7 Jun 2017

America's Cup: 'The bullet seemed dodged. Until the crash'

12:27 pm on 7 June 2017

First Person - A quarter of an hour before the start of today's first race, I looked out the window to see Team New Zealand was back at its base.

My first reaction was - that's the day done for them.

Team NZ's boat capsized during a semi-final race against Britain's BAR.

Even before Team NZ's boat capsized there'd been a mad scramble to get to the starting line of the first race. Photo: AFP

I dashed the 50m across the Cup Village from the media centre to watch the most incredible 30 minutes work I've seen.

The boat was being craned out of the water, the shore crew - well, anyone on the base - was on the end of ropes trying to hold it steady in the winds whipping across the village.

First the rudders came off, then the boat was lowered onto a trolley and the job of lifting out a clearly damaged wing began.

Ground crew scrambled back and forth, setting up the gear needed for sailing's version of a pitstop.

Helmsman Peter Burling and tactician Blair Tuke, still in race helmets, worked with the shore crew at the base of the mast as the wing came out, was taken away and a second was wheeled out and fitted in place.

Just metres away on the other side of the fence, family members of the crew watched, some clearly distressed.

Peter Burling's father anxiously watched on a tablet to see whether Race 1 would be delayed by high winds and buy the New Zealanders extra time.

Not long before, he'd waved the biggest New Zealand flag on the base, as his son steered the boat out towards the course.

Within 45 minutes, with a rousing cheer, the boat headed back out. But would it make its race start against BAR on time?

Britain's Sir Ben Ainslie later told us the boat got there just minutes before the start of a race, which Team New Zealand won.

A cautious start trailing BAR, then as confidence built, a sail-by to go 3-0 up.

For a moment the bullet seemed dodged.

Until the crash.

At the start of Race 2, Team New Zealand nosedived, sharply and deeply then heeled over in slow motion until the wing settled on the water.

I headed back to the base, where the families were gathering again. Waiting for their loved ones to return.

"I just want to hug him," said Burling's mother Heather.

It was a long wait, as the crippled boat was brought slowly back the still squally conditions.

Peter Burling maintained his stoic lines through the media conference, but left a feeling of anxiety as he talked about hoping to be back soon.

*RNZ's Todd Niall is covering the America's Cup in Bermuda. You can follow his live coverage each race day on rnz.co.nz

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