America's Cup 2021: Emirates Team NZ steal two wins, close within sight of series victory

The fickle fortunes of America's Cup sailing have never been more evident, as Emirates Team NZ snatched consecutive race wins in their first-to-seven series against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli.

After losing a day's racing through light winds on Sunday, the match sparked to life with two dramatic contests that saw the Kiwis break the deadlock and seize a 5-3 advantage over the Italians. 

That means the 'Auld Mug' may be raised aloft as early as Tuesday, if the home team can also sweep the next two races.

First, Team NZ achieved something that hadn't been done previously in this series, passing their rivals midrace and sailing away in the day's first scheduled encounter.

Luna Rossa won the start and led after the first upwind leg, which had been enough to ensure victory in the preceding four races. They even took more time out of the Kiwis downwind, where the defenders had traditionally held an edge. 

But the Italians rounded the bottom gate wide and failed to cover their opponents, who headed for the other side of the course and found the wind they needed to put their noses in front.

Once they found that opening, Team NZ grabbed it with both hands and put 19 seconds on their rivals, eventually finishing almost a minute clear.  

The key seemed to be their choice of sail, which better suited the prevailing wind strength than the Italians'.

But if onlookers thought they had seen the day's drama, they were wrong. Luna Rossa again had their noses in front of the second race and were 16 seconds ahead at the first gate.

Team NZ kept it close downwind, but as they attempted a pass, they ran into bad air and fell off their foils, quickly falling more than 2km behind, as they desperately trying to build enough speed to get airborne.

The Italians quickly sailed away and rounded the bottom mark more than four minutes clear, as the Kiwis finally rose back onto their foils.

But as they prepared to round the top gate, the Prada boat also splashed down, forced to float around the mark and then 'mow the lawn', sailing backwards and forwards to build speed.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis charged up the course, still four minutes behind at the top gate, but immediately passing Luna Rossa, who had made no progress during those four minutes.

The race was shortened to make the two-hour sailing window, the Italians incurred three boundary penalties, trying to build speed, and Team NZ quickly built their own 2km lead, which saw them through to the finish.

"Wow, what a race," reflects Team NZ flight controller Blair Tuke. "Certainly one to keep and a great fight back from the guys there.

"We made a pretty costly error jibing behind them on the first downwind and fell off the foils, but got it back reasonably quickly and sailed a great race from there.

"Obviously, they made a mistake in their tacks on the top mark - under Motuihe [Island], it was really light wind and patchy - and we never looked back."

Tuke admits the sail that served them so well in the first race did not help them in those later lighter winds.

"But we've done a lot of practice recently in the real bottom end and did really nice technique through all those manoeuvres to keep it going."

The effort also took a toll on the crew's grinders, who generate the power for those manoeuvres.

"Once we got back and going, we knew it was shifty and there was a chance they could come off," says Tuke. "We just had to keep pushing hard and we could pounce them, and we managed to do that.

"It's a big moment for us to get two on the board today - that's what we wanted to do. We made it tougher than it needed to be, but we're wrapped."

Lighter winds are forecast for Tuesday, with just over 10 knots of wind expected and a chance of rain, so every likelihood of racing.

Join us at 4:15pm Tuesday for live updates of the America's Cup series between Team NZ and Luna Rossa