American Magic’s ill-fated America’s Cup campaign ended Saturday not with a bang but with a whimper, dogged by mechanical failure as it lost twice to Italy’s Luna Rossa which swept the best-of-seven challengers semifinal 4-0.
The New York Yacht Club team’s involvement in the regatta might have ended two weeks ago when their race boat Patriot capsized and came close to sinking during a round-robin race against Luna Rossa. That Patriot was saved, then returned to the race course for the semifinal series was a triumph universally applauded by its rivals.
But there the comeback ended. Trailing Luna Rossa 2-0 after two races sailed in boisterous winds on the first day of the semifinal series, with the possibility of another boat-breaking accident always present, American Magic was never in a good position.
When Patriot left its base near downtown Auckland on Saturday, sailing under a giant American flag and raucously cheered by family and fans, the American team knew unless they could win one race Saturday this was the final day of their campaign.
It wasn’t to be. Luna Rossa showed outstanding tactical judgement and sailing ability to win the third race by 33 seconds and a cruel mechanical failure cost American Magic any chance of winning the fourth race with the series at match point.
“I just have the highest praise for the whole American Magic team for what we did to get the boat back out on the water,” American Magic skipper Terry Hutchinson said. “It would have been easy to stop.”
Both Saturday’s races were sailed in light winds — mostly around 10 knots — and it didn’t seem appropriate that such a dramatic campaign should end on such a balmy, sun-soaked afternoon on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf with leisure boats and children in racing dinghies framing the course.
Luna Rossa will now face Britain’s INEOS Team UK in the best-of-seven race Prada Cup final and the winner of that series will go on to race defender Team New Zealand in the 36th America’s Cup match in March.
“We are sniffing revenge on INEOS,” Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco Bruni said. "We are very happy obviously. I'm very proud of the team because we made some huge steps forward compared to last weekend. In five days the boat is completely transformed, we are sailing better. The whole team is at a different level.”
The British team has held a slight favoritism after winning the Prada Cup round-robin series with an unbeaten record. But Luna Rossa has made great improvements since that series and showed its versatility in the semifinals by winning races at both ends of the wind range.
Its win in the first race Saturday was a classic example of match racing. In contrast to Friday when the Italian convincingly won both starts, the teams crossed the line side by side with Luna Rossa to windward.
Both teams saw the right-hand side of the course as being favored as there was slightly more wind in the shadow of the extinct volcano Rangitoto. Luna Rossa was able to follow American Magic to the left-hand boundary where it tacked back and the Italians were immediately able to tack on top.
In the decisive move of the race, Luna Rossa, which could sail higher, pinched up close to American Magic, fouling its air and eventually forcing the U.S. team to tack away. That allowed Luna Rossa to secure the right which it protected expertly for the remainder of the race, leading around all marks.
“We were going pretty well to leeward off them off the line but they were going pretty well with that weather-end start,” Hutchinson said. “We had to take plan B and you knew at the start that plan B was plan B for a reason.
“Once they got rid of us on the port, the right side of the track was clear, they extended nicely into the shift and from there you’re basically picking up the scraps.”
American Magic came to the second race of the day at match point, needing to win to live another day. In a cruel final twist, Patriot sustained a mechanical failure near the top mark on the first leg: it was unable to lower its starboard foil and couldn’t make the rounding.
Patriot’s electronic systems had to be completely replaced after the capsize and they failed at the worst possible moment.
The problem dogged American Magic for the remainder of the race and it finished 3 minutes, 51 seconds behind Luna Rossa.
“It's hard for any team to react the way they did and to put the boat back in the water and be competitive," Bruni said. “They have been fantastic competitors and I mean that from the depth of my heart.”
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