DUBAI // There was carnage on the high seas yesterday as the Louis Vuitton regatta got off to an explosive beginning off the coast with a start-line collision between rival boats in their second race.
The spinnaker pole of Emirates Team New Zealand (Team NZ), the dominant force in the match-racing series over the last year, found itself embedded into the hull of the opposing yacht of Mascalzone Latino Audi, leaving the vessel badly damaged and unable to race.
Dean Barker, the Kiwi skipper of Team NZ, was considered to have the right of way as he jostled for an edge against his compatriot Gavin Brady, who had outwitted him in the first of yesterday's two clashes. Both teams were punished afterwards for the incident, the blame being stacked more heavily on Brady, whose Mascalzone crew were docked a point, compared to the half-point penalty opposed on Barker's Team New Zealand.
Barker, who went on to win that controversial second race unopposed with Mascalzone left stranded on the start line, was irritated afterwards to have his attempts to win a third series out of the last four undermined in the jury room.
He compared it to a similar unfortunate opening to the Louis Vuitton Trophy meeting in Sardinia.
"The collision at La Maddalena in May removed the BMW Oracle boats from the rest of the regatta," he said.
"We don't want something like that happening at Dubai. We have a lot of racing to do over the next two weeks and can't afford to have yachts out of action. We were lucky today - the boat can be repaired in time for racing tomorrow and no one was hurt."
Brady called it a "disgraceful" ruling. "We are not happy about this. We are adamant that Team NZ did not need to collide with us. It was definitely no fault of ours.
"To get penalised a point today was a disgraceful decision."
That left BMW Oracle Racing, regarded as the most serious threat to Team NZ's extended dominance of this event, in a position to steal a march as they opened their programme later on a first day which started late because of a lack of wind and finished in near darkness.
James Spithill and his crew capitalised fully on that opportunity, gaining a clear edge over their All4One opponents in the first of what will be a series of 15 round robin match-ups.
"We are well satisfied with the start we've made today," said Spithill, who was at the helm of the Oracle trimaran that captured the America's Cup from the Alinghi defenders in February.
"But there is a long way to go yet. Perhaps too long. I think it might work better with a more condensed programme.
"But we are not complaining because we need as much racing as we can get at the moment.
"Our guys had a long and well- deserved rest after the America's Cup and we all enjoyed ourselves enormously after our victory. But now it's time to get back to work. It was a solid return but there is room for improvement and we will try to keep improving every day."
The other two crews in action were the Russian-backed Synergy and the Swedish entry Artemis and honours were shared between their respective skippers, Francesco Bruni and Cameron Appleton.
Their first race was over before it had begun as Appleton out-manoeuvred his Italian counterpart at the start line, forcing the imposition of a time penalty which resulted in a 122-metre winning margin. Bruni, skippering Synergy for the first time, did well to overturn that crushing defeat by cantering home by 31 seconds in the second race.