SAN FRANCISCO — The Louis Vuitton Cup finals have been more about survival than sailing.
Emirates Team New Zealand fell out of the second race of the series because of a mechanical problem Sunday, handing Italy’s Luna Rossa a victory that evened the finals at one apiece.
After a nosedive sent two men tumbling overboard during its opening win, Emirates sailed smoothly at the start of the second day. The Kiwis pushed ahead by about 400 meters before the electronic system that controls the hydraulics malfunctioned near the end of the third leg of the five-leg race on foggy San Francisco Bay.
“Devastated,” Emirates tactician Ray Davies said. “That was one we had in the bank.”
For the second straight day, officials called off the second race due to strong wind. Two makeup races will be held Monday, previously a scheduled day off, if conditions permit.
The winner of the best-of-13 series will face Oracle Team USA in the 34th America’s Cup starting Sept. 7.
Most of the maneuvering has been on the mechanical side of these high-performance 72-foot catamarans so far. Both teams had to make overnight repairs following an opening day of damage and drama.
Emirates tore the trampoline tarp in the center of its boat when skipper Dean Barker put the hulls deep in the water trying to make a sharp turn at high speeds and in windy conditions Saturday. The frightening scene brought back chilling memories of when British sailor Andrew “Bart” Simpson died in the capsize of Swedish Team Artemis Racing’s first boat during a training run May 9.
The Kiwis still won the opener because the Italians dropped out just seconds into the race after struggling to repair a new lifting system around their right daggerboard.
Earlier Sunday morning, the left rudder of one Oracle’s boats broke during a practice competition between its crews. General manager Grant Simmer said the catamaran, skippered by Ben Ainslie, hooked a ferry demarcation buoy trying to avoid a small yacht Saturday and the problem resurfaced during a prestart maneuver Sunday.
Even Luna Rossa’s win came with collateral damage. The Italian catamaran had a few cracks in the rib of its wing. The crew quickly repaired the cracks, and skipper Max Sirena said they would’ve raced had there been a second competition.
“I think the main issue here is to do two races a day. They’re pretty painful for these boats,” Sirena said. “They’re pretty fragile boats. And probably, at the moment, not built to do two races a day.”
Regatta director Iain Murray expected a slightly calmer wind but a stronger current Sunday, giving the already challenging conditions another twist. Members of both teams insist they still prefer the afternoon start times, when the wind is often stronger and so is the risk of a wash out.
While the sun shined at the finish line between Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, thick fog shrouded the start near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Emirates slid over the top, leaving Luna Rossa more difficult air in its path. The Kiwis held a 10-second lead by the first run and looked like the boat to beat again.
Instead, the electronics system shut down and caused the catamaran to practically stall. The Italians surged ahead for an uncontested win, completing the 10.02-nautical-mile course in 25 minutes, 34 seconds.
Davies said there was no correlation between Saturday’s nosedive and the electronics failure, a problem the team had never had before. He also said a new battery — sealed in a tub-like case — was installed and fixed the electronics a few minutes after the race.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Emirates grinder Derek Saward said. “Last night, the shore crew worked tirelessly to get the boat repaired after the incident yesterday. We come out here and part of the motivation today was to repay those guys with a victory. So it’s disappointing to go home without a win.”
At this point, Luna Rossa is satisfied with any type of win.
The Kiwis went 5-0 against the Italians in the round-robins, including the opener that Luna Rossa boycotted because of a rules spat. The Kiwis twice beat the Italians by more than 5 minutes, and the closest margin was 2:19.
The course is three legs shorter than the one used during the round-robins. Two, five-leg races are planned each day — although that has yet to happen— to determine who will face Oracle.
Emirates advanced straight to the Louis Vuitton Cup final based on its performance in the round-robins. Luna Rossa swept Artemis Racing 4-0 in the semifinals.
“A point is a point,” Sirena said. “But absolutely we’d like to win a race by ourselves and not a breakdown of the other boat.”