American Magic performed a miracle to be racing in the Prada Cup semi-final – now they need another one.
The New York based syndicate looked down and out 13 days ago, after the horrific capsize of Patriot.
They have re-emerged, thanks to some remarkable work from their shore crew, but are already on the edge of the abyss.
The Americans weren’t just beaten on Friday, they were thrashed, with comprehensive margins of 2:43 and 3:07 in the first two semi-final contests against Luna Rossa.
They are 0-2 down, with the Italians only two more wins away from advancing to the challenger final.
No one could blame helmsman Dean Barker for being cautious on Friday, as he was essentially at the wheel of a new boat, with only two days practice behind him.
But if it was going to be cat and mouse, there was no chance to pounce.
Because while the Americans struggled to find their groove again, Luna Rossa looked a completely different proposition.
No one should get too carried away yet about the Italians, because they had the luxury of sailing their own race on Friday, without too much pressure, but it was still highly impressive.
After looking out of sorts throughout the round robin series, it was like watching Ferrari at Monza on Friday.
They were almost flawless. Luna Rossa was noticeably quicker upwind and surprisingly comfortable in the gusty conditions during the first race. The on-board communication was significantly improved and their manoeuvres seemed smoother, after the hit or miss episodes in the round robin.
But their starts were the standout. Twice Jimmy Spithill nailed the pre-start manoeuvres, with the move for the second race poetry in motion.
Barker seemed reluctant to engage before the start, but that might have been a risk-reward scenario, as they learn what is possible on Patriot 2.0.
But it will need to be a fast lesson, with no margin for error on Saturday against a revitalised European team.
The first race was all about the start. No one could blame American Magic for being edgy – with wind gusting near 20 knots – and Luna Rossa exploited that expertly.
After both teams had ventured to the far right corner of the start box, Spithill squeezed American Magic, leaving no room to move.
Luna Rossa flew towards the line, Patriot came off the foils and were already on the back foot.
The Americans trailed by 18 seconds at the first gate, and slowly but steadily lost ground from there, as Luna Rossa put the foot on the throat.
Any faint hope for the United States syndicate evaporated when Patriot crashed off their foils in a strong gust just after rounding the fifth gate.
A four letter expletive from Barker summed up their feelings, but at least they got straight back on their foils and they would have been relieved to finish the eight leg contest.
Both teams resorted to a larger jib for the second race, but American Magic were stuck with the smaller mainsail they had chosen before the first race.
Spithill again had the Midas touch at the start, judging the time on distance perfectly while Patriot trailed in their wake.
The gap was only around 200 metres for most of the first leg, but that was as good as it got for the Americans. A 17 second advantage at the first gate more than doubled by the halfway point (0:37), despite a bad splashdown by the Italians at one point.
Then it was déjà vu for the American Magic, as they crashed off their foils at the fifth gate again, destroying any hopes of an unlikely comeback.
They had the same issue rounding the seventh gate, with skipper Terry Hutchinson alluding to difficulties with the repaired rudder, which was savagely bent during the capsize.
All is not lost for the Americans. They had good boat speed for long periods and have at least buried some demons, proving they could get back in the ring.
But can they avoid a knockout blow on Saturday?
Heading into the Cup racing?
• Give yourself plenty of time and think about catching a ferry, train or bus to watch the Cup.
• Make sure your AT HOP card is in your pocket. It’s the best way to ride.
• Don’t forget to scan QR codes with the NZ COVID Tracer app when on public transport and entering the America’s Cup Village.
• For more ways to enjoy race day, visit at.govt.nz/americascup.
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