by Richard Crockett
Now that was a thriller as so much was at stake in this race. For Artemis it was a case of winning it, their 4th successive win in a row, or for Softbank, it was a case of having to win this and the subsequent race. Conditions were near the top end of the wind spectrum at 19 – 22 knots.
Earlier this week, in similar strong weather conditions, Barker (Softbank) had beaten Outteridge (Artemis) in both races sailed. He needed to pull off the same trick today if his team was to advance, but with a loss in the first race, SoftBank Team Japan was eliminated from the competition.
In the end it was Artemis who pulled it off – again with superior tactics and a great all-round performance in every respect.
In the pre-start manoeuvring, Barker pushed Artemis Racing skipper Nathan Outteridge towards the starting line early and as the Swedish challenger slowed so as not to break the start prematurely, Barker put his bows down, the boat raised up on its foils and Japan sped away to mark one with a narrow lead.
Outteridge kept it close on the first run and then on the upwind leg he made the pass. As Artemis Racing tacked at the edge of the race course, Barker was required to give room. A moment of hesitation meant SoftBank Team Japan made a late tack that left the boat in a vulnerable position and Outteridge pounced. With rights he luffed aggressively. Barker kept clear, but was pushed to a standstill, head to wind, while Artemis sped off into the lead and into the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenger Playoff Finals.
If only it was as simple as that! Artemis has had a few rough calls from the judges, but in the end it was sailing well, sailing fast, and tactically sailing better than the opposition that has seen them through.
For SoftBank Team Japan this marks the end of the fourth Japanese challenge for the America’s Cup. Each one (1992, 1995, 1999) has fallen at the semi final stage of the challenger series.
But Kazuhiko ‘Fuku’ Sofuku, the General Manager and bowman for the team, who was also a sailor with the ’95 and ’99 efforts, says this was the most rewarding experience.
“I hope this will have a big impact for the Japanese and for sailing in Japan,” he said. “I hope we are sending a good message to the people in Japan. We’ve been working really hard and from the first day we have had a never give up spirit. Nothing is impossible!”
The duels that are to come, starting tonight (Saturday) are going to be thrillers as Emirates Team New Zealand are no pushovers and will fight hard to get to become the challengers. Artemis will of course fight just as hard, and they have a reputation of having a fast boat. It will all come down to boat speed, ‘fly’ time, tactics and a burning desire to win.
Outteridge (Artemis) and Burling (Emirates Team NZ) are old foes; each can claim an Olympic victory over the other, as they’ve traded off gold and silver medals in the 49er class in the past two Games.
“I’m personally looking forward to it,” said Outteridge, when the rivalry was mentioned at the post race press conference on Friday. “But this is about much more than Peter and myself. This is two big, well-supported teams going head to head.”
And he said his team is confident after four consecutive race wins.
“The main thing is we’ve simplified our racing slightly. It’s easy to get caught up in the battle and forget the details required to sail well. (Tactician) Iain Percy reminded us to just trust our gut and sail to our capabilities.
“On top of that we’ve made a nice improvement to the control system.
“We need to keep the momentum going and to keep sailing error free. That will be our best chance of moving forward. Our confidence in the boat is growing every day and when you have confidence in you equipment you can push hard. The teams are pretty evenly matched. It’s about how well we sail as a team.”
Bring it on, and don’t forget to watch the live steam tonight.
Comments from the boats
“Absolutely stoked,” was the reaction from Outteridge on board immediately following the race.
“That was a tough race and to come back the boys really had to dig in. We’re really happy to take it to the next round and we’re going to be ready to go tomorrow.”
“I’m disappointed we’re not competing tomorrow,” said Japan skipper Dean Barker, when asked how he felt after the race.
“But I think the main thing I feel is immense pride in what we’ve achieved in two years. We started from nothing… When we arrived back at the dock just now, words can’t describe the feeling with the families, team members and friends and all of that support. I’m very proud of the environment we’ve created and I hope we can continue through to the next Cup cycle.
“I’d like to thank all our supporters. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but the support we’ve had in Japan and New Zealand has been phenomenal. It’s been quite an amazing journey and experience and I wouldn’t change it for anything.“