LVC Finals: It's All in the Clouds as TNZ Strikes First

Emirates Team New Zealand turns the correct weather call off the starting line into a slim lead and holds that all the way to the finish. But it isn't easy, the two boats appear to be very close in speed.

LVF07_0601LWMark

Stuart Streuli

VALENCIA, Spain-The turning point came early, but the race wasn't decided until the final jibe 100 meters from the finish line. Emirates Team New Zealand got the first shift and was able to turn that into a slim lead that it held all the way around the track for an 8-second win over Luna Rossa Challenge in the first race of the best-of-9 finals of the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup.If there is anything to take away from this first race-Lord knows most everyone will try-it appears to be that the boats are remarkably even in the 10 to 14 knot range and that Roger "Clouds" Badham, ETNZ's weather guru, has really got the breeze figured out. Badham's pre-race call-to get to the right off the starting line-proved to be the difference in the race.If you're inclined to reach a little further you might add that the Italian boat looks very quick and versatile off the breeze, gaining-if just a few seconds-on each run and able to sail low or sail high with equal effectiveness. Grinder Andrew Taylor, a former member of Team New Zealand now sailing for Luna Rossa, describes the conversation on the boat after the loss in this audio clip.Match SummaryAfter a short AP, the race committee set up for a 3.3-mile course at 110. The breeze, which was up as high as 16 knots earlier, was still pretty stiff, but starting to back off. LR entered from the boat end, ETNZ from the pin.ETNZ was a little late on the entry, both boats right into a medium-length dial-up. LR helmsman James Spithill appeared to pick the perfect moment to peel away on port tack, catching ETNZ head to win. But as they have all during the Louis Vuitton Cup, the New Zealand team expertly maneuvered the boat onto port tack and accelerated, preventing Spithill from getting enough separation to jibe back and catch his opponent on starboard. When Spithill jibed, ETNZ was able to claim the right. When Spithill settled in to leeward of ETNZ on starboard tack it was obvious he wanted the pin end of the line. He did two quick tacks to close the distance between the two boats, then put the pedal down. ETNZ seemed to be a hair ahead off the line, but didn't live too long on LR's windward hip, tacking away 1:20 into the race. Ray Davies describes how difficult a choice it was in this audio clip.This is where Torben Grael did something he didn't often do in the semifinals. He waited 30 seconds and then matched. If the team wanted the left, why not see what was out there?The two boats appeared to be very even during a long starboard tack, but a slight shift to the right gave ETNZ enough distance to tack and force LR to take a position to leeward. On a long starboard tack lead varied from a boatlength to ETNZ to bow even, but ETNZ was able to push the action all the way back to the port-tack layline. Click here to listen to Grael's analysis of Luna Rossa's start and the first beat. Click here to listen to Davies assessment of the two boats' relative speeds on the first beat. ETNZ led around the mark by 12 seconds. Initially LR seemed to want the high road, but as the teams worked through the middle of the run, Spithill soaked low. LR was first to jibe, with ETNZ following once it had clear air behind LR's wind shadow. Though ETNZ looked to have slightly better pressure both when it jibed and afterward, LR closed up the game on the run and followed ETNZ around the right-side gate nearly bow to stern. It wasn't exactly according to plan, says Grael, in this audio clip.To no one's surprise Terry Hutchinson, the ETNZ tactician put the clamps on LR, forcing Spithill into two downspeed tacks to break the cover. ETNZ did a splendid job of forcing LR out to the port-tack layline, building a 3- to 5-boatlength lead. But late in the beat Spithill came roaring back and rounded just 11 seconds behind. Davies explains how Grael was able to make such an impressive comeback on the second beat.The second run went much the way of the first. LR tried the high road, then soaked low, then jibed away. ETNZ was able to maintain the lead, jibing just in front of LR with a few hundred meters left in the race. Emirates Team New Zealand def. Luna Rossa Challenge by 8 seconds.ETNZ leads the best-of-9 series 1-0.