A beautiful day of racing on the San Francisco Bay put Team New Zealand up 4-1 in the Louis Vuitton Cup final of the America's Cup racing series.
This is a best-of-13 series, but a 4 to 1 advantage is significant, according to race experts.
The winner will face defending champion Oracle Team USA in the 34th America's Cup starting Sept. 7.
Italy's Luna Rossa stayed close on Race No. 2, but in the end did not have what it takes to win the match.
“We played well to take the right gate at the bottom,” said Luna Rossa skipper Max Sirena. “Checco (tactician Francesco Bruni) did a good job in the first part of the upwind leg, but then it was a match race, the other boat puts you in dirty air and forces you to do the opposite of what he’s doing.”
Wednesday was the first set of races that went off without a hitch.
“We had a solid day all around. The guys sailed really well. We’re really happy with how the boat’s going in these conditions,” said Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies.
All earlier races of the challenger finals were delayed by the weather when the wind exceeded the safety limit.
Emirates Team New Zealand won the previous Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007 against Luna Rossa Challenge, in a 5-0 sweep. The Kiwis won’t be sweeping this series, but need just three more victories to book a date against Team USA.
On Wednesday Emirates skipper Dean Barker completed a pair of near-flawless races. He guided the Kiwis ahead by the first mark both times, leaving the Luna Rossa crew and its silver sailing gear glistening from behind the rest of the way.
Emirates won the first race by 2 minutes, 18 seconds and the second race by 1:28. In the first race, Luna Rossa helmsman Chris Draper moved his 72-foot catamaran too close to the start line. He had perfect inside position but had to pull back so he didn't cross before the clock, and by the time he could pick up speed again, Emirates already had a large lead.
Barker's patient tactic allowed Emirates to hit the start line at full acceleration and leave Luna Rossa difficult air in its path. The Kiwis hit a top speed of nearly 44 knots, or 50 mph, by the first mark and pulled off several smooth foiling gybes _ when a boat changes direction while sailing downwind and stays on the foils, without the hulls touching the water.
Any chance the Italians had to come back ended when they sailed out of bounds on the left side of the course while the Kiwis were extending their lead upwind toward the Golden Gate Bridge. They received a two-boat lengths penalty.
The next competition started about 30 minutes later.
In the second race, both boats got off to an even start. But the Kiwis covered the Italians' every move, foiling far better and far faster to pull away by the third leg of the five-leg race.
Foiling is when the boat is going fast enough to pop up onto the daggerboard in the leeward hull and winglets on the bottom of the rudders and ride over the tops of the waves, its hulls out of the water. That reduces drag and increases speed _ something the Kiwis have been far better at this summer.
Luna Rossa is still winless against favored Emirates when the Kiwis' catamaran is functional.
Associated Press contributed to this report.