Team New Zealand survived a scare to win the first race of the America's Cup challenger finals in a walkover Saturday as boat damage forced Luna Rossa to withdraw.
The first race of the best-of-13 Louis Vuitton Cup finals, which will decide a challenger to take on defender Oracle Team USA in next month's America's Cup finals, provided another chaotic spectacle in the 34th edition of the venerable yachting event which has been beset by problems.
The sight of triumphant Emirates Team New Zealand nose-diving into San Francisco Bay with two crewmembers flung overboard was a grim reminder of the deadly training accident of Artemis Racing in May, in which British sailor Andrew "Bart" Simpson died.
The drama started before that, however, with Italy's Luna Rossa pulling out with damage to their AC72 catamaran's starboard daggerboard.
With a temporary fix, the Italian outfit gamely took the start, but they were forced out after the first mark rounding.
"A composite part of the lifting system broke," said Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena. "We did a bit of work on the daggerboard to try to improve the aero package. We chopped part of the board and lifting post and moved all of the attachments on the board. We sailed five days with it and then today it broke.
"Luckily it broke during the reaching leg and not a jibe, otherwise it could've been another nosedive," Sirena said.
Team New Zealand completed the 9.95-nautical-mile course on San Francisco Bay in 31 minutes, 3 seconds, but not before they did nosedive as they were hit by a gust of wind as they rounded the windward mark to starboard.
The twin hulls of Aotearoa buried up to the main crossbeam and the craft's speed quickly dropped from 40.7 knots to 13 knots.
Crewmembers Rob Waddell and Chris Ward were tossed overboard, but were recovered by the team's chase boat and escaped serious injury.
"In this sort of racing, the boats are incredibly powerful. You see how quickly the speed rockets up as you make the turn around the top," said Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker. "We came in there with good pressure. Through the turn we were always going to pick up a decent increase in speed. I'm sure there are a few things we could've done better.
"We're very thankful that all the guys are OK. Everyone's a little shaken, but that's yacht racing and this type of sailing is pretty full on," Barker said.
Luna Rossa returned to base, and with the winds still high the day's second scheduled race was postponed until Sunday.
Two races were on Sunday's slate, if the wind permits.
Emirates Team New Zealand dominated Luna Rossa in the round-robin first round, with Swedish team Artemis sitting out as they prepared a second boat to replace the one destroyed in the deadly training accident in May.
In the semi-finals of the challenger series, Luna Rossa swept Artemis in four races and were hoping they had made enough strides to challenge the Kiwis in the decisive phase.