Emirates Team New Zealand [ETNZ] won the Louis Vuitton Trophy for a third successive year last night after a thrilling final day of action in La Maddalena. They came from being 1-0 down overnight to defeat the Synergy Russian Sailing Team [SRST] 3-2 in the best-of-five final. SRST had looked like they were going to wrap up the competition early after they had won the first race of the day. But a bungled spinnaker change by SRST in the third race changed the entire complextion of the event as ETNZ were able to capitalise and win to stay in the hunt.
The fourth race proved to be a cagey affair, with ETNZ able to hold onto the lead after their rivals had been given a penalty to take it to a decider. ETNZ led the final race from the start, and any hope SRST had were wrecked by a blown spinnaker. Ray Davies, the ENTZ tactician, said: "We had to work pretty damn hard to get it but we got there in the end." Karol Jablonski, the SRST skipper, said: "Even though we lost 3-2 we feel very, very satisfied as we have made a lot of progress in this regatta."
Dubai is to host the Louis Vuitton regatta in November, and Sid Bensalah, the general manager of Dubai International Marina Club, attended the event, riding on the ETNZ vessel. * Compiled by Sandra Lane The day began with Synergy Russian Sailing Team holding a 1-0 overnight lead against Emirates Team New Zealand in the best-of-five final, and bursting with confidence. In the first race Emirates Team New Zealand, the pre-race favourite, took a kicking. From the moment Karol Jablonski and his tactician Rod Dawson won the start, nothing went ETNZ's way and they trailed in to finish 1 min 22 secs behind. "We have to start winning. That's the biggest issue," said ETNZ's tactician, Rod Davies, as they prepared for the crucial third race.
As Synergy led out over the line after another of the tight and aggressive pre-starts that have become a Jablonski signature, the likelihood of their doing so seemed to fade even further. With the wind up to 10-12 knots, Davies and his skipper, Dean Barker, kept in touch throughout the first two legs. Then, at the bottom mark, with just six seconds in hand, Synergy bungled its spinnaker drop and ETNZ jumped to the front. Taking complete control of the race, they extended their lead all the way to a very comfortable win.
With the score at 2-1 it was game on again, although still match-point - and, after swapping boats, the teams produced a thrilling third race. The level of aggression was reflected in protest calls in the pre-start and on the first leg, both green-flagged by the umpires. On the first downwind leg both boats continued to attack in a series of close-quarters gybes until Synergy came in too deep. Davies protested and the umpires awarded a penalty. Unable to extend their lead enough to take their penalty turn, the Russians changed tactics, slowing the race down and hoping to manoeuvre ETNZ into a foul. Instead, half-gybing right in front of ETNZ's nose, Synergy narrowly missed drawing down another penalty. The Kiwis held off, and won by just four seconds to square the final at 2-2.
Sailing as 18th man on ETNZ, Sid Bensalah, the general manager of Dubai International Marina Club, who will be Race Director when the regatta comes here in November, described it as "absolutely awesome - the guys here were fighting to get every inch". At 3.55pm, with regatta rules stating that the last race must begin before 4pm Peter Reggio, the Principal Race Officer, told the teams to prepare immediately.
Another extremely tight pre-start and first leg were almost a replay of the previous race. Synergy stayed hot on the heels of ETNZ all the way, rounding the final mark just 14 seconds behind. Then, as they completed the first gybe, the Russians' spinnaker exploded. Despite getting a replacement gennaker up within two minutes, it was all over as Emirates Team New Zealand crossed the line to win its third consecutive Louis Vuitton Trophy.
"Even though we lost 3-2 we feel very, very satisfied as we have made a lot of progress in this regatta," said Jablonski. "These were tough, tough matches and we made more mistakes than New Zealand today. But we have to be realistic, you know - we can't expect to beat those guys three times in one day." "We had to work pretty damn hard to get it but we got there in the end," said a jubilant Ray Davies. Asked what he thought was the turning point, he joked "the last run, when their spinnaker blew out".
Grant Dalton, the director of Emirates Team New Zealand, added that the standard of the competitors has risen dramatically with every regatta in the Louis Vuitton series. "The format of these regattas is bringing everyone to a closer and closer point. It's getting hard to keep people behind us. Dubai will be great, with more settled conditions I think, and there's no doubt it will be even more competitive."