Olivia Hsu Decker: 34th America’s Cup World Series Round 4, Naples Italy

The 34th America’s Cup World Series Round 4 kicked off this week in Naples, Italy. Nine of the best international yacht racing teams competing for the first time this year as prelude to the America’s Cup 2013 taking place in San Francisco. Following the loss of Spanish-Italian GreenComm and French Aleph teams from the America’s Cup World Series, nine crews and seven teams are competing in Naples with Oracle Racing and Prada Luna Rossa both fielding two boats.

On board Abuelo, the Oracle Racing hospitality boat with America’s Cup defender Golden Gate Yacht Club Vice-Commodore Tom Ehman as commentator, I had a close look and comprehensive analysis of races teams on day-one April 11, the nine teams competed on very rough seas with gusting winds up to 25 knots and rain showers. Team Sweden Artemis with American skipper Terry Hutchinson capsized and dropped out the race along with Team China encountered mechanical problem. Oracle boat 4 with skipper James Spithill won the Day-one fleet race, unfortunately finishing 7th place in Day-two. Emirates Team New Zealand with skipper Dean Barker won the Day-2 fleet race. The two Italian Teams Prada Luna Rossa Swordfish and Piranha finished last in Day 1 but in Day -2 Piranha won second place in the fleet race and Swordfish won in team race that cheered the huge Italian fans lined up the waterfront racing course.

On Day-one, after the rough waves and big wind gusting over 25 knots causing causalities in the Race One, only six boats made the start of Race 2. Again ORACLE Racing Spithill led off the start but by the first turn at the bottom of the course, Emirates Team New Zealand took the lead, Oracle Spithill ended in 3rd place. Team Korea with skipper Nathan Outteridge, on his first day racing an AC45 in competition, overtaking ORACLE on the last turn and finished second.

The weather got rougher at day-1 race 2, Team New Zealand won first place, Oracle Spithill second, Team Korea third and Energy Team fourth and then the 2 Prada boats. Oracle Bundock had gear failure, did not finish and neither Artemis nor China Team started. With sea conditions worsening further, it was decided to cancel the third race. Jimmy Spithill revealed after race that a frame in their wing was broken during the first race, and so they eased the pressure during the second, notably by not hoisting a genniker on the downwind legs. Spithill also admitted several mistakes made in Day 2 that resulted Oracle 4 in 7th place.

The World Series scoring running over a 2011-12 season – that started in Cascais last summer and will conclude in Newport, RI at the end of June, 2012 after Naples this week and Venice in May. Following round 3 in San Diego and Naples at end of Day 3, the leaders are Emirates Team New Zealand 38 points, Oracle Racing Spithill 29 points, Team Prada Luna Rossa Piranha and Team Korea tie at 27 points for third place. Day 4, all races were cancelled due to severe bad weather. Not sure Sunday’s final can take place, depending on the weather. This has been the worst weather I have seen in 17 years I have been coming to this part of Italy.

The day 4 races were cancelled not because the racers couldn’t handle racing on the edge in the stormy weather, the problem is the danger of loading the racing boats into the water on cranes. Each day after the race, all boats got lifted off the water, hosed off clean, disassembled and stored away and then assembled each day and lifted back into the water before the races start. Most public had no idea of this, I found out after I watched Oracle team doing this with their 2 boats yesterday. We took some photos and video in the tent where the 2 giant wings were stored. It was quite an amazing sight.

To the delight of tens of thousands of Italian fans lining the race course in Naples waterfront. Prada Luna Rossa Piranha won the World Series Round 4 in Naples. Prada boss, yachting enthusiast Patrizio Bertelli was all smiles when I congratulated him with “Tanti Auguri”. Luna Rossa Piranha skipper Chris Draper attended the “Media Mixer” shortly after the final race was mobbed by the Italian press. I didn’t get the chance to interview him in person. Watch my video interview with his team-mate Pierluigi de Felice saying “We didn’t have a bad day yesterday, we just had an excellent day today….”. This is the Prada 2 boats’ first time racing AC45. Amazingly they beat the more experienced Emirates Team New Zealand and Oracle Racing’s 2 teams Spithill and Bundock and won with 92 points. This should draw even larger crowds to the World Series Round 5 in Venice May 15-20, 2012.

Check out the video of The America’s Cup here

Photo credits: Will Harper, Anthony Martinez and Oracle Racing.