BRITANNIA MASTERS THE SEA
PRADA CUP : DAY ONE
WORDS: TONY ROBERTS
PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF INEOS TEAM UK
Heading into the New Year all eyes in yacht racing focused on two potential challengers, New York Yacht Club's American Magic and the challenger of record Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli as the favourites to win the PRADA Cup and become the official challengers to Emirates Team New Zealand for the 36th Americas Cup title.
However, after the opening two races of the challenger series, a new contender arises, INEOS Team UK's Britannia with Sir Ben Ainslie at the helm. The Sir Jim Ratcliffe backed squad based out of Portsmouth are aiming to end a 170 year feud with the Americans and win the Americas Cup.
Following Decembers World Series in which INEOS Team UK failed to score a single point, you wouldn't be surprised if Sir Ben Ainslie had the wind taken out of his sails. But it would appear that this very public defeat fuelled the most successful sailor in Olympic history and the elite team assembled to pull off one of the most surprising performances in recent history.
Round Robin Race One
NEW YORK YACHT CLUB American Magic v INEOS TEAM UK Britannia
Current: 0.9 knots @ 330
Wind: 8 - 16 knots
Winning Margin: 1 Minute 20 Seconds
American Magic and Britannia crossed the starting line evenly, both wanting to win the opening race of the 36th Americas Cup regatta and both with a point to prove. Although many would argue that Britannia's crew had the most to prove following their poor showing during the World Series.
Heading towards the outer boundary, this one hundred and seventy year old grudge race started evenly, following the opening tac, Ainslie and his team began to stretch their legs heading towards the first gate. Upon exiting the first gate and starting leg two of the six leg match race, INEOS Team UK continued to extend their lead to over one minute at the finish line.
Commentators and course side analysts are amazed at the number of changes that the team have made to their AC&5, especially within a short space of time.
Round Robin Race Two
LUNA ROSSO PRADA PIRELLI TEAM v INEOS TEAM UK Britannia
Current: 0.2 knots @ 331
Wind: 16 - 22 knots
Winning Margin: 28 Seconds
Higher wind speeds and the challenger of record, after INEOS TEAM UK relatively smooth victory over American Magic earlier in the day race two surely would provide Ainslie and his team with a strong challenge?
The efficiency and speed from INEOS TEAM UK was evident from the start, launching from the opening gate, cruising high and forcing Luna Rossa to tac to the opposite side of the course. One of Luna Rossa's helmsman is 'Cup legend Jimmy Spithill, who in previous cups has been team mate to Ainslie now had to out manoeuvre his former tactician.
Race two's race progressed with teams much closer than the opening match with Ainslie taking his AC75 to victory with 28 second in hand.
Sir Ben said this after the days event unfolded;
“It feels a lot better than six losses or whatever was. We left it a bit late, nice to find the pace when it counts on time in this breeze.
In the first race the right hand-side of the course was stronger, on North Head as we have seen. And in the races, a couple of weeks ago, it was a quite big feature. Giles did a great job calling the breeze and the guys sailing it fast and handling it. It was a team effort and I have got to say our entire team back on the dockyards, the designers, the engineers, the shore team, the boat builders, they had three epic weeks working to turn this boat around. So, this is for them and for our friends at Mercedes GP. As I said to the boys we are long way out of the woods yet, it’s a couple of good races. Time to make the most of the momentum now”.