Japan placed fourth, Land Rover BAR fifth and Artemis Racing sixth.
Illustrating just how challenging the day was on the short, confined racecourse, Nathan Outteridge’s crew won the first race going away but was then sixth in Races 2 and 3.
“We got a little bit of luck in the first race and managed to hold on, but we had some terrible moments in the last two races…” said Outteridge. “You can’t get people to come watch sailing if you don’t bring it to them. That’s what we’ve done here. When the America’s Cup is in Bermuda next year, in super high-tech boats, we’ll get some amazing racing.”
The Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series now moves onto Chicago, June 10-12, 2016. After that it heads to Europe for events in the U.K. in July and France in September.