BERMUDA (Reuters) - Emirates Team New Zealand beat Sweden’s Artemis Racing in a near photo-finish on Sunday to go 4-2 up in the first-to-five America’s Cup challenger final and edge nearer to a revenge match against holders Oracle Team USA.
Sailing conditions were challenging in Bermuda’s Great Sound with Artemis initially making the most of stronger winds when the day’s racing began due to their choice of “foils” which lift the 50-foot (15 metre) catamarans out of the water.
But the New Zealand crew played the patient game which has delivered so far for them in the contest and victory in the last race of the day put them within a race of being the challengers to America’s Cup holders Oracle Team USA, potentially setting up a revenge match after they lost in San Francisco in 2013.
The Swedish crew are confident they can come back on Monday and get the three straight wins they need to progress.
“We will come out tomorrow fighting... we are full of confidence,” Artemis skipper Nathan Outteridge said in a live televised interview on BT Sport following the race.
His team mate and tactician Iain Percy said the outcome of Sunday’s three races was “frustrating”.
“We have come back from worse before,” Percy added.
New Zealand had come from behind for the second race in a row to take a commanding lead over the Swedish crew but a poor manoeuvre at the last mark allowed Artemis to come speeding alongside for a drag race to the finish line.
“It shows one little error and you are really struggling,” New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling said in his televised on-the-water interview, adding that the mistake was down to “very poor comms on my behalf”.
“The boys dug deep and the legs were pretty tired by the end,” Burling said with reference to the team’s revolutionary “cyclors” who use pedals rather than traditional arm-driven winches powered by “grinders” to provide the hydraulic power needed to control the boat’s wing sail and foils.
Although Artemis made a protest about the course steered by Burling in the final few seconds of the last race, the umpire ruled his black, red and white catamaran was not at fault.
Artemis had levelled the score at 2-2 in the first race of the day, making what has become a trademark thunderbolt start.
While they looked to have the measure of the New Zealand crew for much of the race, the perils of making mistakes in the foiling catamarans were laid bare when they lost control and lurched dangerously towards their opponents.
New Zealand twice protested but their calls were rejected by the umpires out on the water and Sweden grabbed the win.
New Zealand came from behind in the second encounter as Burling was able to outsmart his long-time sailing rival Outteridge in a tacking duel in winds which had dropped slightly and favoured the longer foils his team had chosen to use.
Artemis once again got the lead in final race of the day but they were unable to hold on to it, with Burling and his cyclors using their better speed upwind to get past them.
Whoever wins the challenger series gets the opportunity to challenge holders Oracle Team USA in the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Match, which begins on June 17.
Writing by Alexander Smith in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Clare Fallon