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AC35: Day 3, Race 14 – NZL wins after SWE is penalized twice; by far the closest and best match yet

SWE v. NZL. Artemis Racing v. Emirate Team New Zealand. Nathan Outteridge v. Peter Burling. SWE appear to have won the start big time over NZL who are dead astern and in SWE's wing wash. But SWE pull the trigger a second or two early, and are OCS - "on course side" of the starting line at the horn. They are penalized by the umpires with a "go slow" penalty until NZL are two boat lengths ahead. However, upwind on Leg 3 Artemis on average are several knots faster than the Kiwis and pass at the top gate. But hold on to your hats – on the run we have a third lead change when SWE pooches a jibe and NZL on port barely get across the right-of-way SWE on starboard-tack as they come into the Leg 4 gate. They split upwind, NZL to the right, SWE to the left.

Kiwis look slow again upwind vis-a-vis Artemis, and they just cross ahead a third of the way up. At the next cross, Artemis is on starboard and now ahead again, just. They dial down NZL big time, and solid their the lead. Game of Top Gun chicken, as the Ali and Ken on NBCSN called it. Closing at 60+ knots. Yikes!

On the final approach to the Leg 5 gate, the Kiwis have re-taken the lead on a nice shift on the right and arguably a better tack. But they can't lay the gate and have to tack to port and barely – I mean just barely – cross ahead of SWE who are on starboard. No protest, but I noticed my heart rate accelerated. They round opposite ends of the windward gate and fly down the final run.

Approaching the final gate the Kiwis on starboard can't quite stop port-tack Artemis from crossing, or so the TV commentators think. But did NZL jibe to avoid a collision? Was it to close even SWE might have squeaked by on port? No surprise to this former umpire (your Ed. is widely considered the Mother of Umpiring, or was that the Mother of all Umpires?) there is a protest from NZL (nothing ventured, nothing gained), and with SWE flying down the final reach well ahead of of NZL, the umpires (these days they are in the booth TV – so they see what we see on TV, and more) penalize SWE for not keeping clear of starboard-tack NZL. SWE have to do a second "go slow" penalty until the Kiwis get ahead, which they half-heartedly do as both boats are crossing the finish line. Race winner - NZL.

There is no appeal from the decision of the umpires. Obviously they felt that SWE did not "keep clear" – which doesn't just mean physically maintaining a gap, but doing so far enough away that the right-of-way boat doesn't have to alter course to avoid a collision at a reasonable time and distance to keep things safe. And at 40 knots, that's a fair bit of distance, not necessairly a few meters of clear space.

Fantastic race. By far the best yet of AC35. If we have more like that, some of those skeptical of Larry and Russell's Brave New AC World may start to come around.


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