There’s no sense in rehashing or next-day quarterbacking the two lopsided Prada Cup Semi-Final races contested on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour on Friday. Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team won both affairs before crossing the starting line. All the New York YC American Magic crew could do was follow the black Italian boat around the racecourse, fighting to keep the boat under control and live to sail another day.
For the Italian Challenger of Record, both races looked easy. And that’s because they were—from a tactical racing point of view. Once comfortably ahead, they were free to play the shifts, loosely cover their opponent and ostensibly sail the races as if they were high-wind training laps.
For the Americans on their rebuilt Patriot 2.0, it was a “tough day,” said skipper Terry Hutchinson in the post-race press conference that followed their drubbing. The wind, he lamented, wasn’t stable nor consistent. The same can be said for Patriot, which helmsman Dean Barker appeared to be fighting the entire day, in straight-line sailing, and certainly during bearaways through the weather gate. Onboard cameras are telling: on Luna Rossa, co-skippers Jimmy Spithill and Francesco Bruni always appear strikingly comfortable, effortlessly sailing their boat, pressing buttons and making small corrections with the wheel. Barker, meanwhile, is always contorted, leaning into the cockpit sidewall with the wheel shuddering in his hands.
This is not new behavior for Patriot, or the result of the capsize; it has always been this way. It’s the look of a rudder constantly on the edge of letting go, of a rudder with far too many forces at play. Even Hutchinson admitted, “the boat is hard to control.”
Yes, the wind was bumping the top of the wind range for these AC75s in the first race of the day, and while Bruni stated that Friday’s races were the most difficult conditions in which they’ve raced, Luna Rossa had no obvious boathandling issues aside from one skid-to-wheelie through the leeward gate, from which Jimmy Spithill quickly recovered. And yes, it was a shore-team miracle to have Patriot back on the water given the extent of damage inflicted to the boat’s mechatronics during its capsize and sinking 10 days earlier. Still, there’s no denying the harsh reality that American Magic is two losses away from packing it up in Auckland—potentially without a single race win in the regatta.
The boat is not right, and to make matters more difficult for Hutchinson and Co., the silver-suited Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team is markedly better than they were a week ago. Plus, they no longer consider the Americans a threat.
“Luna Rossa is going well,” Hutchinson said. “Their boat has improved, as you would expect…and that was what on display today.”
Bruni confirmed that changes made in the days after their loss to Ineos Team UK in the round robins have been made to the boat, as well as to the sailing team. “No one wants to lose,” Bruni said, “but it is not how you lose…it’s how you react. We did very good work in these four to five days. A good balance between improvements to the boat and giving time to the sailing team to improve their skills. We sailed three out of five days, pushing hard.”
The changes were certainly noticeable, and were pointed out ad nauseum by the race commentary team: communications onboard were direct and fluid, and their boathandling was crisp. “We tried to keep everyone cool and calm because conditions were very extreme,” Bruni said. “When we scream, the boat goes bad.”
He also noted that while changes were made to improve the boat’s performance at the top of the wind range, its light-wind sweet spot remains intact, which should give American Magic serious cause for concern. Light winds are not Patriot’s conditions and that’s what’s in the forecast for Saturday’s next two races.
Hutchinson, ever the pragmatic skipper, admitted to be “reasonably pissed off,” with his team’s two losses. His team’s days are numbered, but there is no time to make dramatic changes. They will treat each day the same, he says, with an emphasis on not repeating mistakes.
“I think Patriot is a good boat all the way through the [wind] range, so you don’t have to deviate too much [or] go and try to change a lot of things,” he said. “Our approach and mentality are to stay consistent, stay true to the process that we have racing the boat and allow that to happen.”
It’s one race at a time, he concluded. But that’s also true for the sailors of Luna Rossa. At this point, they’re happy to go racing. It’s what they came to Auckland to do. To race, to win, to get to the Cup and the only thing in their way at the moment is Ineos Team UK.