The Kiwis lost it. Alinghi ahead 3-2
Dean Barker dominated the start today putting Ed Baird in a difficult position immediately in the prestart and converted his advantage into a 1 boat length lead off the line. The two boats were virtually even as the raced side by side out to the right side of the course. It was a matter of meters as to weather Alinghi would be able to tack with enough advantage to avoid a Kiwi lee bow. In the end the could not, and rather than force the issue, Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth waited patiently for Team New Zealand to tack and then TNZ followed thus avoiding the expensive double tack. This kept thing close at the first windward mark, 14 seconds. On the hoisting manoeuvre, a more difficult one as the yachts came in over the layline and had to tack an hoist, TNZ got a small hole in their gennaker. The sail was flying fine as the team prepared to change to a back up gennaker. Then suddenly, just before they changed, the existing sail exploded. The team scrambled to get the new sail hoisted but did so before the sheets were attached. An error that would cost a lot. By the time the Kiwis got things sorted out, Alinghi had a 165 meter lead. A dramatic change of events.
That was pretty much it for the race. Alinghi actually chose the unfavored gate and this Allowed TNZ to get within 70 meters coming out of the gate. Up the second windward leg the boats were fairly even and same down the final run.
What was important about today was that contrary to all expert opinion, including my own, Alinghi did not seem to have a speed edge in the 15 knots of wind and fairly developed seaway. These two boats are probably closer in performance and either teams own sparing boat.
So while the Kiwis will be disappointed about losing a race that was well in hand, they should take some solace in the fact that they have the speed and ability to win any race. That is a far cry from the predictions before the series started.
Tomorrow will be important for TNZ. Going down 4-2 would be a tough spot to be in. It would require winning 3 races straight against a very tough competitor. A intimidating challenge.