Ainslie suffers first defeat

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The Independent Online

It was a less than happy 32nd birthday for multi-Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie as he suffered his first defeat in five starts at the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series in New Zealand.

At the helm of the British challenger for the America's Cup, Team Origin, he led for three-quarters of his opening match in the gold fleet second series of one-on-one races against the America's Cup holder, Switzerland's Alinghi, which he had beaten in the opening round.

Later Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird said he was sorry "that was the only gift I had for him," but the injury was self-inflicted as Ainslie's crew fluffed a sail handling manoeuvre which they knew was shakey.

Ainslie had said they had identified the problem and believed they had cracked it, but the switching from one side to another of the downwind gennaker again let them down and allowed Alinghi to pounce.

The manoeuvre "hasn't been our forte in this regatta," said sailing director Mike Sanderson afterwards. "We have some work to do on our technique. We certainly debriefed it to death tonight."

Also taking its first defeat was the home Emirates Team New Zealand, at the hands of one of the newest challengers, Italy's Damiani. "I really lost the race at the start," said skipper Dean Barker. "It was a misjudgement on my part. I made one mistake and they punished us."

The Italians also survived a flurry of 15 attacking zig-zag tacks on the first, upwind, 1.7-mile leg and afterwards skipper Vasco Vascotto said that, in typical Italian fashion, they could not hide their emotions. "We are really proud, we are really happy," said Vascotto.

In the third of the gold fleet matches, Russell Coutts recovered from being caught dead in the water early in the pre-start to pull off a perfectly timed run to the line for BMW Oracle and dispatch any hope that Peter Holmberg and his Luna Rossa crew might have had of engineering the third upset of the day.

In the Vendée Globe solo round the world race, Britain's Samantha Davies was going through the 1,900 miles to the finish marker in third place with a 200-mile lead over Marc Guillemot and fifth-placed Brian Thompson has a similar margin over Dee Caffari.

In the Volvo round the world race, the veteran Magnus Olsson is to continue as skipper of the Swedish entry Ericsson 3. Anders Lewander, who cited injury as the reason for stepping aside for the fourth leg from Singapore to Qingdao, China, has been sidelined for the fifth, 12,300-mile leg to Rio de Janeiro.

Olsson is supervising repairs to his damaged Open 70 in Taiwan and will miss the inshore race in Qingdao scheduled for Saturday. But he hopes to complete the 1,000 miles to Qingdao in time to start the next leg on 14 February.

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