Jeddah – Jeddah was a magical venue today delivering outstanding, pitch-perfect conditions for Raceday Two of the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM. Bang on cue, just ahead of racing and as accurately forecasted, a 12-16 knot north westerly filtered across the racecourse that saw the AC40s easily flying and rocketing around just metres off the foreshore of this remarkable, world-class venue for international sailing.
From early morning, the glittering Red Sea was alive with boats of all hues as the Jeddah Yacht Club Academy took to the water in a fleet of RS Zest and Laser dinghies, whilst some interesting racing happened in the Far East 28R sportsboats, decked out in the national flags of all the competing America’s Cup teams – for the record, the USA flagged boat was winning. The next generation of Saudi sailors have been encouraged this week with visits from representatives of all the teams who have taken time out of their racing schedule to inspire the young girls and boys of the Kingdom in this visionary Academy that offers opportunity for all.
With a large VIP attendance at the Jeddah Yacht Club, crowds at the Race Village and an enthusiastic spectator fleet corralled on the left-hand side of the racecourse, they were treated to some of the finest boat-on-boat action ever seen in the America’s Cup. All through the fleet it was as close as it could be and after the AC40’s had completed their much-appreciated fly-by, ahead of racing that saw the yachts scream down to the bustling Race Village and Fan Zone, it was down to business with so many storylines waiting to be written.
The first race didn’t disappoint with the young Italian team stealing into a lead after some very close action and streaking ahead to win by a margin. Emirates Team New Zealand kept them honest to cross second and then put the hammer down in the second race (Race 5 of the series) to win a thrilling, close-fought, almost match-race to the finish. These two teams, the America’s Cup Match contenders from AC36 back in Auckland in 2021, were giving no quarter with the young Italian guns giving the vastly experienced Defenders of the America’s Cup a real run for their money.
One apiece between the Italians and the Kiwis, they appeared a class apart from the rest, and put everything on the line for Race 6 of the series, but a penalty at the start line for an infringement on Alinghi Red Bull Racing saw the Italians on the back-foot. Emirates Team New Zealand put on a masterclass of high stakes racing, dicing tack after tack and gybe after gybe at the front of the fleet over three laps of the 1.35 nautical mile course with NYYC American Magic and Alinghi Red Bull Racing.
Multiple lead changes occurred in a building sea-state with each boat taking the lead position at times but at the finish, it was Peter Burling and Nathan Outteridge who kept their helming cool, seized the lead on the final upwind leg and finished the day with two wins and secured a guaranteed spot in the Grand Final. Mathematically it’s a three-way battle now between Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, Alinghi Red Bull Racing and INEOS Britannia to take the other place in the final with the Italian team in pole position to secure the spot. All to play for.
Speaking afterwards, Blair Tuke spoke about the intensity of the racing saying: “It was pretty fun, we’ve known that these boats can do that and have that bow-on-bow action, close dips here and there and coming down to the real fine margins of boatspeed and windshifts almost like a conventional keelboat fleet but much faster. So, it was really great to finally see what these boats could do today. Onboard at time there are times that you have to be really clinical on your communication and positioning of the boat and there’s other times where it turns into a bit more of an open course where you can discuss things a little bit more so just changing that tone as you go through is important.”
Sir Ben Ainslie echoed Blair’s words and is clearly enjoying the gains that INEOS Britannia are making in the heat of competition saying: “It was incredible racing and perfect conditions for these boats. I think the Red Sea and Jeddah put on its best and a great challenge for all the teams. As the waves got bigger in the final couple of races it got tougher and tougher with a few more wobbles from some of the boats so yeah great challenge and really fantastic racing.”
The positive take on the day continued with a clearly impressed Michael Menninger from NYYC American Magic saying: “Today it was just fantastic conditions and I felt like we got better as the day went on, we picked up a few things moding wise from the other teams and tried to sail a little bit faster on the whole and I think the last couple of races we had pretty good pace and were passing other boats upwind. Downwind we still think we can get a little bit better and improve but it feels like Luna Rossa and the Kiwis are going just a touch faster so trying to wrap our heads around that. All in all, a much better day than yesterday.”
The sensation of the regatta, Marco Gradoni, just 19 years old and competing in his first ever America’s Cup regatta for the Italian Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team described the day from his perspective saying: “The breeze today was nice, so we had fun. The first two races I would say were ‘hot’ because they were a match-race with Emirates Team New Zealand. The first one we won it by a lot, the second we were tight until the end, and they won it but that made us more hungry. And the last one unfortunately we had a problem with the comms, so it was more difficult to do a good race – also we didn’t do a good start, so it was hard…We have two races to go and we have to make sure that we are in the top two, so we have to keep the mood soft, do two nice races and then we will see…we just have to sail well, we don’t have the pressure and don’t have to think about the final, just the two races and then we will see.”
Maxime Bachelin, the hard-driving helmsman of Alinghi Red Bull Racing felt that the team left something out on the racecourse today as he said: “We are a bit angry with the starts we were doing, we weren’t doing very good so this was the mistake of the day and cost a lot for us, but we had good speed and we were matching the top boats of the fleet so this was a real positive…it was good learnings, the sea state was quite challenging and when we were fighting hard for first place (Race 6) we just missed one layline that cost us a lot. In these fast boats you can’t make any little mistakes…We felt the pressure, but it was good pressure, the pressure to stay in the lead and to anticipate every manoeuvre, every shift and try and stay in position and win the race.”
The quality of the racing and the closeness of the action were the big take-aways of the day and the stage is set for the most thrilling conclusion to this remarkable, world-class regatta in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Jeddah was at its very best today from start to finish and the finest sailors in the world put on an unforgettable show that will live long in the America’s Cup memory. Outstanding sailing from outstanding sailors in a dream-like venue that ticks every box.