The ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix in Christchurch was packed with close crosses, tight mark roundings and boat on boat situations, resulting in 23 penalties.
A total of 42 protests were lodged over the weekend of racing, resulting in 11 Part 2 (boat on boat) penalties and 12 boundary penalties, which punish teams for straying outside course limits. Unusually, no early start penalties were recorded across the five fleet races and winner-takes-all Final.
Chief umpire Craig Mitchell said the event racked up the largest number of boat on boat penalties since Plymouth, which recorded 12.
However, France alone picked up four Part 2 penalties in Christchurch, proving that ‘they were pushing hard’, Mitchell said.
Key incidents included the moment France effectively turned into Australia after rounding Gate 4 in the third fleet race, which Mitchell described as a simple ‘unforced error’. Another dramatic moment came just after the last mark in the fourth fleet race in a showdown sprint to the finish with New Zealand.
The pair had been ‘trading blows’ throughout the race, resulting in a penalty to France at the windward gate, Mitchell said, before France ‘claimed room at the final mark and tried to sneak a pass over the New Zealand bow’. The Kiwis, he added, ‘weren’t having any of it’ and luffed the French. “France was trying to keep clear but got too high on the foils and crashed down leaving the Kiwis free to claim second.”
A similar situation unfolded at the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix in Saint-Tropez when New Zealand dramatically luffed Australia on the approach to the finish line.
Elsewhere, there was controversy when Kiwi driver Peter Burling said the umpires were ‘soft’ in their enforcement of a boundary penalty on Canada in the sixth leg of the Final.
However, Mitchell pointed to the fact that Canada went from 33m ahead of New Zealand before the boundary penalty to 45m behind after its enforcement, following which the umpires decided no further loss of distance was required.
“With only two other boats to compare the loss of distance to in a Final, deciding a boundary penalty is trickier than when you have the full fleet to use,” he said
Elsewhere, Mitchell confronted the suggestion that Canada’s boundary infringement was deliberate to reduce the number of maneuvers before the last turning mark
Mitchell said there was no clear evidence Canada driver Phil Robertson had executed the move on purpose.
“Canada was sailing in better pressure with a favorable wind shift which meant they could make it to the last mark in one maneuver whether they went out of bounds or not. We (the umpires) were not certain of any advantage gain from the breach, so there were no additional penalties imposed.”
The fleet will next meet at the Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco, with racing taking place on May 6-7.