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16 February 2003

As OMEGA ambassador Cindy Crawford fired the starting gun to begin the first America's Cup race, disappointment was in store for TNZ.

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All the elements were in place for a splendid opening to New Zealand's second defense of the America's Cup, of which OMEGA is the Official Timekeeper. Sunshine bathed the inner Hauraki Gulf in bright colours, a spectator fleet estimated at 2500 boats was on hand and the weather conditions were challenging: 20 knots and a one-metre swell. Supermodel and OMEGA ambassador Cindy Crawford fired the starting gun and NZL-82 surged to an early lead. However, their good start was short-lived as Alinghi clawed back and closed gauge between the two boats, pinching up from leeward. Worse was to come for TNZ, though, and unfortunately they had to officially withdraw from the first race at 13:40 hours, 25 minutes after the start.

Six minutes after the start and Team New Zealand appeared to have a problem: one of their afterguard was seen to be bailing frantically as large quantities of water were seen sloshing around down to leeward. As fast as he bailed, more water came in. A few moments after that Team New Zealand tacked away onto port while Alinghi continued on starboard.

 

With 13 minutes of the race elapsed, the first disaster struck as the end of NZL-82's mainsail boom broke removing all outhaul control. At 17 minutes after the start there were further problems aboard NZL-82 as the tack blew out of the headsail. But the nightmare still wasn't over for Team New Zealand. As the crew hoisted a replacement headsail, the sail blew out of the headfoil. Twenty-two minutes after the start and Team New Zealand's race was over.

 

Alinghi completed the course in 1:55:53. They used a spinnaker on the first run only as the wind blew between 20 and 25 knots. On the run to the finish Alinghi was sailing wing-on-wing, its genoa trimmed to windward of the mainsail. It crossed the finish line without a headsail.

 

On 16 February, Race Two of the America's Cup got underway in light conditions with the breeze struggling to top 10 knots. With positions reversed for the entry into the starting box, Alinghi entered from the left and Team New Zealand from the right. But as the breeze started to shift around to the left further up the course it became clear that the left hand side of the start line would be favoured.

 

As both boats sailed downwind from the weather mark on port, Team New Zealand kept the pressure on by appearing to sail at the same speed but lower than the Swiss. Eventually they gybed away and shortly afterwards started to pull ahead rapidly.

 

On rounding the first leeward mark they had overtaken the Swiss to lead for the first time and were 130m ahead with a delta of 34 seconds.The second beat saw Barker and his crew hold onto most of their lead despite the tricky conditions. At the weather mark, Alinghi were 26 seconds behind but by the leeward mark Alinghi had hauled back some of this advantage to close to the gap to just 14 seconds.

 

On the last beat the breeze had dropped to 7-8 knots and Coutts' team seemed keen on engaging Team New Zealand in a down-speed tacking duel. But as the pair bounced off each other it was Team New Zealand that appeared to gain the advantage, stretching their lead metre by metre with every tack.

 

At the last weather mark rounding, both boats had thrown in 33 tacks and Team New Zealand was ahead by 26 seconds. Choosing to perform a bear away set may have cost them the race as Alinghi opted for a gybe set. Team New Zealand were quick to respond and gybed over onto starboard but as the pair sailed downwind Alinghi, to weather, managed get the puffs first, sailing deeper at the same speed and soaking down to Team New Zealand.

 

What followed next was one of the closest finishes of the series, as Coutts' team fought to break through. Initially, Barker managed to hold Alinghi off, carrying the Swiss team out to and beyond the port gybe lay line. But after the gybe, Alinghi managed to drive over the top of NZL-82 yet again to win by seven seconds.

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