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BAR hope to catch second wind against Kiwis

Land Rover BAR (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Seldom can a postponement have been greeted with such rejoicing as it was by Land Rover BAR yesterday when the lack of wind caused the first two races to be called off in the best-of-nine semi-finals against Emirates Team New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Play-offs.

Stronger winds are due to blow across the Atlantic today, which the British team hope will give them their best chance of overturning the in-form Kiwis.

The clash between BAR and New Zealand should have been the first race on the Great Sound yesterday, but with no action taking place, the Kiwis’ hopes of jumping out to an early lead in conditions they knew favoured them came to nothing.

The last time BAR had raced New Zealand in a light breeze, last Thursday, the Kiwi dominance had been so pronounced that Ainslie retired when New Zealand crossed the finish line, when he still had 1½ legs to go. New Zealand, as the top-placed challenger in the Qualifiers, were able to pick their semi-final opponents and opted for BAR, clearly expecting two races in light wind yesterday.

However, the wind dropped to about two knots during yesterday’s race window, well below the minimum of six knots, meaning they will race on today’s scheduled rest day instead.

“This was good news for us,” said Giles Scott, the tactician and Olympic gold medal-winner. “We’re not hiding from the fact that New Zealand are quicker than us in the light stuff. It panned out pretty well for us and we used the day to get our kit right for tomorrow as well.

“We knew that it was unlikely we were going to race, but you have to be ready to just switch into it because it doesn’t take much for the race to be on.

The wind is expected to continue increasing this week, topping 20 knots by tomorrow. That will mean fast racing in conditions that neither will have too much experience in.

“The wind is going to take a big change and the top end of the wind limit is not to be taken lightly,” Scott said. “It is hard to get the boats around the course in that much breeze and it does change the game. To date, we have had perfect racing wind, maxing out at 15 knots and the boats are getting up to proper speeds in that and are manageable. Once it gets to 20 and 25, it is a bit of a different story. Anything can happen.

“We have been round the course in well over 20 knots, touching 25-knot gusts, but in the build-up there is a bit of a balancing act in the risk-reward. As you go out in those conditions, the load goes up and you are at risk of breaking things. A lot of the teams have not done a lot of sailing in those sort of conditions.

“What New Zealand want is winds like they had last week; that would be fine for them. Now everyone is going into a bit of an unknown. For them that’s a lot more stressful than for us because they picked us and clearly they picked us for a reason.”

Martin Whitmarsh, the chief executive of Land Rover BAR, saw the strong winds as a chance to level the playing field with New Zealand, who looked the strongest of the challengers during the Qualifiers.

“In training, we all have one boat,” Whitmarsh said. “You don’t really want to be out there in 24 knots because there is a high risk that if you crash in 24 knots you are going to total the boat.

“Potentially by the middle of the week, we could be into a whole new territory. That is both scary and exciting, but it hints at opportunity.”

BAR have been based in Bermuda since the end of November, much less time than Oracle, the defender, or Artemis Racing and Softbank Team Japan, who meet in the other semi-final.

Whitmarsh believes that the team have had to play catch-up.

“If we had our time again, we would have come sooner and been exposed to our competitors and these conditions,” Whitmarsh said. “That was part of the learning.

“As this week goes on, we will get stronger. Our learning in recent weeks had probably been greater than others. It will have been nice to do that three months ago rather than now.

“It has been tough on the sailors because ideally we would have been giving them a consistent boat to sail and improve their skills. They’ve been doing that, but every day we have said ‘we’ve changed things, you can push harder here, we’ve changed this set-up, we’ve put these new components on’.

“You have seen that one duff manoeuvre, particularly in light conditions, and your race is over. You have got to give them tremendous respect for improving their skills on a boat that handles differently every day.”