Rebounding from a shaky start and damage to its wing sail, Italy's Luna Rossa sped ahead of Artemis Racing of Sweden to win the opening race of the America's Cup challenger semifinals Tuesday on San Francisco Bay.
The chrome-and-red Italian catamaran, sponsored by the Prada fashion house, won by a comfortable 2 minutes to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.
Artemis Racing made its debut in the Louis Vuitton Cup nearly three months after Andrew "Bart" Simpson was killed when the syndicate's first boat was destroyed in a capsize during a training run May 9. The syndicate launched its second 72-foot catamaran on July 22 and missed the round robins.
"We're really, really pumped in Artemis Racing and super proud," said skipper Iain Percy of Great Britain, who won Olympic gold and silver medals with Simpson. "To think that one week after launching we'd be sailing around the racecourse in 20 knots is beyond my wildest imagination. All the team support boats came over after the race and were cheering and clapping."
Artemis Racing led Luna Rossa across the starting line and around the first reaching mark onto the first downwind leg. But the Swedish catamaran slowed dramatically during its first gybe and Luna Rossa, riding above the waves on hydrofoils, easily overhauled Artemis.
Luna Rossa led by 29 seconds around the downwind mark near Alcatraz Island. Artemis' blue-hulled cat made up eight seconds sailing upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Italians proved to be superior sailing downwind and pulled away.
Shortly before the race, Luna Rossa had to hoist a crewman up the wing sail to tape down an area of the outer skin, known as Clysar, that had peeled off the frames to which it is glued.
"Obviously, we're happy to have the point, but I'm not happy with what happened to the wing because it's something we should avoid at this level," Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena said. "But it's been a good day for us. I think we took some pressure off of us and for sure tomorrow we'll sail better than today. Touch wood, we'll have no problems."
After fixing the wing sail, the Italians were slow at the start, giving Artemis the advantage.
It didn't matter. Once Luna Rossa popped up onto hydrofoils sailing downwind, its advantage over the blue-hulled boat became apparent. The Italians had several nice foil-to-foil gybes, with the hulls never touching the waves as the boat zigzagged going downwind.
This America's Cup could be determined by which crews foil better. When the boats hit a certain speed, they pop up unto winglets on the bottoms of both rudders and a daggerboard on the bottom of the leeward hull.
"As we knew, the difference between the boats is downspeed downwind and in maneuvers," Percy said. "We suffer from a legacy of our boat not originally being foiling. The rudder positions and size and the size of the rudder elevators makes gybing harder, but we'll improve our gybes. When we're up and running and trucking I think we're fine. It's literally those transitions, and practice will help."