SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 17 (Reuters) - By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO, August 17 (Reuters) - Mishaps plagued the first race in the America’s Cup challenger finals on Saturday, as a broken daggerboard forced the Italian boat to drop out seconds after the start, allowing New Zealand to sail alone to win even after two crew member were washed overboard.
Support boats rescued the unharmed sailors from the choppy waters as Emirates Team New Zealand continued sailing the course around windy San Francisco Bay with a torn trampoline faring.
Averting disaster, New Zealand captured the first point of seven needed to win the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. The winner will sail against defending champion Oracle Team USA next month for the world’s oldest sporting trophy.
But the breakage on the yachts further underscored the dangers of the high-tech 72-foot catamarans, known as AC72s, used in this year’s Cup.
The men went overboard on the fourth of a five-leg course when New Zealand buried a bow deep underwater while turning away from the wind in a dangerous mark-rounding maneuver known as a bear away. It had been skimming above the water’s surface on its hydrofoiling daggerboard and rudders at 46 miles per hour, one mile over the speed limit on the Golden Gate Bridge.
New Zealand skipper Dean Barker said his team was able to repair the faring on what he called the “high-adrenaline boat” and could have raced again on Saturday.
“We’re obviously very thankful that all the guys are okay,” he said. “It’s just part of racing. It wasn’t that extreme.”
“To be honest, it didn’t feel probably as bad as it looked.”
Racing started late after the wind kicked up above the allowable limit established when safety rules were tightened after Sweden’s Artemis Racing flipped its boat during a May training sail, killing crew member Andrew Simpson.
Two more races with favorite New Zealand competing against Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge also are scheduled for Sunday, and both teams said their double-hulled yachts would be ready to compete.
Saturday’s scheduled second race is postponed until Monday.
The Italians had been using a hacksaw and a glue gun to repair the board minutes before the start of the race and seemed to have fixed it. Then, less than a minute into the competition, it broke again.
“We thought we were actually going to be able to race,” Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said. “It was a shame because for the first time we felt we were pretty competitive in boat speed.”
The Kiwis easily defeated Luna Rossa in a round-robin preliminary series to go straight through to the finals. Artemis repaired its boat in time for semifinals in early August and was eliminated by Luna Rossa.
Software billionaire Larry Ellison’s Oracle team won the America’s Cup in 2010 and with it the right to set the rules and choose the venue for this year’s competition.
Sailing enthusiasts have been attacking the decision to use the fragile twin-hulled boats, which can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour. The Artemis capsize that killed Simpson, a 36-year-old British Olympian, followed a similar, but non-deadly, cartwheel of an Oracle AC72 last year.