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Grand Final in Jeddah crowns Emirates Team New Zealand winners

It was thrilling. It was tense. But Emirates Team New Zealand laid it all on the line, sailed accurately and consistently on the day and aced the Grand Final from start to finish to win the America’s Cup Preliminary Regatta Jeddah, presented by NEOM.

In outstanding conditions with a solid 16-20 knot breeze and a lumpy, challenging sea-state, the Red Sea delivered with the same kind of impact that the organisers of this magnificent event achieved shoreside.

Tom Slingsby, Skipper of NYYC American Magic summed up the event saying: “I’m really impressed, the hospitality has been amazing, the sailing has been amazing, the venue’s been great. Honestly this is my first time here, but I can see a lot of high-level events coming here in the future.”

And Tom’s words were echoed by Sir Ben Ainslie, Team Principle of INEOS Britannia and the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time when he said: “I think it has been a phenomenal event, brilliant conditions, the hosts have been truly wonderful, and you couldn’t ask for a better reception or better hosts, so I think it’s been a huge success.”

The Closing Ceremony may well have brought down the curtain on the regatta but what’s opened up in Jeddah is a world-class venue for high-performance sailing that is both ambitious and visionary in its dedication to the sport. The Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina hosted the America’s Cup with superb and rare efficiency whilst the Saudi Sailing Federation with its goal to inspire the next generation of young Saudi girls and boys into the sport of sailing and to compete at an elite level, ticked every box of their long-term vision. This was a remarkable event and a global first for the America’s Cup coming to the pristine Red Sea.

On the water today, the fleet of AC40s executed the first two races of the day to decide the final spot in the Grand Final Match Race shoot out after Emirates Team New Zealand had already secured their place with another two wins and second the day before. The Kiwis however weren’t playing it safe and seemed determined to stamp their mark on this Preliminary Regatta, garnering valuable race-craft and boat trim data in the conditions. Scoring a third in Race 7 after a poor gybe when leading, they came out smoking in Race 8 and went wire-to-wire to record their fifth win from eight races sailed, ahead of the Grand Final.

For Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, who provided a memorable storyline of the regatta with 31-year old sailing superstar and Olympic Gold medallist Ruggero Tita leading the team alongside the sensational talent of 19 year old Marco Gradoni, came through the sternest of tests and secured their spot in the Grand Final with another brilliant win in Race 7 and the scene was set and a battle royale for the overall title.

The Italians though had issues with the boat’s electronics suffering in the heat of the Red Sea and entered the Match Race Final start-box late which gave the upper hand to Emirates Team New Zealand early on. The Kiwis capitalised to lead off the start line but all around the course it was desperately close until the very final windward mark, where on a bear-away, the Italians got high and with the rudder exiting the water, a nose-dive splashdown put paid to their race.

Emirates Team New Zealand capitalised with Peter Burling, Nathan Outteridge, Blair Tuke and Andy Maloney making no mistakes on the downwind leg to cross the finish line and secure a popular regatta win. They made it count when it mattered most, kept the pressure on and the intensity high and proved that this tight-knit group of talented sailors can handle the white-hot pressure of America’s Cup racing.

Speaking afterwards, Peter Burling spoke about the win saying; “Another awesome day of sailing. I feel like we made our lives a little bit harder than we needed to in that last race, but we’ve been sailing so well all week, haven’t done too many things wrong and we’re super happy to come away with the win here in Jeddah…It has been awesome here and a great showcase for our sport. To have a couple of breezy days here, it’s been amazing.”

Blair Tuke, Trimmer on Emirates Team New Zealand summed up the regatta saying: “The last two days have shown what the AC40 class can be like, and we’ve enjoyed the close racing, beautiful conditions here and it has been a great advertisement for our sport.”

For Ruggero Tita, helmsman on Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, reflected on a regatta where the Italians performed supremely, saying: “It has been a super good experience here in Jeddah and we are happy about the result, but when you are there so close, and you can see the possibility to win, yes there’s regret but we did more than we expected.”

With the Closing Ceremony concluded and Emirates Team New Zealand crowned as champions, a wonderful, visionary regatta here on the Red Sea draws to its natural conclusion. Happy faces all around, this has been an historic and memorable event superbly hosted by the Jeddah Yacht Club & Marina and the Saudi Sailing Federation. A new destination on the map of high-performance sailing has been created and a fabulous chapter written on the road to the 37th America’s Cup in Barcelona in 2024.

Sailing as a sport, the City of Jeddah, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were the big winners but Emirates Team New Zealand take home the trophy. By Magnus Wheatley