New Zealand win first race of Louis Vuitton Cup
One powerful gust of wind and a brave turn is all it took to once again show how dangerous and daring the lead-up to the 34th America's Cup has been.
Emirates Team New Zealand tore the trampoline tarp in the centre of their catamaran and lost two men overboard before holding on to beat hobbled Italian Team Luna Rossa in a scary opener to the Louis Vuitton Cup finals.
Grinders Chris Ward and Rob Waddell, who could have been crushed by the hulls that crashed down after they tumbled over the side, were lifted out of the water by a rescue boat.
Skipper Dean Barker did his best to downplay the incident, saying both men walked away fine other than "some bangs and bruises".
"It didn't feel like we were ever in jeopardy of tipping it over," Barker said. "That's about as hard as you can probably push it and get away with it."
The Kiwis still won because their competition bowed out from their own mistakes.
The Italians scrambled to fix a lifting system around the right daggerboard of their 72-foot catamaran just before the scheduled start. They got a reprieve when officials delayed the race by 20 minutes waiting for the wind to drop below the 18.9-knot limit.
Luna Rossa's broken board wobbled up and down seconds after crossing the start line, and the team dropped out as they made more repairs. The Kiwis quickly had their boat foiling above the water, and they seemed to be flying away with an uncontested win until the near catastrophe.
As Barker turned the boat around a marker sailing about 41 knots, he said there was a strong gust of wind.
The front of the hulls dipped deep under water, the carbon-fibre fairing on the trampoline peeled away and the two men tumbled overboard.
"We got a big puff at a bad time," grinder Chris McAsey said. "I held on for dear life. I didn't realise two guys had gone over until later on."
The winners will face Oracle Team USA for the America's Cup, starting on September 7.