With Emirates Team New Zealand and Artemis first on the water in the best-of-three semi-finals, competition in the Louis Vuitton Trophy in La Maddalena, Italy, stepped up a notch yesterday. Twelve days of round-robin racing in this America's Cup-class regatta produced major surprises, including the elimination of BMW Oracle, the defender of the America's Cup, and Mascalzone Latino Audi, the challenger of record.
Also unexpected was the emergence of the Synergy Russian Sailing Team, and the new Franco-German team All4One coming top of the leaderboard. The series, regarded as sailing's equivalent of motor racing's Formula One, will be coming to the UAE in November when Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) hosts the third of four rounds. The UAE beat out some of the world's major yachting destinations, and Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, the chairman of DIMC and the chief executive of Emirates airline, described it as "a real coup".
Organised by the World Sailing Teams Association, a group of America's Cup-level teams that was formed last year with the support of the French luxury goods company, the regatta follows a similar format to the Louis Vuitton Cup, the challenger selection series that preceded all America's Cups between 1983 and 2007. The 17-strong crews race in identical Version 5 America's Cup yachts, which guarantees close-quarters racing while eliminating technological advantages that can exaggerate the differences between teams.
"It's all about the skill of the sailors," said Sid Bensalah, the general manager of DIMC, as he flew to La Maddalena. "This is the pinnacle of the sport, on a par with the UAE's other major events, in motorsport, tennis, golf and horse racing." Before yesterday's first race, Grant Dalton, the managing director of Emirates Team New Zealand, stressed the closeness of the competition. "Every one of these teams can beat you on any day," he said.
Yesterday, in the first of the best-of-three-race semi-finals, between Artemis and ETNZ, it was one-all before the decisive final race. Terry Hutchinson and his crew on the Swedish boat stole the start from ETNZ just metres from the line. But it was not enough for the Swedish team: despite a bungle at the second mark, the Emirates Team New Zealand stormed away to a comfortable win. Dean Barker put the semi-final victory down to the team's attitude. "We always back ourselves to win," he said. "The first race was difficult for us ... but we do everything at the highest possible level." The winner of today's semi-final between All4One and Synergy will meet ETNZ in the final. * Compiled by Sandra Lane
Artemis v ETNZ Artemis: Royal Swedish Yacht Club. Skipper Paul Cayard, helmsman Terry Hutchinson, strategist Cameron Appleton. ETNZ: Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Skipper and helmsman Dean Barker, tactician Ray Davies, stategist Adam Beashel. All4One v Synergy All4One: Cercle de la Voile (France), Kieler Yacht-Club (Germany). Skipper Jochen Schümann, helmsman Sébastien Col. Synergy: Russia. Skipper and helmsman Karol Jablonski, tactician Rod Dawson.