US and New Zealand dominate as America's Cup fleet gets its feet wet

Flying: American Magic rose above the pack in the America's Cup first preliminary regatta, off the coast of Vilanova i la Geltru (LLUIS GENE)
Flying: American Magic rose above the pack in the America's Cup first preliminary regatta, off the coast of Vilanova i la Geltru (LLUIS GENE)

With more than a year to before the main event, American Magic, the official challenger, edged defending America's Cup champions, Team New Zealand, on the final day of the first preliminary regatta, with the other four contenders trailing in their wakes.

The Americas won two of the three races Sunday at the end of a three-day regatta off Vilanova i la Geltru in Catalonia to edge the Kiwis by a point.

"That was amazing, we put it together, and yeah, we got the result," said Tom Slingsby, the helmsman for New York Yacht Club entry.

"The champagne was very nice."

French entry Orient Express were a surprising third followed by Italians Luna Rossa and Swiss boat Alinghi with British boat Britannia a distant sixth.

This was the first of three preliminary regattas which will determine seedings for the Challenger Series in Barcelona next September when five contenders will battle to face New Zealand in the America's Cup, the biggest prize in sailing.

The first two regattas are being raced in AC40 class catamarans. The teams will switch to the larger, and even more expensive, A75 class for the final preliminary regatta, the Challenger Series and America's Cup.

The second warm-up event is off Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at the end of November. The America's Cup fleet docks in Port Vell in Barcelona next August, where competition will open with the last preliminary regatta.

Team New Zealand's website described helmsman Nathan Outteridge as having "mixed emotions." after they lost the regatta in the final race.

"We definitely saw some really good racing. As soon as you get eight, nine knots of wind, the boats come alive and the racing is super tight and super close," Outteridge said, adding second place "was really frustrating."

Unlike some teams, the Kiwis have already taken delivery of their A75 boat.

"We've done a lot more of sailing on the big boat than the other recently," said Peter Burling, who skippered New Zealand to victory in 2021, adding that the preliminary regattas served a purpose.

"You have to be on the water to see what everyone is worth," Burling said.

The French entry, Orient Express helmed by Quentin Delapierre, were happy with third.

"We had a blast," said Delapierre. "We tested a few things. And even with less experience than the others, if we sail lightly we can see that we're capable of being in front."

Swiss team Alinghi, winners in Valencia in 2007, took positives from their fifth place.

"It was incredible to be racing against every team that is competing in the America's Cup," said skipper Arnaud Psarofaghis. "We were happy to come here and be right up there in terms of boat speed and boat handling."

Others were less pleased.

"Not a satisfactory result," said Francesco Bruni, skipper of Luna Rossa, which finished a point and a place above Alinghi. "We certainly hoped for something more."

"We must look ahead, understand our mistakes and learn for the next regattas."

Britannia was last in three races and fourth in the other two.

"We are really frustrated with our performance," said skipper and team principal Ben Ainslie. "We thought we could get away with not putting too much time in the AC40 and still be there or thereabouts."