U.S. Boat Rallies to End Round 1
Surprising Loss Followed by Key Comeback Win
VALENCIA, Spain, April 28 — The first round robin of the 32nd America’s Cup drew to a close Saturday, six days late but with enough drama to make the wait worthwhile.
In moderate winds and sunsplashed seas, previously undefeated U. S. entry BMW Oracle took an unexpected beating from the much- loved home team, Desafío Español, in the first race but rallied to beat Emirates Team New Zealand in the second. The win gave BMW Oracle the lead in the standings halfway through this elimination round and sent preregatta favorite New Zealand plummeting to third.
Oracle vs. TNZ was the highly anticipated finale of the 110race round. The pair entered the series ranked one- two based on preliminary competition, but both are now sailing new boats that had never squared off before.
A dust- up between veteran Oracle skipper Chris Dickson and young TNZ helmsman Dean Barker, both native New Zealanders, was expected. They did not disappoint. The two lined up side- by- side, stalled in the breeze just meters apart as the five- minute prestart sequence ticked down.
When the starting gun sounded, Dickson had pushed Barker over the line, but the younger skipper spun his boat brilliantly, accelerated to steal Dickson’s wind, ducked back across the line to start legally and escaped potential disaster. Within minutes, the Kiwis had carved out a four- boat- length lead.
Dickson wasn’t done. He hammered away at the Kiwis up the 2.6- mile first leg, throwing tack after tack at his rival, and by the first turning mark Oracle had pulled even. As the two boats spun around to head downwind, BMW Oracle’s spinnaker snapped full, blanketing TNZ’s wind, and the Americans shot into a lead they never relinquished. The final victory margin was a comfortable 38 seconds, or five boat lengths.
“ It was full- on race, that one,” Team New Zealand strategist Ray Davies said. “ They had us on the ropes in the prestart but fortunately for us, they made an error and we got a healthy start.” As for getting passed on the first leg, Davies said not to read too much into it.
“ It was a tactical thing. We wanted to protect the right side so we let them go left, and then the wind went their way and they made big gains. We’re not really worried about our boat speed. On the long lineups, we did fine.”
But Davies conceded that TNZ’s three losses in 10 firstround outings were troubling. “ It wasn’t the best round,” he said, “ but we’re still in the top four.” TNZ, ranked first coming into the regatta, lost to fifthplace Mascalzone Latino, second- place Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle. The top four boats at the end of round robin 2, which starts Sunday, advance to challenger semifinals; the seven others go home.
BMW Oracle’s only loss in the series came against the surprisingly tough Spanish team, which now stands fourth, just a point behind Team New Zealand. The Spanish led the U. S. boat at every mark of the course Saturday, increasing the margin from 14 seconds at the first turn to a full minute at the end.
They crossed the line to cheers and whistles from a big crowd of spectator boats on a pleasant spring day.
Sunday is the first day of round robin 2. Instead of two races, Cup officials plan to run just one a day as long as the weather doesn’t fail.
Lack of wind at the beginning of the regatta forced cancellations on six of the first eight scheduled days, but organizers say light winds in May are rare. They want to finish the round robin by May 9, two days later than originally planned. Semifinals for the top four finishers start May 14.
BMW Oracle, right, trailed Team New Zealand by four boat lengths early, but the American entry rallied to win by five boat lengths.