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New Zealand and Luna Rossa Each Score a Win on First Day of America’s Cup

After a series of preliminary races dominated by Italy, the America’s Cup began in earnest off Auckland, New Zealand, with much more competitive racing on Wednesday. After the first two legs, the challenger Italy and the Cup holders New Zealand are tied at one race each.

In both races, the start was crucial, as it was throughout the qualifying races.

In race one, Emirates Team New Zealand got the jump. The Italian boat, Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, quickly tried an aggressive maneuver called a “luff,” turning its bow into the wind in hopes of drawing a penalty against New Zealand. But no penalty was awarded, Italy fell further behind, and New Zealand never lost its lead, winning by 31 seconds.

The comfortable victory raised fears that the favored New Zealand boat would run away with the Cup.

But in the second race it was Italy that got the jump. New Zealand closed the gap in the last two of the six legs, resulting in a final margin of 7 seconds.

The first team to seven wins in the best-of-13 format takes the America’s Cup.

“We had quite a lot of maneuvers, quite a lot of tacks,” Jimmy Spithill, an Australian helmsman on the Italian boat, said after the second race. “It was a good sign of strength I thought, to bounce back after that first one.”

The New Zealand helmsman, Peter Burling, said of the second race: “We definitely didn’t get the best start. We ended up getting sideways and falling into them, which is a bit of a shame. We definitely looked a bit rusty on that one.”

“If there had been another leg, we might have had a good chance.”

New Zealand has been training while waiting for the candidate races to finish. In those, Italy eliminated the United States and the United Kingdom with a record of 11-1.

New Zealand is the Cup holder after defeating the United States off Bermuda in 2017.

This year’s races are being contested by 75-foot monohulls; the last three America’s Cups had been raced with multihull boats. The high-speed, spectator-friendly monohull boats were traveling Wednesday at speeds of more than 35 knots (40 miles per hour) upwind and 40 knots (45 m.p.h.) downwind. The boats have topped 50 knots in training, the teams have said.

The giant, high-tech boats bear little resemblance to the kind of craft a weekend sailor would take on the water. But the America’s Cup has always been a race about technical achievement for the wealthiest sailors, back to its origins in 1851.

A healthy number of boats filled with yachting enthusiasts were on hand to watch the race, but because of coronavirus, many of the superyachts belonging to ultrawealthy, free-spending foreigners did not turn up, to the disappointment of local businesses.

Before the start of the finals on Wednesday, the biggest drama had come in January when the U.S. boat, American Magic, capsized dramatically while leading a race against Italy. The skipper, Terry Hutchinson, and other crew members were trapped briefly under a fallen sail, but escaped safely.

The Cup resumes Friday, and weather and wind permitting will continue for six straight days.

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