(Reuters) - Oracle Team USA got off to a flying start on the first day of the America’s Cup in Bermuda, comfortably beating Groupama Team France and then coming from behind in their second race with a narrow victory over arch rival Emirates Team New Zealand.
After spending years designing and building their 50-foot (15 metre) foiling catamarans, all six crews competing for the 35th America’s Cup were in action on Saturday and racing was as hotly contested as the sailors had predicted.
Conditions in Bermuda’s Great Sound were near perfect for the head-to-head “match racing”, with winds of 10-12 knots and perfect flat water allowing the high-tech catamarans, which can reach speeds of up to 50 knots (92.6 kilometres per hour), to “fly” around the course on their foils.
Speculation that British challenger Land Rover BAR would be off the pace following some lacklustre performances during practice racing was quickly dispelled when they comfortably won against Sweden’s Artemis Racing, who had been showing great speed in the run up to the qualifying races.
But Ben Ainslie’s crew then lost to SoftBank Team Japan in the final race of the day after a spectacular high-speed collision between the two catamarans, which have taken huge design teams and millions of dollars to develop.
Ainslie was penalised for not having taken evasive action when Japan had right of way before the two crossed the starting line and there were signs of damage to the outer skin of his boat’s high-tech carbon fibre hull, which appeared to narrowly miss several of SoftBank Team Japan’s six-man crew as it lurched dramatically in the air as the two boats came to blows.
“There’s a couple of bruises,” SoftBank Team Japan’s tactician Chris Draper said when asked in a television interview about the incident. “It got pretty ugly, pretty quick,” he said, adding there had also been some damage to the Japanese boat.
Oracle Team USA, who are defending the cup they won in San Francisco in 2013, showed their intention early by getting the better start against the French and quickly demonstrated superior speed as their catamaran lifted out of the water.
Skippered by Australian Jimmy Spithill, Oracle Team USA reached speeds of at least 42 knots as they left the French crew in their wake in their first race. They also took an early lead against the New Zealand team, before losing ground and then having to take a tactical gamble to get back in front.
The New Zealand crew, using a revolutionary cycling set-up to power the hydraulics on their boat, showed speed and manoeuvrability but as the two catamarans screamed towards the grandstand at the finish, they trailed the U.S. by 6 seconds.
Oracle Team USA has adopted a similar idea by using a single fixed cycle at the back of their boat to help the “grinders” working the more traditional winches to generate the power which is needed to control the foils and the towering “wing” sail which drives their sleek black and red craft.
The French crew, who were also convincingly defeated by Emirates Team New Zealand during their second race, appeared to struggle to keep their boat on its foils during some manoeuvres, with their hulls occasionally plunging dramatically into the crystal blue waters, slowing them down against their rivals.
Reporting by Alexander Smith in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar