20 June 2017
Hanuman and Ranger Tied At the Top
In the historic first ever America's Cup J Class Regatta in Bermuda three different crews won races on the opening day. Just one point separates the top two boats, Hanuman and Ranger on seven apiece with Lionheart poised for three way final day showdown on eight.
The record fleet of seven J Class yachts, the biggest ever mustered in the 87 year history of the class, may have been forced to wait an extra few days after Friday's opening races fell victim to winds which were too light and fickle, but on National Heroes Day, Bermuda rewarded the magnificent gathering with just the most perfect conditions for the first three races of the first ever America's Cup J Class Regatta.
Every one of the seven teams have brought their A Game to this pinnacle event – planning, optimising and preparing since the event was announced two years ago – and today the island's weather and winds responded accordingly. The result was a truly memorable day of close, exciting racing on Murray's Anchorage, off St Georges to the NE of the Island.
Just because it is the biggest fleet ever gathered it does not necessarily follow that it is the most competitive. But if evidence is needed witness the facts that different teams won each of the three fabulous races. There was place changing through every contest, enough breathtaking crosses and ducks to keep the spectator fleet on the edge of their cockpit seats , almost unfeasibly busy first mark roundings and finish deltas measured in seconds rather than minutes.
"We are lucky people. It was an unbelievable day." Hanuman's Kenny Read remarked on the dock at the Hamilton Princess Marina with a grin, "The boat is going well. This is what we have been working towards, what we have been set up for. We made a couple of mistakes in the first couple of races, we could have done better, but it is hard racing out there with such good people. You can't expect to win every race. It is an honour to be part of this with seven really cool owners who have put all this together."
In 10-11kts of wind from the SE and beautiful flat water, Lionheart, winners of last week's America's Cup Superyacht regatta, opened with a well earned victory. Early leaders were Hanuman who had already earned a 45m margin at the first turn of the 2.2 mile upwind-downwind circuit. Ranger rounded second with Lionheart third. They managed to pass Ranger on the second beat and proved quick downwind to get to close enough to Hanuman. When the leaders messed their final gybe - slow to sheet on and accelerate - the preying Lionheart pounced and were able to steal first gun.
With the breeze built to 11-12kts for the start of the second race Velsheda started well and were able to power out to the left side of the upwind and lead all the way around with the very fast and slippery looking brand new Svea in second. The newest yacht in the fleet, JS1, worked left down the first run and looked like she might threaten Velsheda when the top swivel of the furling headstay failed with a bang. The Svea crew reacted swiftly to secure the rig, but unfortunately it is understood they will not be able to race again at this regatta.
Velsheda crossed first with Ranger profiting from Svea's problem to get second and Lionheart beating Hanuman on corrected time by only one single second to get third. After two races Lionheart, with Bouwe Bekking calling tactics, lead by one point ahead of Ranger which had gone 3,2.
But in the final seconds before the gun went for the third race start Lionheart had the door closed on them by Peter Holmberg on the helm of Topaz right at the signal boat. They had to dip back across the start line, losing time on the fleet, most particularly nearest rivals Hanuman and Ranger which were both pin sharp off the start line.
With Kenny Read on the helm and an afterguard comprising tactician Kelvin Harrap, strategist Simon Fisher and navigator Stan Honey, Hanuman were able to lead at the first turn, narrowly ahead of the omnipresent, consistent Ranger. Around the leeward gate Ranger, which has Brad Butterworth as tactician actually lead, but Read stayed patient on the turn at the buoy got back inside the Ranger line. After Hanuman tacked away they extended progressively to secure a comfortable win over Ranger with Topaz sailing a good final run to take third from Lionheart.
The skipper-helm of Hanuman reported, "The first race we blew it. We made a couple of mistakes boat handling wise. Tactically we made a couple of mistakes and driving wise. We could have been fully launched. We just kept making it close and paid for it in the end. You always pay for mistakes. We made a bad gybe. But you can't complain about second."
"We lost Lionheart again on the second run. Only by a couple of seconds or so. Upwind we love how we are going. Downwind we still have some work to do. We will have a look at everything, stills video and see how we are sailing the boat and try to change our downwind mode. But it's going to be a big day tomorrow."
On Ranger Butterworth's modus operandi is starting off the pin end of the line and staying in a clear lane of breeze, letting the boat do the work. In the 10-12kt range, especially in this flat water Ranger can mostly match the newer boats except when they go into high mode. But the astute, low risk tactics, clean sailing and slick crew work have all contributed to Ranger's share of the lead, as the most consistent team of the day sailing 3,2,2 Hanuman's 2,4,1. Lionheart appear especially quick downwind as are Topaz.
Erle Williams skipper-helm of Ranger explained "We wanted to get out to the left, to have no one underneath us and let to the boat get rolling. There was usually a little more wind pressure on the left. We fought hard to be in the top three at the top mark and Brad did a really good job of positioning us and keeping our wind clear. That really was the secret and not get pushed around. We have to be consistent tomorrow to and whoever does that might come out with the win."
Bouwe Bekking may have been ruing the third start, but he is looking forward to the final day scrap,
"It was an exciting day. Today for us was about chipping away and making gains when we could. It was good to win that first one. I think our gybes are slick and our mark roundings I think we are doing the best job getting the kite down. The last start was a shocker. I tacked to late and was over the lay line and they got the classic hook on us and that was it." "Everybody can win. We are doing a nice job and the owner is steering really well."
Shamrock had the popular support as the oldest, original J Class yacht at this historic event and the crew pushed as hard as they could. Stu Bannatyne, helmsman, said:
"We were excited to see how the boat would go. We had it going nicely and had some nice starts, got round the track quite well. We sailed out of our skins in the second race, got some nice shifts and the crew work was really good. So to still be at the back of the fleet is disappointing. So we still have some work to do on our rating. We are happy, we are sailing the boat well. We are loving being out there and being part of it."
Racing concludes Tuesday with two windward-leewards planned, starting 1100hrs local time (-3hrs UTC)