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Tale of unexpected breathes life into BAR

That sinking feeling: Emirates Team New Zealand capsize in race four of their semi-final, with support crews racing to their rescue and trying to fix the damaged boat

A sensational start-line crash by Emirates Team New Zealand threw their entire campaign into doubt and gave Land Rover BAR’s hopes of lifting the 35th America’s Cup a dramatic kiss of life in strong winds on the Great Sound yesterday.

The New Zealand boat suffered serious damage as it capsized, leaving a question mark about whether they will even be able to fully repair the boat in time to get back out on the water.

All crew members were unharmed, although the same could not be said for the boat. The wing looked a write-off, with the top missing completely. While the hulls looked intact, bits were falling off and the boat’s electronics, having been submerged, could be damaged.

“The guys are assessing the damage and we have quite a bit,” Peter Burling, the New Zealand helmsman, said. “We feel like we will be able to repair it and get back into action.”

Three New Zealand sailors were thrown into the water, with the other three stranded in mid-air as the boat was pulled on to its side and then upright, while BAR were awarded the race to trail 3-1 in the best-of-nine Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Play-offs semi-finals.

“We’ve all got a few bruises and cuts, but nothing major,” Burling said. “Myself, Glenn [Ashby] and Simon [van Velthooven] managed to stay on board the yacht, Andy [Maloney], Josh [Junior] and Blair [Tuke] all managed to get off. Mentally, I was very happy when I was sitting up the top to be able to see all their heads above water and know they were all safe.

“That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you have those incidents; that the whole crew are safe. That is the main thing we are most happy with.”

On a wild and windy day, there had been plenty of drama already, as New Zealand only just made it to the start line for their first race of the day against Sir Ben Ainslie’s team, after suffering damage to their wing and returning to dock to have it changed.

It was a damaged wing that had caused BAR to forfeit the opening two races of the semi-final on Monday, but it seemed that New Zealand’s luck was in after they made it on to the water with only moments to spare and then stretched their lead to 3-0.

However, at the start of their next race, Ainslie slowed New Zealand up in the pre-start and as the British boat pulled into a big lead, the New Zealand boat nosedived after turning tightly and attempting to pick up speed. “It looked like a slight misjudgement of the rake and angle, but all of us here are not going to pass criticism,” Ainslie said. “These boats are incredibly hard to sail and these things can happen.”

Burling added: “We got very high on the foil and pretty soon after that we were going down very quickly. We were just trying to get off the start clean. We were not too worried if we were ahead or behind because we have good speed around the track. It’s a shame how it worked out, but it is a big test for us as a team.”

Timing may be on New Zealand’s side, however, with today’s racing in danger of being called off because of high winds. But it took them nearly two hours to get their boat back to shore before the grim task of piecing it back together could begin.

“It will be a big job because I’m sure a lot of the electronics on board were damaged as well as the wing,” Ainslie said. “They have a spare wing, but they are a very strong team, I’m sure if there is racing tomorrow, they will be there on the start line.”

Burling said the team would pull together to ensure the boat makes it back to the start line.

“One thing is for sure, as a group of New Zealanders, we are incredibly resilient, the first race showed that,” Burling said. “Our whole team came together and managed to win that point, and that’s something that could be pretty crucial looking forward. They are already working on the repairs getting us back out there.”

Strong winds look set for the rest of the week and New Zealand probably would not fancy similar conditions again. In their first race of the day, Burling had reported being “out of control” and, while they settled later in the race, three times the boat reared violently and looked in danger of taking off.

“Like skiing on ice,” was how Ainslie described the day’s sailing. “You really have to go for it and be as fast as you can, no holds barred. If you start slowing up and trying to play safe, that’s almost worse. I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it was certainly exhilarating.

“We knew it was going to be full-on today and everything could happen, although no one wants to see their opposition in danger like that. It gives our team a sniff of coming back. It gives us a point on the board and we have to use that as momentum.”