America‘s Cup racing returns to Auckland
Following months of off-the-water turmoil and COVID-19 complications, the America's Cup sailors finally get to go racing today.
The three-day America's Cup World Series regatta followed by Sunday's Christmas Race in Auckland is an exhibition of the technologically-advanced hydrofoiling monohulls of Team New Zealand, Luna Rossa, Team UK and American Magic.
While the regatta results count for little more than bragging rights, the four days of match racing is vital preparation for the teams for next year's pinnacle event and a chance for spectators to get a sneak peek of what to expect when the Auld Mug is on the line.
Team New Zealand has impressed in practice but now they will see if they can translate that into race pace.
The World Series regatta is the New Zealand syndicate's first and last chance to test their boat, Te Rehutai, in competitive match-racing ahead of their America's Cup defence in March.
The hosts bookend the opening day of racing with a face-off with the Italian entry Luna Rossa in race 1 around 3pm and end the race window against American Magic's boat Patriot. Watch it live here.
The AC75s are fast and Team New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling says the new class of boat relied on tactics and technology.
"The more high performance the boat the more the tactical decisions get amplified, so if you make one very wrong you lose a whole heap of time, it's definitely going to be that combination of who can actually get their boat to go fast and also put it in the right spot on the race track," says Burling.
American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson, who previously worked with Team New Zealand as tactician, expected the tussle between the boats to go from start to finish.
"All the way through it you're going to see a fight, the start is just part of it, with the restriction of the boundary at the bottom of the race course and then over on the starboard hand side of that boundary and the committee boat lay-line the boats are all going to jockeying for one position to try to pin your opponent into the left-hand boundary and so it'll be interesting to see how the teams approach that and the solutions for it," Hutchinson says.
Struggling British entry, Team UK, will be watching the weather closer than most during the regatta.
Their boat Britannia barely took part in the official practice events and skipper Sir Ben Anslie said they had been in the shed at their base on Wynyard Wharf working to modify the AC75 ahead of the World Series racing.
But the Olympic champion sailor and his crew will be hoping for blustery conditions at the upper end of the wind range which spans between 6.5 and 21 knots.
"Right now the stronger winds are better for us. It's pretty clear for everyone to see we're struggling a little bit in the lighter airs taking off and some of the manoeuvres," Sir Ben says.
"It's a new class of boat, it's a development class and you see that in America's Cup as teams go through the series they get better and better and for us in that area we've got a bit of catching up to do."
Luna Rossa skipper and team director Max Sirena stated the boats that will be in action this week are still a work in progress.
"We will see a lot of change, at least on our side, in the coming week and I think everyone else will do the same," Sirena says.
"I think we are just at the beginning of this boat, they are just new and every day you discover something new so that difference performance according to the wind, let's see how it goes."
After some light winds stalled practice racing in Auckland, regatta director Iain Murray has some good news ahead of the regatta's opening race.
"Happy to say that the weather forecast is putting us back into the south-west wind and hopefully that will be a nice place to sail down there on Course C."
Entry to the America's Cup Village on the Auckland's waterfront is free and it will be the hub of the on-shore activity with a big screen to watch the racing.
The best vantage point to follow the action on the spectator-friendly Course C live is from North Head and Bastion Point.