They loved it. The sun shone, the breeze blew, and the hometown hero was loudly cheered by the crowds along the Southsea shore as Sir Ben Ainslie went into the clubhouse leading. “I was delighted with the way the first day went and blown away by the support,” said Sir Ben of the win and a second scored by his Land Rover BAR (LRBAR) team in the opening two races of an America’s Cup World Series regatta that launched the campaign whose business end is in Bermuda in 2017.
The organisers, Sir Keith Mills’ Team Origin, claimed a spectator crowd of 48,000 ashore and estimated another 15,000 in a substantial spectator fleet on the water. Sunday may not be as successful if the rain reappears and the insurers offering policies against the sort of washout which caused cancellations, including of the Red Arrows display jets on Friday may be scrutinising the small print.
The British crew’s Saturday performance cashed in on some earlier concentrated training – most of it in a development boat - both in slick gear changing and familiarity of the home track. LRBAR won the first race from the current holder of the cup, the American-flagged Oracle Racing, skippered by the Australian Jimmy Spithill still recovering from elbow surgery.
A typically low-key Emirates Team New Zealand had also shown good speed, though some aggressive tactics from Spithill forced them into third just before the finish, and Franck Cammas’ Team France carryied the tail ender’s lanterne rouge. Just ahead of Cammas, Iain Percy’s lament about being short of practices in the Swedish boat Artemis looked fully justified.
The second race went to the Kiwis – “we’re really not expecting mcsh from this weekend” said ceo Kevin Shoebridge - with the hugely talented Peter Burling on the helm. LRBAR was second and the French rescued some pride in third. The New Zealanders love to be underdogs. “It’s very easy to make mistakes,” said Cammas.
All is not as simple as it looked. The Sunday finale is much more serious than event’s froth and funfair wrapping implies. Sunday results count for double points, and when the teams arrive in Bermuda to race in their new boats, the top scorer from all the ACWS regattas will have two bonus points and the team in second place one. After the Duke and Duchess of York have left the prize-giving on Sunday afternoon, 10% of valuable points to win those bonuses in two years’ time could already have been settled.
No practice is allowed between now and this year’s second regatta in Gothenberg at the end of August. Playing catch-up in a six-boat fleet is not easy.
Many feel that there is not enough racing all round. As well as their engineers and boffins running a design race for the new, 15-metre wing-powered foiling ctamarans, the sailors need match practice. And, for tickets costing up to £48 each, two races of 20 to 25 minutes feel like thin gruel for the spectators, even when boosted by aerobatic displays.
Suggestions that there should be more races plus a finale which is a head-to-head match race, which is what the America’s Cup is all about, have so far fallen on deaf ears.Reuse content