Saturday, February 14, 2009

Emirates Team NZ Wins Louis Vuitton Pacific Series

Auckland - Emirates Team New Zealand today laid claim to the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series, convincingly beating the Swiss team Alinghi with three consecutive wins on a grey, rainy and windy day on the Waitemata Harbour.

The home team’s come-from-behind 3-1 victory marked the end of a 15-day match racing regatta in modified America’s Cup boats that drew praise for its format and its originality from all of the nine international teams that took part.

Ship’s sirens and boat horns drowned out the cheering as the Emirates boat docked alongside the Swiss team for the last time. Emirates skipper Dean Barker accepted the silver and crystal Louis Vuitton Pacific Series trophy for his team in a Moët et Chandon, champagne-soaked ceremony watched by hundreds of spectators at the regatta village in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.

Today’s win reversed a losing streak that saw the New Zealand team lose four out of its previous five starts. In all, the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron as the organiser and host club succeeded in starting and finish 53 races for the competitors.

Brad Butterworth the Kiwi skipper and tactician for Alinghi had high praise for the event. “Its been three weeks of very good sailing here, although obviously we don’t sail very well in the rain,” Butterworth said.

“But it has been fantastic. I can’t say that enough. Today was a great day. It was a little hairy for both crews. You really saw how good the crews are. We couldn’t quite close it out today but the sailing and the competition was at a really top level and that’s what we love and that’s what we want to see more of.”

Yves Carcelle, president and CEO of Louis Vuitton Malletier refused to be drawn on whether his company would run a similar event in the future. “We don’t know for the moment what the future will be but I would like to concentrate on the last two weeks,” Carcelle said. “I think we’ve seen here a fantastic sports series. The teams respected one another in an amazing way. The level of the competition was extraordinary.”

Racing today, the Kiwi team was on fire after its loss yesterday. Barker and his tactician Ray Davies made the right calls in the first prestart, allowing them to convert an even start into the thin end of a winning wedge. Emirates beat Alinghi by 29 seconds after leading the helmsman Ed Baird and the Swiss team around the course to make the series 1-1. The defining moment came when a small left shift in the early part of the first leg gave Emirates the leverage to make a close, heart-stopping port tack cross, barely in front of the right-of-way Swiss boat. From there they covered Alinghi and worked the shifts to sail steadily away.

The breeze was at 20 knots and gusting higher at the start of the second race when Barker/Davies helm/tactician duo shut Alinghi out before the gun while laying a penalty on the hapless Swiss and then starting clear ahead. With the penalty hanging over his head, Baird worked hard stay in touch and bring the race back to the Kiwis but without success. That made the score in the best-of-five series 2-1 for Emirates.The New Zealand team was just one win away from the series victory.

Alinghi had early control of the third start but broke off to make a start near the pin, leaving the Kiwi boat to start at speed in the middle as the breeze got up to 25 knots. The Swiss enjoyed a small early advantage, getting out 23 metres in front of the New Zealanders. However when Ed Baird tacked Alinghi back on port, Emirates was there on starboard and pushed them back to the left side. Alinghi made tack after tack in their attempt to break through but were quickly on the port tack layline and had to follow Emirates into the mark, rounding 29 seconds astern. New Zealand had the upper hand and cruised to a 20-second victory.

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