Saturday, 30 June 2007

Desperate Daze

If they’re even remotely human, the Kiwis will surely be reeling tonight. Alinghi took their second straight come-from-behind win to go 4-2 up, just one race short of a successful defence. In the Louis Vuitton semis and finals, passes were about as common as rocking horse pooh, and now we can barely get through a race without one, or even a handful.

This sixth race was no less extraordinary than any of those that went before it. The balance of power shifting so fast and so unpredictably, it was like watching Formula 1 cars trying to race on gravel roads.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to neatly sum it all up – but this race, this series, will not be put into boxes. Neither team can produce a significant, consistent edge. The Kiwis aren’t a flawless racing machine, and Alinghi aren’t a rocket-ship. But while I'd still rather be in SUI100 if you gave me a choice, and it’s the Kiwis mental strength and tight racing technique that has kept them in the game, it’s been the errors that have made this such an absorbing contest.

Alinghi clean the Kiwis out on the way to the layline. The Kiwis clean Alinghi out on the way to the layline. Barker wins one start, Baird wins the next. Alinghi’s boat handling looks a bit rough, the Kiwis rip a chute…

You see my problem.

This America’s Cup doesn’t belong in a world with a three minute attention span, that prefers one sentence of ‘spin’ to political policy, the elevator pitch rather than the script. In this world, there is only one way to tell this story…

Alinghi have won four and ETNZ have won two.

And I don’t blame you if you leave it there. But if you’ll stay with me for a few minutes, I have a tale that will be retold as long as there are yachts and yacht races…

It was Ed Baird’s moment to step up to the call of history. After taking a hiding at the hands of Dean Barker yesterday, fate had handed him the starboard tack advantage in light air. He got ETNZ into the dial up, and he held Barker there, pinned into the left-hand side of the box, both boats gently luffing on starboard tack as they drifted towards the pin. The clock ticked down, and the screw ratcheted onto Barker’s shoulders. Trapped. At 3-2 down in the America’s Cup. Can you imagine the suffocating pressure? This is the kind of moment that has £25 million strikers putting the ball over the bar in World Cup penalty shoot-outs.

But at one minute 40 seconds, a chink opened and Barker leapt on it, gybing away, turning back towards the committee boat. Alinghi tacked round, both boats on port, heading for the committee boat, Alinghi from above the line, the Kiwis below it. The next bit is open to interpretation – but here’s how I saw it…

At the press conference afterwards, Dean Barker said the Kiwis wanted the left, while Brad Butterworth told us that Alinghi wanted the right. So Dean Barker’s problem was to get far enough to the right of the start box to be able to gybe and come out still laying the pin on starboard, and without so much ‘time to burn’ that Alinghi could gybe on their tail and force them either over the line or to tack away to the right.

And so it came to pass that Alinghi found the Kiwis reaching up from under them, crossing their bow with Barker going from a safe leeward/ahead position, to a very unsafe windward/ahead position. It was an invitation to Ed Baird to turn the wheel down sharply and bear away, and all of a sudden, the Kiwis found themselves struggling to get their gybe in across Alinghi’s bow.

Barker went for it, as he has in the past (against the Spanish, I think, when he did cop a penalty…) and this time he got away with it. But it looked as dodgy as a forty five cent piece, and Brad Butterworth clearly wasn’t happy on the water. If Alinghi had lost, I suspect he’d have been fuming at the press conference. As it was, he just said, ‘We all get things wrong - some of them more obvious than others. But they’ve got a tough job. They are doing their best.’

But when the shouting was done and the flags flown, we had both boats with the side they wanted, on starboard and heading back to the line. The Kiwis worked hard to close the gauge to Alinghi to get tight to leeward in the final approach. But it was an even start, and it looked like we’d have another drag race to the layline – this one a mirror image of yesterday, on starboard not port, and with the Kiwis to leeward not windward. Just like race four then, the observant amongst you will be saying…

So we know how tight these are, how little it takes to push it one way or the other when the boats are so closely matched. Adam Beashel said afterwards that their expectation afterwards was for a right shift off the line, and they’d been hoping to force Alinghi away during that, so the Swiss had to sail the header. That part didn’t work out – although the Kiwis worked really hard at scalloping up to Alinghi and closing the leverage down.

But the ETNZ weather team had told them to expect a left hand shift next. It arrived when they were about two thirds of the way out to the layline – the Kiwis hit the hyperspace button, put it into high mode and the separation came tumbling down. Alinghi held their lane to within about two minutes of the layline – close but no cigar. Brad Butterworth called for the tack, and about a minute later the Kiwis followed.

At this point, the Swiss were still in pretty good shape, all they needed was one decent right hand shift to take back to the Kiwis, and they could bounce them out past the layline. There were a couple of times when, on Live Sailing, it looked like the Swiss might have enough as the Kiwis hit a soft spot. But it didn’t look like that from Alinghi, and as they closed on the mark the Kiwis hit better pressure and a left hand shift and started to lift off the Swiss. Butterworth finally had to tack to stem the bleeding on the gain line, and the Kiwis crossed two lengths in front, held the left, saved themselves a tack and were 14 seconds in front at the mark.

But it was going to be a tough run to hold a lead. Initially, Terry Hutchinson went for the tight cover, and Alinghi made a little gain. And when Alinghi next gybed away to the left, Hutchinson took his cojones in both hands, backed what Adam Beashel and Ray Davies were telling him, and carried on… For a couple of minutes it looked like the Kiwis had got it wrong, then the Swiss hit a light patch and had to gybe, and at the next cross the Kiwis were further ahead. And they were in a position where they could take whichever side of the gate and the beat that they wanted. Their choice would settle the race, could settle the Cup. The left or the right… the left or the right… whichever they took, the Swiss would take the other one.

Dean Barker said afterwards that they thought the beat was pretty even, and they reckoned the advantages of the easier drop going to the left hand mark would outweigh any bias to the right hand gate mark. Maybe. Whatever, the Swiss rounded 11 seconds behind, which was a good comeback from where they had been two thirds of the way down the run. And those extra metres were about to be crucial. The Swiss headed out to the right on port, and the Kiwis tacked to cover them.

We had another drag race, with the gainline shifting back and forth with every burp and bubble in the breeze. It was all about whether Alinghi could find the moment to tack and go across to them. And it was getting softer, the wind slipping down to eight knots – we’d already seen two passes in these conditions with leebow tacks that wouldn’t stick. First the advantage went to the Swiss and the Kiwi lead almost evaporated. Then the Kiwis got their two or three length advantage back… But not for long, the pendulum reached the top of its swing and started to slide towards Alinghi…

Butterworth said afterwards they got their nose into a little more breeze first. ‘The angles of those boats are quite big in that 7-8 knot breeze, if you get 7.5 knots you might be 5 degrees higher than the other guy. It’s huge. If you have just a little bit more pressure in that wind range it makes a huge difference and that is what happened.’ Or as Dean Barker put it, ‘A little bit of pressure and a little bit of shift goes a long way in those conditions.’

Finally, Butterworth reckoned it looked as good as it was going to get and Alinghi tacked. To me, it didn’t look like the Kiwis could cross even if they wanted to - they tacked leebow. Butterworth came back at them again, and Terry Hutchinson accepted the invite. Another cross. Same result. But Alinghi were hitting better breeze on the right, and Butterworth went back at them really short the third time. With the breeze coming in from Alinghi’s side, the Kiwis had to get over to them. But as the Kiwis tacked it was clear that Alinghi were well bow forward. And in less time than it’s taken for me to type this, the Swiss were past. ETNZ couldn’t get close enough to make the leebow stick, worse, they had to tack downspeed, and Alinghi were able to hold their lane on starboard all the way to the top mark.

That doesn’t tell you anything about how close the Kiwis got on the last leg. They were ‘inside’ gybing (pulling the clew around aft of the luff of the sail), whereas the Swiss were still ‘outside’ gybing (letting the clew float round ahead of the luff). Adam Beashel, ETNZ windspotter was asked about it afterwards, ‘I think there is a little difference in the boat’s cross-overs – we have developed it this way in the last three years of our sailing, and are happy going inside with our gybes in that wind range. Hopefully we will stay inside a little bit higher than what we expected today, and it is what is showing with our slightly better gybes. If conditions get softer later on it could get more interesting.’

Slicker gybes and a lane of wind got the Kiwis to within a length of the Swiss. But closing the gap and getting around are two different things. The Kiwis took one final gybe out to the layline to try and get some separation; hit a hole in the breeze and that was it. Game over, match point. The final delta was 28 seconds.

Brad Butterworth was asked how much of their passing move was luck, ‘I think there is always an element of luck. Unless you have a crystal ball which tells you or you can see the wind buoys you just don’t know. The gate kind of leaves you with what you’ve got - we were going to go opposite to them, so were happy to go round that left mark looking down. We came round with quite a left breeze – and predominantly the right seems to win out. It’s been a tough environment to sail the races, and you have seen big lead changes that are all wind orientated - from the shifts and pressure.’

Dean Barker was putting as brave a face on it as he could, ‘We are as positive as we can be. It’s hard losing races, we are 3 from 6 round the top mark, and we are 2-4 down so they have done a better job at converting their percentages. I think while there is a chance we are still a very dangerous team. I have complete confidence in the guys and our entire team and I do firmly believe we can get ourselves back into it. It’s a big ask as they are a very strong team, while there is a chance we will be right there. We will sail exactly the same as we have. We are not sailing badly, it is just that the key moment hasn’t gone our way – we still have 100% belief we can come back and have a good race tomorrow.’

I don't think there's a man, woman, child or dog that's watched this series that wouldn't agree with him.

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Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 29 June 2007

Dream the Undreamable, Think the Unthinkable…

The Kiwis have been dreaming the undreamable dream (at least according to the word on pundit street) for a while now, and today the unthinkable happened. Twice. Emirates Team New Zealand held Alinghi all the way to the starboard tack layline to take the lead at the top mark. And then threw it away as they let a broken spinnaker turn into a big casino, going through two replacements before they got one up and set.

And after all that, the delta for Alinghi’s race four win was still only 19 seconds.

So, it’s 3-2 - but let’s rewind a bit, because there was a lot of good stuff the Kiwis can take away from today’s race, and it began with Dean Barker’s pre-start. ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said at the press conference that they reckoned it was a pretty even race track, and they wanted to take it to Alinghi in the pre-start to try and get a little advantage off the line, and they certainly did that.

The Kiwis had the advantage of the starboard entry, but I think it was Ed Baird that gave them the opportunity to use it when he got ahead of Dean Barker in the turn into the dial-up. Alinghi had gone through head to wind and onto starboard tack before Barker was barely above a beam reach. There was an inviting berth to leeward of the Swiss yacht and Barker jumped into it.

And once they were to leeward, the Kiwis had control. Alinghi were quite slow to respond, but eventually they got going on port, and headed for the spectator fleet. A couple of hundred people got their biggest buzz of the day as both boats ducked and dived. Ray Davies reckoned, ‘Opportunities can change quite quickly once you get in among the spectator boats so once we got in with the cats, Deano decided not to engage much more and from that point led back on a comfortable lead, did a secure job of making it tough for Alinghi.’

Alinghi chased ETNZ towards the line, but without enough ‘time to burn’ left for the push to be effective. And as they hardened up for the final approach, the Kiwis were tight to leeward and half a length advanced. At this point, Alinghi’s only option was to tack, and there was a moment when it appeared that a sharp luff from Barker might have forced Baird to tack to port before he could lay the committee boat. That would have left the Swiss tacking twice and still having to accelerate, and might have been a complete shut-out.

But it didn’t happen, the Swiss held on, tacked and started on port at the committee boat, the Kiwis at full speed on starboard with a length advantage. Terry Hutchinson on tactics in NZL92 spent some of their lead in the covering tack, but as both boats settled on port, ETNZ was still half a length clear.

The gain line swung back and forth, and at its best Alinghi worked their way into a half length advantage. But Alinghi navigator, Juan Vila told the press conference there was never quite enough for them to be able to live with a Kiwi leebow tack, and so they hung on…. And, perhaps, like most of those watching, they expected it to get better as the Swiss boat did its thing. In the final stages, we saw Alinghi hit the hyperspace button for the high mode, and they closed the lateral separation down a lot. But it wasn’t enough, and a little left-hand shift let the Kiwis live to the layline – as Ray Davies said afterwards, they were very encouraged by their speed.

There wasn’t any doubt about who was going around the top mark first at that point, but Alinghi did a great job of keeping the gap to just 12 seconds. Both boats set chutes, and as Alinghi came surging down inside ETNZ, closing the lead to just a couple of lengths, it looked like we were all set for another classic.

Then came the unthinkable. ETNZ head honcho, Grant Dalton told the press conference that there was a tear the size of a twenty cent piece (probably doesn’t matter which currency) just above the tack patch, the high load area of the sail. It almost certainly got there in the hoist, perhaps a snag, or just abrading on the non-slip on the deck. They were on to it quickly and Jeremy Lomas was out on the pole end getting ready for the peel when the spinnaker blew. Dalton reckoned they bounced on a wave at just the wrong moment, another ten seconds and it would never have happened. By such slender threads…. literally, in this case.

Then came the error. With Alinghi all over them, the Kiwi crew rushed to get the new sail up and set, before they’d cleared the damaged one. The two got wrapped, and as Dalton said, ‘Chaos ensued, there were people and sails everywhere…’ Eventually the torn sail was dropped, the original replacement was jettisoned for the chase boat to pick up, and finally the second replacement filled, after being hoisted with a twist in it.

It was an agonizing couple of minutes. And Alinghi, who had gybed away into clear air to make the pass, gybed back eight lengths in front, with both boats on the layline for the gate. It’ll be a long night in the sail loft for Dick Parker and his team at ETNZ. The Kiwis weren’t done though, and the rest of the race showed just how tough these guys are.

The delta at the gate was 26 seconds, and with Alinghi taking the right-hand mark (looking upwind), the Kiwis took the left, and got a split going. Alinghi held the right ruthlessly, refusing to be drawn into a high tempo tacking duel. Taking the shifts back to them, ETNZ closed the gap to just a couple of lengths at one point. But the best pressure and shift was on the right-hand side at the top of the course, and Alinghi were onto it. They extended on the final approach, with the Kiwis forced to overstand a little to keep their air clear. And the gap was back up to 24 seconds.

The Kiwis hoisted a spinnaker (or S-sail) rather than an asymmetric (A-sail) for the final run, the Swiss with the asymmetric. Both Alinghi trimmer, Simon Daubney and Ray Davies (who implied that the Kiwis still had a choice) reckoned it was right on the cross over between the A and S sail. Daubney explained that you could work the waves a little better with the S-sail, and Davies told the press that it was probably the better sail at the top of the run, with the A-sail having the advantage as the breeze dropped a touch towards the bottom.

Understandably, Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth refused to be drawn into the close gybing duel – the A-sail is the harder to maneuver. And at one point the Kiwis again closed it up to within a couple of lengths. But it wasn’t to be, and as the breeze faded and the A-sail came good, the Swiss pushed ahead to win by 19 seconds.

So, what now? Is this going to finish the Kiwis off? I very much doubt it. If there’s a team in this competition that’s worked at not letting stuff like this unsettle them, it’s Team New Zealand. As Grant Dalton said, ‘How you react to something like that is the key to how you go forward as a team. It is like a fork in the road or a defining moment. You can make it the defining moment but it’s important that we don’t do that, but just see it as a loss in the best of five, and move forward.’

He then got the biggest laugh when he was asked how they got their focus back so fast. He started the answer, went off on a tangent, then had to ask what the question had been… to be told - how do you get the focus back…

What the Kiwis can take away from this was their pace upwind. Dalton was asked if they were worried about their speed in a breeze going into this race, and he replied that even if they were, they couldn’t afford to think about it. And now they certainly aren’t. But there was a question mark raised over Alinghi’s sail choice, the main looked a little edgy on the first beat. When it was queried, Simon Daubney was non-committal - he wanted to see the footage of both boats before he made a call.

The Swiss made all the right noises about still expecting a tight race over twelve knots, Daubney saying that rule changes had been made with the intention of tightening up the differences between the boats, and that after so many iterations of the design cycle, the differences were always going to be tiny.

Another thing everyone agreed on was that it will come down to the sailing from here on. As Daubney said, ‘Grant (Dalton) has said their team is making mistakes, but it’s not all going smoothly on our boat as well. The pressure is on here. It is a very close contest between very close teams and two very equal boats and one little mistake or slip-up is incredibly costly and you don’t want to be the guy that makes that mistake.’

In this game, you have to convert when you’re in possession. The Kiwis failed to do that today and it could cost them dear. But no one, not Tiger, not Michael Jordan, not anyone, repeats even the most routine of actions without occasional failure. That’s what makes sport so compelling. We can only wait to see where the next error will come from, and whether or not it’s critical.

With all that drama going on the water, the previous shore-bound shenanigans got a little forgotten. Perhaps that’s why the jury left it till late to publish their opinion on the ETNZ protest – a bit like the way Governments wait till something dramatic dominates the headlines, and then issue some bad news as quietly as possible….

If you’re into that sort of thing, you can find the opinion here. I’d like to do something on it, but you know… I’m toast… So I gues the Jury's strategy worked then.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

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Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 28 June 2007

It's Still 2-2...

The Emirates TNZ protest against Alinghi has been dismissed by a majority verdict of the Jury. The reasons are still to be given.

Backstory: The New Zealand protest came about after the measurement committee requested at the end of race four, via Peter Reggio’s race committee, that both boats demonstrate that they could comply with ACC rule 31.6…

31.6: Mainsails shall be able to be lowered to the deck without the necessity of a crew member going aloft.

The main is normally hoisted on a spinnaker halyard, then put on the mainsail lock. Normally, the bowman would go up to the top and reattach the halyard, before the lock is released, so the main can be lowered under control. The boats were being asked to do it without reattaching the spinnaker halyard, and - which is the point - prove that the halyard lock can be fired off from the deck, without any assistance from the man at the top of the rig.

It's essentially a safety rule, if they get caught in really bad conditions and it's dangerous to put a man up the rig, they need to know that they can still get the mainsail down.

The Kiwi mainsail came down just fine, but Alinghi sent a man aloft… It was all captured by the increasingly impressive tv directors, and you can see some still shots from those fine people at Sail-World.com right here.

At the post-race press conference, Murray Jones (who runs the rig department at Alinghi as well as being the wind spotter) told the assembled that Alinghi had asked the measurer doing the check if they could put the halyard on. The idea being that when the lock was fired off, the sail didn't fall down the mast too quickly and potentially break battens or do some damage. The measurement committee apparently said ok, and they didn’t protest Alinghi having seen the whole operation.

Then, despite Dean Barker expressing complete confidence in the measurement committee at the same press conference, the Kiwis slapped a protest in just after 7pm Wednesday night.

But the result of race four stands, and it's still 2-2.

In other news, United Internet Team Germany have announced that Karol Jablonski, previously Desafío Español’s helmsman, has defected to join them for the next edition of the America’s Cup.

Presumably they’ve decided that Jablonski, who’s Polish but a long-term German resident, will get through whatever nationality conditions the new defender might impose...

They’ve also had sail number 101 issued for their second boat of this Cup cycle, the construction of which was announced just after they departed the competition.

And the British Challenge, TEAMORIGIN, have announced that they will be challenging through the Royal Thames Yacht Club - the first club ever to challenge back in 1870, after the initial race in 1851.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

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www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Best of Five

Alinghi squared the series at 2-2 in the fourth race of the America’s Cup, with the kind of shut-out performance that they had hinted at in race one. While the delta was actually five seconds smaller - at 30 seconds – this was an all round stronger race from the Swiss.

As ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson said at the press conference, the Kiwis kept putting the boat in the right place to keep the pressure on and to take advantage of any mistakes by Alinghi… and they got nothing but crumbs. Alinghi sailed a tight, confident race in seriously tricky conditions – eight knots of shifting, puffy breeze stumbling over sloppy water. It was a classic match race, with all that that entails – one boat following the other around for ninety minutes…

So, no beta blockers required today.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have plenty to interest the aficionados. It started with Alinghi finally wanting the right – phew, Alinghi’s propensity for starting tight to leeward was getting ridiculous. Even if I have to admit my theory is now looking pretty shaky, but hey, that’s what theories are for in the scientific method, right? You put ‘em out there and they get shot down…

What stayed the same was that both boats still wanted something different. And with Barker on the left and to leeward, and Baird on the right and to windward, it all came down to the final wrap-up and acceleration into the line. And this time it was Baird and Alinghi that were right on the money - both crews reckoning at the press conference that Alinghi were helped by a little right-hand shift and puff.

That shift lifted Alinghi into a position where they could hold their ‘lane’ to windward of ETNZ, and it became a drag race – could ETNZ get rid of Alinghi before the layline? In two races we’ve seen Alinghi blow NZL92 outta there in a handful of minutes. The Kiwis couldn’t do the same - a 15-20 degree left-hand shift almost got them there right at the top of the course. But it came just too late, and the New Zealanders had to follow Alinghi in to the top mark with a 20 second deficit.

And that was pretty much the race. The Kiwis wriggled hard, with an ‘Indian’ set at both top marks. This is where you set-up for a normal bearaway hoist, faking the other guy into thinking you’re following him, and then gybe right on the mark, pull the chute up and sort out the mess…. I jest - it’s a bit slicker than that, but it does usually cost some distance, compared to the conventional hoist. But Alinghi were showing no signs of letting any serious leverage open today, and matched both the Indian’s with a quick gybe of their own.

The boat handling had mixed messages. When the Kiwis were throwing gybes at Alingi like Joe Calzaghe punch combos, Brad Butterworth’s tight cover was allowing ETNZ to close the gap pretty quickly. Butterworth resorted to a loose cover, and that worked better for Alinghi. But it was the Kiwis who had the one real shocker, with a twisted spinnaker during a gybe on the first run. The conditions made any kind of smooth boat-handling hard – but still, it’s nice to know those guys are mortal.

And the tangle that the Kiwis got into at yesterday’s gate befell Alinghi today. They had gybed in from a long way out, and weren’t expecting to lay it. But the puffs kept letting them down. Finally, they decided they weren’t going to make it, and were about to gybe to the other mark, when they got another puff and header and found themselves - in Brad Butterworth’s words - ‘pointing at it.’

And then the puff dried up like a puddle in the Sahara, and they were left high and dry. Too close to gybe to the other mark, Alinghi ended up pointing almost dead downwind at the right hand buoy, with the spinnaker flapping, while ETNZ came pouring in to the left hand mark. It just goes to show that however good you are, the wind can make you look pretty average.

Both teams were claiming at the press conference that there was still nothing in it between the boats. And in this light air, that’s probably about right - certainly downwind. Alinghi like to sail a little faster and higher, while the Kiwis prefer to go deep and a touch slower, but the net effect is damn similar. But upwind, I’d still rather be in Alinghi if you gave me the choice.

And now we have another layday, ahead of a three race, long weekend session that will be pivotal. Rest will be the priority for the crews - and I’m with them there. Terry Hutchinson reckoned they’d have a short, sharp debrief, then get everyone out of there and… ‘go and wrestle with three kids’.

And finally… Respect to Dean Barker. Once again he showed up at the press conference, this time with tactician Terry Hutchinson, after the Kiwis took a loss. He doesn’t bother when they’re winning.

LATE UPDATE:

ETNZ have filed a protest over race four. It will be heard at 14.00 on 28/6/07. Presumably it's about the fact that Alinghi appeared to have trouble complying with the measurers request to drop the main without a man at the mast head. More tomorrow...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

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www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Couldn’t be Pulp Fiction…

You know that scene in Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta plunges the adrenaline needle straight into the chest of the overdosing Uma Thurman? She sits bolt upright, with her eyes boggling? Well… that’s how it was watching Emirates Team New Zealand beat Alinghi by 25 seconds to take a 2-1 series lead yesterday.

For nearly two hours.

It was right up there with the final race in 1983, and if you pitched it in a script, they’d laugh at you, too out there, dude - it just doesn’t happen like that in real life…

Well, it did.

But it so nearly didn’t. The warning signal went at the last possible moment before the 17.00 shut off, after we’d waited all afternoon for the breeze to settle. Ironically, the biggest shift then came through a few minutes into the first beat. It was ETNZ that called it and nailed it. ETNZ wind spotter, Adam Beashel, said afterwards that the weather team had made the call right at the last minute prior to the entry, and we heard strategist Ray Davies restating it late in the pre-start – must-have right.

By then we’d already had Alinghi entering from port and looking like they were going to cross, ETNZ gybing to defend the right, then gybing back when they thought they could get to Alinghi to force a dial-up, and then Alinghi crossing anyway… We should have guessed then, that this might be memorable.

Eventually, Alinghi led back towards the line – once again defending the left. They really do love that starting move. But this time Ed Baird at the wheel of Alinghi did a great job, much more aggressive, getting really tight to leeward of ETNZ, so the Kiwis had to tack for the committee boat short of the layline and downspeed. Immediately Alinghi accelerated and started on starboard, jumping out to a 3-4 length lead.

It lasted maybe three minutes – by the time Alinghi had tacked to port to go with ETNZ, the right-hand windshift was on the Kiwis, and when Dean Barker tacked NZL92 soon afterwards to set up the first cross, the Kiwis were 4-5 lengths clear. From there, it just got worse for Brad Butterworth and Alinghi. The Kiwis defended the right, and that was where all the breeze and shift was coming from – the Kiwis lifted off Alinghi and the lead grew like Topsy. By the time they rounded the windward mark, the gap was 1 minute 23 seconds.

Impossible to come back from? You’d have thought so…

But it was the kind of day when nothing was impossible, and Alinghi were a long way from giving up. They worked the run hard, forcing Terry Hutchinson to make difficult choices between covering and sailing his own race. Perhaps predictably, Hutchinson chose to cover, but it came at a high cost - by the gate the lead was down to 200m, and we were about to see something else new.

The Kiwis screwed up a rounding.

Yup, as I said, you wouldn’t put it in a novel… To be fair, the wind twisted them round it’s little finger like a femme fatale with a leery mark, forcing two late changes of decision about which side, and finally leaving them dead upwind of the mark they had to take in one of the biggest right hand shifts of the day. Things weren’t made any better when Richard Meacham slipped off the bow… but he caught a rope and hauled himself back on board. Then the gennaker got hauled into the headsail winch as they tried to get the sails in around the mark and the knives were out…

If that wasn’t bad enough, Alinghi came round the same mark a minute behind and promptly got a massive 25 degree left-hand shift. It cut the Kiwi’s lead faster than they could cut the spinnaker out of the winch. By the time they tacked to get up to the lane of left-hand breeze that Alingi were in, they were only a couple of lengths ahead. ETNZ tacked to cover, and Alinghi tacked away…

At this point, you’d normally expect Terry Hutchinson, ETNZ’s tactician, to go back with the opponent pretty close. He didn’t, whether that was because they wanted to back the right, or just because they needed to settle the boat down, I’m not sure. Whatever… the result was that at the next cross, Alinghi were right with them. The Swiss dialed-down as ETNZ tried to tack leebow – a role reversal replay of the passing move in race two… And for a long while Alinghi held on in the windward position, but not quite to the layline.

So, the Swiss tack away, ETNZ follow. Wild shifts come through, the gain line is swinging like a seventies keys party, with both boats on starboard, just below the layline. Finally, Alinghi tack back at ETNZ, there’s another massive dial-down, but the Kiwis defend the right, as both boats tack away. There’s one cross left, and it’s going to be right on the wind ward mark…

Alinghi take it.

The Swiss go round 15 seconds in front. It’s the most incredible come back, from what at one point was a 400m deficit. But this race isn’t finished with anyone yet. The Kiwis gybe away, and Butterworth, defending the kind of lead that will disappear in just two extra gybes (and having seen how covering had worked for Hutchinson on the first run), elects not to cover. At the next cross, he’s proved right. No change. Alinghi, on starboard, pass in front of the port gybe ETNZ.

At this point, Alinghi weren’t that far from laying the finish, and they were already on a header. They couldn’t find a good moment to gybe. So they let the Kiwis go behind them and get to leeward. From here, a further left hand shift – the kind that’s already brought Alinghi back into the race on the previous beat - will advantage the Kiwis. And late in the day, when the sea breeze dies, the wind can keep going to the left, Ray Davies reminds the New Zealand afterguard…

Afterwards, Alinghi runner-man, Rodney Arden said that he thought they did the right thing. There just wasn’t a good moment to gybe back towards the Kiwis to cover them. But… but… Alinghi let over a kilometer of separation or leverage open, and at that distance you don’t need much of a wind shift for the lead to change hands.

The boats ended up on opposite laylines, and by the time they came back together, the lead, as represented by the gainline had, according to Ray Davies, changed about a dozen times. But at the final cross, it was the Kiwis that were three lengths clear.

Nail-biting, mind-boggling drama – whatever happens from here, this one will not be forgotten for a long while.

What does it all mean? In the bigger picture, the way this race played out doesn’t tell us anything much about what might happen next. Both boats didn’t so much as make mistakes, as get stitched up trying to do the right thing in impossible conditions. It just happened to be Alinghi holding the parcel when the music stopped. And Dean Phipps, Alinghi pitman, made it pretty clear at the press conference that he thought they shouldn’t have been racing in that stuff – they could have tossed a coin.

I think you can be pretty confident that Brad Butterworth will have been bending race officer Peter Reggio’s ear to that effect this evening.

But… again, the buts… This is new territory for the Swiss team. They’ve never been behind in the Cup before. Until yesterday, they’d never lost a race in six outings. Now they’re 2-1 down in what’s proving to be the most dramatic series we’ve seen since 1983. Or did I already say that…?

Will it unsettle the Swiss? Or will it just fire them up with a sense of bitter injustice? I don’t know, I don’t think anyone knows how this might play out from here. It’s a new movie.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Hat's Off...

It was a hell of a day in the America’s Cup, however you score it…

Before we go any further, a little history was made today - Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney, Warwick Fleury, Murray Jones and Dean Phipps finished their consecutive, sixteen race, America’s Cup winning streak. That’s a record no one is going to break anytime soon, and we should take a moment to pause to consider the achievement of five men who, along with Russell Coutts, have dominated the America’s Cup in the modern era…


photo: Ingrid Abery

… all right, more importantly for this match, the Kiwis ended their six race losing streak, and ensured that the Cup will not go to a sweep for the fourth time on the trot. The importance of their 28 second win, drawing the match level at 1-1, can’t be over-stressed. As ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said at the press conference - the only thing you can do about a loss is go back out there and try to turn it round. And you can’t do that on a lay-day. Now, both teams have a day to study what they know so far, with the scorecard back where it was.

What do we think they know? In the lighter air and flatter water (compared to yesterday) the boats looked very even. Certainly downwind, there was nothing in it. Upwind, if I had to make a choice, I would still rather be in Alinghi - but in the lighter wind range (and the jury's still out on yesterday) the Kiwis are in the game. And once they’re in the game, all that hard-edged Louis Vuitton racing means Alinghi can’t take anything for granted.

The Swiss aren’t sailing flawlessly, and as Luna Rossa found, that’s all that ETNZ need to get a result on the board. So do we have a slightly quicker boat that’s not sailed quite as well as the slightly slower boat? Well… maybe… at the moment… That happened in a rather memorable series in 1983, so I’m happy to admit that I might be wishing it into being so…

But what could have been caution from Alinghi yesterday, did start to look like a lack of match fitness today. Until the second beat, their speed appeared to get the Swiss boat out of trouble, but today there was one slightly dodgy move too many, and with the Kiwis able to keep the pressure on right from the moment they switched sides in the pre-start, they eventually got the lead.

It was a day when Dean Barker at the wheel of ETNZ had everything to do – and the disadvantage of the port tack entry. But they’ve obviously been working on the timing, because they pulled the ‘Oracle’ move – sailed deep away from the pin with a bit of bias and plenty of speed and crossed Alinghi’s bow. At the press conference, Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth commented that ETNZ only just made the cross, he didn’t think it was an Alinghi error, just the way it was… But looking at it again on Live Sailing, ETNZ have their bow down and going deep a full length before Alinghi.

Either way, once he had the right, Barker was able to take a more aggressive stance. After a couple of circles, we had a repeat of yesterday’s start when Barker was first to turn back to the line, and Alinghi decided to turn inside them again and take the left. The difference for this race was that Barker then got himself in a position to get the hook on Ed Baird, at the wheel of Alinghi. And Barker started to push hard, really hard. He forced Alinghi to tack away towards the committee boat. Jimmy Spithill, in the Sky studio, commented afterwards that he thought there was an opportunity for Barker to make a really quick tack to get onto Alinghi’s tail and go for the complete shut-out…

But he didn’t, and Alinghi immediately tacked back to get the left-hand side, and ETNZ didn’t contest it, preferring the right. As in the first race, the crews wanted different things, confirming as much at the press conference. But Alinghi’s quick tack got them too close, with too little time left, and they started well down the line. ETNZ were right on the committee boat at the gun, maybe half a length further forward and with plenty of separation to live.

What happened next was exactly what happened to Luna Rossa after their comprehensive pre-start roughing up of the Kiwis in race three of the LV Final. The ETNZ lead off the line evaporated with bewildering speed, Alinghi just smoked up underneath them, and the Kiwis were forced to tack off. It was a bad moment for Barker and company, and Ray Davies admitted as much at the press conference. Pressure (breeze) or performance? Probably a bit of both…

But so far, so much a replay of yesterday. And the script didn’t change for a long while. Alinghi sailed a great beat, forced ETNZ to pay their dues for being behind – two extra tacks – and went round the top mark 19 seconds in front. It was now that things changed, and all of a sudden instead of a dull remake of the original, we had a brand new movie (less Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life, and more Mad Max II).

Alinghi gybed to starboard, and headed away from the right hand side of the course (looking upwind). Brad Butterworth admitted at the press conference that he was not happy about the spectator wash in that top corner, and he used the tv microphone to make his comments felt to the wider world. So they took a shift away from the wash, and made a slight gain. But Alinghi had handed the Kiwis a split, and made them the pro-active boat, choosing when to go back at the Swiss. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson, made it work and at the next cross the Kiwis were a touch closer.

Now ETNZ got their first real break – Alinghi found themselves on a header, with the layline coming up like Niagra falls for a man in a barrel. So when Alinghi did finally have to gybe, it was an open invitation for the Kiwis to come across and smack one on the air of the Swiss boat. And you can’t give people like Terry Hutchinson that kind of opportunity. Alinghi wriggled into clear air, but it cost them another half length.

They then compounded the loss by electing to go across and round the left-hand mark (as they did yesterday). It saved a gybe and a tougher rounding, but it was slightly further away. The net result was that the Kiwis closed the game up to 13 seconds, and got another split going away from the mark. By the time Alinghi had tacked to cover the gain line was showing the lead down to just a couple of lengths - a gap that ETNZ maintained to the first cross, by taking a little right-hand shift across to Alinghi.

The Swiss carried on to take the right, and pretty much everyone watching (that I heard voice an opinion), thought they did the right thing – getting late in the afternoon in Valencia, the right usually pays. But it was an unstable kind of day, and it didn’t alter the fact that for the second day in a row, Alinghi had taken a loss to go to the left hand mark, then immediately changed their minds and swopped back to take the right. But the real difference was that today, once they’d got the right, the Kiwis found the leftie from hell to come back on. Ray Davies said that it was the biggest shift they saw, and they got it just when they needed it.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen that either, remember the Kiwis passing Luna Rossa in race four of the Louis Vuitton Final? And Brad Butterworth made the same error as Torben Grael did on that occasion – he tacked leebow, but not close enough to ETNZ to make it stick - and the Swiss had to watch as the Kiwis wound up inside them on the lift.

Now all the Kiwis had to do was to hold their lane to the layline… It was still a big ask, and despite Alinghi finding the high gear and closing the lateral separation, the Kiwis just made it. And once NZL 92 was on starboard, bow forward and on the layline, it was all over. Alinghi eventually dropped in behind them, and rounded the top mark 15 seconds behind. It was a lead the Kiwis defended to the finish, and converted into a 28 second win to make it 1-1.

So what next? I don’t think that Alinghi will be fazed by this. I sailed with Butterworth on an IMS boat (the late, great, Pasquale Landolfi’s Brava) back when he was just an America’s Cup winner, rather than a triple America’s Cup winner. And I remember him having the most shocking day imaginable in Palma Bay, if there was a header out there, we were on it, unless we were going downwind… (although, as I was to discover last year, it’s possible to have worse days in Palma). But the point is - that evening, you’d never have known it, water off a duck’s back.

But today should convince the Alinghi guys that the boat isn't going to do all the work. Butterworth was asked at the press conference if he still thought the Cup was a design contest, and he replied, ‘Yes.’ And I’m still with him - but Alinghi will have to race it tighter than they have been...

And whatever, Brad’s still got all the best lines - when asked if the heart was beating a little faster in the pre-start, he replied, ‘the pacemaker’s on.’

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Softly, softly…

The America’s Cup began as you might have expected – cautiously. Or was it nervously?

It's the moment, isn't it, the start of the first race of an America's Cup. Both boats come off the line and everyone holds their breath... it's... it's... it's... holy cow. It's the Kiwis!

And then it wasn't.

Alinghi really tiptoed round the course, but nevertheless they opened their account with a solid 35 second win. But it had all started so brightly for Dean Barker and ETNZ. They had the controlling right-hand side of the entry, and after bailing out of the dial-up first, came straight back at Alinghi, throwing a quick gybe in and getting the Emirates boat to leeward.

ETNZ invite Alinghi to dance. photo Outside Images

Aboard Alinghi, Ed Baird’s response was to put his boat into the wind to gain as much separation as possible from ETNZ – it looked like a refusal to engage in a close quarters battle. The bigger the windward/leeward distance between the pair, the easier it would be for Baird to evade Barker if he came looking for trouble from that leeward berth.

Barker seemed to accept this, and so when Alinghi turned downwind, ETNZ also bore away and led downwind into the box, with Alinghi chasing them in a more conventional set-up. But when Barker turned back to the line, it was Ed Baird that had the choice – he chose the left, turning inside ETNZ and setting up to leeward of the Kiwis. Alinghi’s navigator, Juan Vila explained at the press conference that their initial call was for an oscillating breeze, but changed it late to wanting the left. In the end, that was the race winner. Barker didn’t contest it on the water, and he confirmed at the press conference that the Kiwis call was for the right.

From there, Ed Baird did a good job of keeping tight to leeward of ETNZ – both boats coasting towards the committee boat for a long while. But the Kiwis had done an equally good job of their positioning prior to the gybe, and there was never much chance of a shut-out at the boat. When they both turned down to accelerate for the line, it was the Kiwis that did it a little better, and although Alinghi were close to them, ETNZ were far enough forward to be able to live. So we had a clean start, and with the two boats wanting different sides, no pre-start fireworks on day one. The massive spectator fleet having to be content with the real ones as they left the dock.

Initially, it was the Kiwis on the right hand side that looked good – they lifted off Alinghi and held their lane, easing out to almost a length lead. And it appeared that once again that Roger Badham and the Emirates weather team had woven their magic. But then it started to cave on them - Dean Barker said that the breeze headed them 12-15 degrees, and that was too much. They started to fall into Alinghi and tacked away. Barker saying they were happy to do so, feeling the right would come good again.

It didn’t.

And that was the race. It’s all it takes at this level. Alinghi went a little further, tacked to port to windward of the Kiwis, and slowly edged into a one length lead as the breeze continued to go left. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson had to call for a tack to avoid getting trapped into the right hand corner, and Alinghi won the first cross.

Interesting hardware for Alinghi windspotter, Murray Jones. The backpack appears to drive a heads-up display that gives him all the boat's data while he's up the rig. photo Ingrid Abery.

From there the Swiss boat stretched a little, making the Kiwis look so-so at what had previously been a strength – tacking. But ETNZ weren’t going away, and Hutchinson called some moves that would have looked slick on the Studio 54 dance floor, keeping the deficit down to 13 seconds at the top mark.

The first run started out with Alinghi making a little gain away from the mark, then the Kiwis came back at them, and then, almost out of nowhere, Alinghi turned two lengths on the gain line into five and a 20 second lead at the gate.

How did they do it? The answers were cagey at the press conference. The short chop was unusual, because this was a gradient easterly wind rather than a true sea breeze, it had been blowing long enough to get a seaway running. And Adam Beashel, the ETNZ wind spotter, reckoned that the shifts were harder to read and bigger – 15 degrees rather than 6 degrees – than with the conventional sea breeze. It meant that if you could get a wave, some pressure and a shift all at once, there were some big gains to be made.

And Alinghi did, several times, both on the first run, and the second, when they converted a 14 second lead at the top mark into a 35 second lead at the finish. Does it mean that Alinghi are quicker downwind… neither Barker nor Alinghi navigator, Juan Vila would be drawn on that at the press conference. And fair enough, it wasn’t good downwind testing conditions, as they say in the debriefs. But the fact that it happened twice is going to get everyone talking, particularly when the downwind legs were previously NZL 92’s forte. But then, they’ve changed the bulb to a more upwind orientated one, so…

But wait… the observant amongst you will have noticed that I missed a bit – the bit where the Kiwis made all of their gains, 20 seconds behind at the gate, closing to a 14 second lead by the top mark. What was interesting here was that Alinghi initially took the left. They chose to round the left-hand gate mark – which was also a much easier drop for them – but then took the right at the first cross. So did they change their minds? Or was the left-hand mark taken because it was the more conservative manoeuver?

Or to rephrase it, was this the confidence of a team that knows it has the quicker boat and doesn’t have to push it on the corners, much as they hadn’t pushed it at the start? Or was it a team that haven’t raced for a while and looked a little nervous? A lot’s riding on the answer…

Either way, Alinghi held onto the right after that, despite the Kiwis initially closing the gap from the left after the Swiss swopped sides. But the right came good for Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth and co. eventually, and they never looked threatened once they started tacking and got ETNZ out towards the layline.

Alinghi may well have had the higher anxiety levels going into today (with the exception of the completely un-phase-able Butterworth, anyway). Given the time they’ve been away from this ‘real’ racing it would have been a surprise to see them go toe-to-toe with the battle-hardened Kiwi team. But whatever advantage the Kiwis had from that, it’s long gone... Alinghi’s boat handling got almost visibly slicker as the race went on, and now they have a win on the board. And what do we know about one win on the board? ETNZ can’t afford to let it become two…

What else can I tell ya… Kimball Livingston (of Sail Magazine and the entertaining Got Live blog, and no, no one else knows why it’s called that either) led a round of applause at the press conference for Dean Barker for showing up – you may gather that the press corps is pretty sick of the skippers ducking it. And fair due to Barker, turning up after the first race, after a loss… And he got a good laugh - asked about the differences between being 1-0 down today, and 1-0 down in 2003, he commented that it was nice to finish the first race. Class act, Deano.

And finally… there were about 800 boats out there, and 70,000 people are reckoned to have gone through the port by the time it shuts tonight, which is a new daily record, and about what you’d get at a top Premier League football match.

Oh, and the All Blacks beat the Springboks 26- 21 in South Africa… it’s not all bad, Kiwis…

And yes, I know I haven't quite got the hang of the photo layout thingy, but I've been wrestling with it for hours and I'm starving and frankly, it'll have to do...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 22 June 2007

Nearly there...

Not even 24 hours now to what must be the most watched and hyped moment in yacht racing (justifiably, in my view) - the first start, the first cross and the first beat in the first race of the America’s Cup.

There were a couple of pieces of outstanding business on Friday morning before it can all finally get underway. Alinghi announced the much spun, trailed and leaked news that Ed Baird will steer Alinghi. When Brad Butterworth was asked at Friday’s press conference what his relationship was like with Baird (given the lateness of the announcement and the long-standing combo on the back of ETNZ), Brad replied that it was a private matter…

Hey, a laugh at an America’s Cup press conference, that’s a start.

Previously, on America’s Cup News… the final piece of warm-up theatre had been got out of the way - Terry Hutchinson called heads and won the toss for ETNZ, choosing the starboard entry. So the America’s Cup will start with Emirates TNZ in yellow.

The no-shows of the previous opening press conferences didn’t happen - Dean Barker accompanied Hutchinson, and Ernesto Bertarelli was also there for Alinghi. As the clock ticks down, Butterworth commented that Alinghi will go out sailing Friday, and do a few drills, while ETNZ will keep doing what they’ve done before every other phase of this regatta (whatever that was), in an effort to convince themselves that this one is no more important than the last.

It was interesting that Dean Barker didn’t answer the question he was posed about what most concerned him over the next few days (any suggestions?) – I guess those kind of thoughts aren’t in the Jon Ackland psych play-book. But I suspect that what a team needs most at this stage is boatspeed - but calm, confident leadership would help and Butterworth exuded that by the lorry load. But why shouldn’t he, he’s done 15 America’s Cup races in the last twelve years, and won all of them.

But if you want to know why the Kiwis might be a little tight, then you can check out the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand and just count the number of stories posted in the past couple of days. Although I'm sure they're not supposed to be reading all this stuff, the fact that it's there has to be filtering through.

Alinghi appear to have lost the battle of the backstays, with the new Measurement Committee interpretation again preventing them from taking the topmast backstays forward upwind (it reduces windage) – at this stage there’s no news on whether Alinghi will appeal the ruling again.

So, that's about the size of it, the official ACM forecast for the first race is for a light northerly gradient to become an easterly sea breeze by mid-afternoon, and blow at 12-16 knots. As the man said in Sam Peckinpah's immortal The Wild Bunch - Let's go to work...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Two Days and Counting...

It’s getting closer and the fog is lifting...

Slowly, all those open questions are being answered. Not the least of which is that the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions have finally been issued, settling those background disputes and setting up the rules of the game.

Things that have stayed the same as the Louis Vuitton Finals - all the racing will be on the Northern race area, and there will be no absolute wind limits. But the Race Committee will try to only run racing when the approximate average true wind speed is between seven and 23 knots, measured on the met buoys, which are six metres off the water.

The start is planned for 15.00 local time – but no warning signal will be given later than 17.00 (that’s new, the cut-off was later for the LV). The race course will be 12.6 nautical miles, which is 3.2 mile legs, the longest we saw in the Louis Vuitton Final, with a time limit of 40 minutes for each leg. That’ll need a VMG of 4.8 knots and means they’ll have to be going through the water at more than seven knots.

The major background controversy was apparently over boat substitution, and the rule now states that the teams are allowed to change their race boat, but only if the original has been damaged sufficiently seriously that it can’t be fixed in time for the next race. The Measurement Committee and Jury will be the judges of this - if the Jury thinks the damage is intentional, it may not allow the substitution, and will consider a further penalty. This is a more restrictive rule than that used in the LV, when a boat could be substituted for any reason at the cost of one win. The rule on boat mods is also more limiting than the LV - after 14.50 on Friday, the teams will only be allowed to make one alteration to their boat that requires a new measurement certificate. Any change they make has to be completed and remeasured by 08:00 on the day of the next scheduled race.

One outstanding issue that does seem to be rumbling on is Alinghi’s planned use of their backstays. Briefly, the rule was changed with the intention of making it impossible to pull the backstays forward to the mast while racing. This idea was introduced by Team New Zealand in 2000 to eliminate the backstay windage, reckoned to be worth around three quarters of a boatlength a beat.

The idea was adopted by pretty much everyone for 2003. At which point someone decided that it was unnecessarily risky to have the entire fleet of these boats racing upwind with no topmast backstay attached, and in June 2005 the rule was changed. That didn’t stop teams taking the backstays forward before the start in light air and leaving them there for the entire race, so long as they informed the measurers (remember Mascalzone fell foul of that rule and ended up resailing Desafio).

But now, Alinghi think they have found a method of circumventing the rule as it’s currently written, and after the initial Measurement Committee decision was overturned by the Jury, the matter is back with Ken McAlpine and his mates for another go – if you want more, the BOB is all over this one…

Meanwhile… Alinghi have finally announced that they will use SUI100, the new boat. It was launched in March this year, hasn’t yet raced officially, and the consensus amongst the pundits seems to be that it hasn’t raced against any of the other teams in the unofficial warm-ups either.

So Emirates TNZ will face a largely unknown package. They will have been watching the Swiss practice, but they can’t be sure if the new boat prefers to sail high and slow, or low and fast, if it’s weaker upwind or down, in a breeze or the light. And nor do they yet know which of the different styles – Baird or Holmberg – they will face in the starting box. It’s been a long time waiting to find out who will steer Alinghi. It’s due to be announced Friday, and we’ll also get the coin toss for starboard entry for the first start. And then all that’s left are some sailboat races…

Who’s going to win them? I’m going for Alinghi, for one simple reason – the America’s Cup is a boatspeed race. Alinghi have had a technical advantage, they’ve been quicker than the rest of the Cup fleet, for the last five years. The last time they all raced, in Act 13, there was no sign that this had been diminished. And it’s highly unlikely that two and a half months of Louis Vuitton racing will have closed the gap.

There’s a whole bunch of other stuff in the mix: Alinghi have torn some sails in training and looked a bit ragged round the practice track; there have been persistent rumours about discontent within the team; and they’ve left it really late to announce a helmsman, when recent Cup history tells us that the thing is usually won by a long-standing afterguard combo.

Then there’s the talk that the Swiss have built their boats for the stronger sea breeze expected at this time of year – of which, there is currently little sign - while NZL 92 appeared quickest in 8-10 knots against the yardstick of the challenger fleet. And the Kiwis sailed their boat beautifully in the Louis Vuitton Final, and have done some good work on their sail development during the racing. But I doubt that Emirates TNZ have had any real opportunity to move the basic package of hull, foils and rig forward since they left NZ in the Spring.

All that time, Alinghi have been grinding through the options, testing and rejecting, getting that little bit quicker. And in the end, I think it'll come down to speed, because it always has in the past. It would be a rash man that would bet against five years of Alinghi dominance, and 156 years of history…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Rorty and Relativism

Back in the day, or perhaps it was even before the day, when I was a student at Nottingham University, I was much enamoured of the work of a group of American philosophers that included Dan Dennet, Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty.

Rorty died on June 8th, and while I'm not sure that I really understood much of what he had to say back then, I found this explanation of Rorty's philosophy in a memorial article on Slate.com. It's by Michael Berubé, professor of literature and cultural studies at Penn State University. It has nothing to do with the America's Cup, nothing to do with sailing, and little to do with writing, but it seemed so entirely apposite to our current condition on this crowded little planet that I thought I would include it here. It's my blog after all, who else makes the rules?

If you think you are acting in accordance with the eternal moral truths of the universe, after all, it is likely that you will think of people who think and act differently as being defective, deluded, or downright dangerous. On the other hand, if you think that morality is a matter of contingent vocabularies, you don't have to become a shallow relativist—you can go right on believing what you believe, except that you have to give up the conviction that there's no plausible way another rational person could think differently.

Back to the sailing next time.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Monday, 18 June 2007

Displacement Activity...

There’s less than a week before the action restarts in Valencia, and I’m thinking this is a good chance to get some work done on the novel. I’ve got this problem, you see…

A few months back I turned the prologue into chapter one, because a couple of people were asking me questions about my last book that didn’t make any sense. When I quizzed them to try and find out why, it emerged that they hadn’t - and never did - read the prologue.

So, the prologue became chapter one. Then I realized that I’ve now started the book with a scene that doesn’t include either of the two main characters, which is one of those Creative Writing 101 no-no’s… But actually, when I think about it some more, former-prologue-now-chapter-one works really well as chapter three – structurally, this is a great solution. Unfortunately, the scene is now two months later in time, and that means that my 1936 pheasant shooting party, is going to have to become a fox hunt. Damn…

I’m sat here, getting my head round this rewrite, when I think… I might just have a quick check around the blogs and see what’s what in the Cup… And it turns out that there are a couple of things I should bring you attention to…

The first is a great piece on the BOB about a Reuters story doing the rounds of the papers – Tom Ehman is an old Cup-hand and his take on Hamish Ross’s interview is well worth reading if the Cup’s future is something that keeps you awake at night. Or even if it doesn’t.

Then there’s a bit of a scuffle going on in the background over the Notice of Race – Stuff.co.nz are all over this one… see Cup Boss Could Force Feuding Teams to Race and Cup Rivals' Dispute Over Rules Deepens

And finally, there are some nice images of the bows of the Cup contenders from those clever chaps at Cupinfo.com.

While the Cup’s future is the hot topic, here's a thought on a fix for all those 5-0, 5-1 matches we keep seeing (anyone remember the last time the Cup match wasn’t something-to-zip? Yup - 1992).

The ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies, made the comment during the Louis Vuitton final that the same sailors come back from desperate positions on the match race tour all the time. But, although Ray thought that there was no reason why Luna Rossa shouldn’t do the same, it turns out that they didn’t, and history prevailed once again…

What’s the difference between being 1-0 down in the final of a Match Race Tour event and the America’s Cup? Chances are you didn’t have to follow the other guy around for ninety minutes, and then go home and sleep on it, dwelling on your apparent inferiority, before you got the chance to do something about it. On the Tour, the gun for the next race is going before you’ve barely had time to process the fact of the defeat.

So why don’t we do the Cup this way - make each day a best of three short races, one lap races – maybe a two mile beat and run. The importance of the start and first cross will be much reduced, as the trailing boat will almost certainly round close enough to attack on the run - and since it’s just down to the finish, they have every chance of turning it round. And even if they don’t, the gun is going for the next one before they’ve even got used to the idea of losing… The first to win two races, wins the day and gets a point – first to five points wins the match.

Apart from giving the guys that lose the first race a much better chance of digging themselves out of the hole, wouldn’t that be more fun to watch? There would be a lot more of the good stuff (pre-starts, first crosses and finishes), and with the importance of both the start and boat speed reduced, given the unpredictable nature of yacht racing it would surely be impossible to win 5-0…

But more importantly, now that I’ve said all that, Sod’s Law should dictate that we get a 5-4 Cup match…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Downtime Blogging...

It’s the downtime between the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup...

As usual there’s as much or more speculation about what the America's Cup community can expect from each team in the way of a future event, as there is about who will win. And apparent differences in opinion between the two finalists on that former topic continue to generate more heat than light.

There’s an excellent article by Christopher Clarey at the International Herald Tribune which quotes Alinghi’s head honcho, Ernesto Bertarelli, as being miffed by Grant Dalton’s reported desire to reinstate the nationality rule, should Emirates TNZ win the Cup. In an earlier Tim Jeffery Telegraph article, Dalton had said that, were TNZ to succeed in beating Alinghi for the America's Cup, he would reverse the relaxation to the nationality rules made by the Swiss. ‘A fundamental corner-stone to a win environment would be to take the Cup back to a contest between nations,’ adding, ‘this would ‘play to Kiwi strengths.’

Bertarelli responded to that by saying, ‘If he was to win, that basically would put three-quarters of the people around this harbor out of work. And more surprisingly so, they are probably friends of his, since a lot of teams have Kiwis in their ranks.’ If Bertarelli is annoyed at this, it's because he supplied the loan that rescued Team New Zealand after the 2003 debacle. Now the Kiwi team are proposing a rule change that would shut out Alinghi - as it is currently constituted - from the next competition. You can see how Bertarelli might view Dalton's comments as a little ungrateful...

But Dalton - when asked by the IHT about nationality - was more conciliatory than the earlier quote suggests. ‘We will look at nationality, but we haven't made a final decision, compared to what everybody thinks we have,’ he said. Reckoning that there were understandable differences in their perspectives, ‘You can probably assume we don't share exactly the same view on that just based on where we come from,’ added Dalton – Bertarelli is a Swiss national who was born in Italy.

My two cents worth is that it’s a backward step to return to the nationality rules we’ve seen previously in the Cup, as they make it harder for teams to compete, while adding little to the flavour of the competition. The two-year residency rule used in 2003 just played into the hands of the big teams. They will always be able to find a way round the problem, as Alinghi did in Auckland, by having the budget to hire people on full contracts for the whole period and ship them and their families around the world. It just raises the cost of entry into the competition, and makes it harder for start-up teams to come and do what Shosholoza have done at this event.

But if you go all the way with the nationality card and require citizenship, you’ll shut down half the teams around the port because they just don’t have people that can do all the tasks required in a modern Cup team. Never mind making it impossible for any new country to get started in the way that China and South Africa have this time. Yes, this would play to Kiwi strengths - as they have the personnel to staff two top Cup teams, but very few other countries can manage even one. A strict nationality rule would doubtless make it easier for the Kiwis to defend in Auckland, but it would be nice to see self-interest trumped by a desire to continue to grow the event.

We’ve had ten weeks of intense racing, and guess what? No drugs scandals, no corruption of referees, no ticketing scams, no violent fans, no violent competitors… wouldn’t it be nice if we could continue to grow and export that to as many people as possible? If there’s a desire to see greater nationalism in the America’s Cup (and personally, living in this crowded little corner of the planet, where it’s caused a whole world of trouble over the years, I don’t…), then perhaps a softer rule would do it, such as 30 or 40% of the racing crew to be citizens of the same nationality as the challenging yacht club. Most countries could front up with that condition, while still hiring from abroad for the specialist technical roles. But going back to the 2003 rules is just going back to the bad old days…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Luna Rossa warm up Alinghi...

As promised - Alinghi and Luna Rossa raced on Friday afternoon

The format was running starts and then racing until a clear leader emerged (which wouldn’t be such a bad idea for the main event, and certainly a hell of a lot less painful than watching one boat trail helplessly behind another for 90 minutes).

Luna Rossa turned up fully cocked, and according Valencia Sailing at least, Alinghi came with SUI 100, steered by Ed Baird – which would appear to confirm rumours that Ed has got the nod as helmsman over Peter Holmberg.

According to the various reports, (also see ACM and the BOB blog), Alinghi won the first one, which ended at the first cross. In the second, Luna Rossa got the hook on Alinghi and peeled them off, forcing a downspeed start at the committee boat on port. But it didn’t work out so well for Luna Rossa after Alinghi found a big right shift and won the first cross by a couple of hundred metres. And the third was started in what were officially un-race-able conditions, under seven knots. Luna Rossa went around the first mark eight lengths clear and extended on the run, where Alinghi tore their spinnaker at the gate. So Alinghi need to tighten up their crew-work a bit, but when was the last time anyone won the Cup on the basis of their crew work?

And Tim Jeffery has got a blog on the Louis Vuitton Cup presentation, which was done to the Oasis track (Parental Advisory) ‘Fucking in the Bushes’. Tim points out that the lyrics may not have been appropriate for either the children present, or watching on tv…

‘We put this festival on you bastards, with a lot of love.
We worked for 1 year for you pigs.
And you wanna break our walls down.
And you wanna destroy us.
Well you go-da HELL!

Kids are running around naked fuckin in the bushes…’

But may throw some light on ACM’s attitude to sponsors Louis Vuitton (with whom they have an on-going legal dispute), or maybe it's the rest of us they're trying to tell something…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 8 June 2007

Slow weekend...

Four things I could be doing this weekend:

a) Watching Groove Armada, Muse, Snow Patrol et al at the Isle of Wight Festival.

b) Going to a massive party weekend (Happy Birthday, John Hodgart).

c) Racing in the Giraglia.

d) Sitting around at home because I thought I’d be busy commentating on the Louis Vuitton Final, and turned down the opportunity to do all of the above…

Yup, it’s d) – the Kiwis swept Luna Rossa to set up a rematch and four years, four months, 13 Acts and 32 Louis Vuitton races later, the Kiwis are back where they started – they must beat Alinghi in five races to win the America’s Cup.

The ‘game-face’ dropped big time on Wednesday afternoon, and there was some serious partying going down in Valenica. It does make you wonder if many of the Kiwis haven’t already achieved their goal – but there’s not much doubt that Dalts is fully up for the final leg of this year’s European tour, as his latest video update will tell you...

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Herald reports that the Auckland authorities are starting to wonder if they might not have to find space for the Cup again, having built apartments on a lot of the syndicate bases from 2003...

And on Thursday, Luna Rossa announced on their website, ‘Being the only semi-finalist still working here in Valencia to not have raced against Alinghi, after they raced Emirates Team New Zealand two days before the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals and also against the Spanish Team during the Finals, Luna Rossa will race the America's Cup defender Alinghi tomorrow.’ Just like the Spanish, who have already raced Alinghi, it is not in Luna Rossa’s interests to see the Cup go back to New Zealand…

THE CUP MATCH STARTS ON JUNE 23RD

Put the date in your diary and these in your Favourites folder...

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

It's New Zealand v Alinghi

The bigger they are, the harder they fall – and Luna Rossa went down hard.

The final scoreline of 5-0 didn’t seem to reflect the difference between the teams. But today’s race just served notice once again that in match racing, in these boats, the tiniest edge can be turned into a sweep, as ETNZ converted the slimmest of advantages at the first cross into a 20 second lead that they held to the finish. And so, after four years and four months of relentless hard work, the Kiwis are back where they started – they have to beat Alinghi five times to win the America’s Cup.

It started with Dean Barker and the ETNZ trimmers pulling off a brilliant move to get out of the left-hand side of the dial-up – they got themselves both separated and far enough back to flop onto port and swing their bow round behind the transom of Luna Rossa. The Italians were left with no option but to circle round and follow them out to the right-hand side of the box.

But when Dean Barker turned back towards the line, Jimmy Spithill was able to take the right as both boats set up on starboard for the final approach. Luna Rossa had to push ETNZ down the line a bit to create some space at the committee boat, Dean Barker working hard to keep it pretty tight-to-leeward at the gun. With an almost dead even start, Luna Rossa lived for that crucial minute off the line, before tacking away. ETNZ followed almost immediately, and once they’d both settled, the Kiwis appeared to have a narrow advantage. It wasn’t obvious where this came from as they looked even off the line - perhaps a little left shift, a bit of pressure, another slightly better tack and acceleration from the New Zealanders…

It was important, because we now settled into a replica of the race one drag out towards the starboard tack layline – this time with Luna Rossa to leeward. They were gaining steadily all the way, but not quite enough to make up that narrow Kiwi edge. And so, finally, with the layline coming up, Luna Rossa’s tactician, Torben Grael decided it looked as good as it was going to get, they tacked, and we got a first cross.

The Kiwis tacked leebow and both boats settled onto starboard – this was the one that would settle the match. It was desperately close, and for a long while Luna Rossa looked like she could hold in the windward position and control the match. But finally, they started to slip into ETNZ. Torben Grael did the right thing and tacked away immediately it started to look bad, but there were no further chances. The Kiwis had control, and Luna Rossa had to wait for ETNZ to tack back onto starboard, well over the layline, and then follow them into the mark. Luna Rossa rounded 20s behind – just like yesterday.

But the rest of the race was nothing like yesterday - Luna Rossa did a great job of keeping it tight. A dummy gybe on the first run allowed them to get into the right-hand side, where there seemed to be a little better pressure and they were able to close up… only to see the Kiwis squeeze back out just before the gate to keep the gap at 20 seconds. It was the same story up the beat, as first the better breeze was on the left with the Italians, they came into the Kiwis, and then it switched to the right and the Kiwis eased away again.

The delta was identical at the next windward mark at 20 seconds. But the Italians showed no signs of going meekly, gybing off to the left and finding that streak of better pressure that had helped them on the beat. Once again they reeled the Kiwis in, the distance down to a couple of boat lengths as ETNZ closed on the line. There was a last, desperate effort from Luna Rossa to get on the Kiwi’s air as they gybed ahead and to leeward just before the line, but ETNZ always had enough to stay in front.

It was a much better performance from Luna Rossa, and doubtless people will wonder if whatever change they made to the boat last night also made the difference. Or was there never much in it anyway - as all the sailors were claiming - and today the Italians just found themselves in the right bit of water a bit more of them time? I suspect that only they really know that, and they are the ones it matters to - because the Kiwis go on, and Luna Rossa are left to debrief and pack up. The Italian boat never quite found that tiny bit extra that they needed, and an almost faultless display from the Kiwis ruthlessly converted every opportunity into a win. The scoreline didn’t do the Italian boat anything like justice, but then, does it ever...

Emirates TNZ have seventeen days to chill out – which they were doing, the ‘game face’ was gone and Grant Dalton was last seen pouring champagne all over Dean Barker – and then to start getting their heads round the fact that the job isn’t finished yet, as they know only too well. The Kiwi audience will accept nothing less than the Cup ‘coming home’ - this is the fourth straight Match that New Zealand have been in. The date for your diary is the 23rd June - it’s going to be compelling, even if it’s only for the first leg of the first race...

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Start - Tick. First Cross - Tick. Race....

It's just not happening for Luna Rossa...

On Sunday, in race three, Luna Rossa won the start, but not the first cross. Today, in race four, they won the start and the first cross, but not the race. The Italians just can’t get a result on the board, and with today’s 52 second defeat putting them 4-0 down, a come-back would require a unique achievement in Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup racing.

And once again, it started so well for Luna Rossa – with the pin end entry in the light air it looked like they would be in trouble in the dial-up. But with a perfect, on-time entry, deep angle into the box and a little bit of line bias their way, they got across in front of ETNZ to take the right hand side of the pre-start box. Luna Rossa’s weather call was for the right, and Luna Rossa’s helmsman, Jimmy Spithill made sure they got it.

The Kiwis didn’t put up too much resistance, and ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said afterwards that they had no strong feeling about the start, reckoning that the left can pay in that north-easterly. And they were confident that there was more left shift to come after the gun – both relative to their wind direction at that moment, and from what they’d seen on the met buoys before they entered. And come it did, but not in time to win them the first cross.

Luna Rossa wanted the right big time, they pushed ETNZ down towards the pin where the Kiwis started on starboard, while Luna Rossa tacked away to start on port at the committee boat. And immediately it looked like Luna Rossa had the better of it. They tacked to go with the Kiwis after the boats had separated by about a kilometre, and a long starboard followed. When ETNZ tacked to set up the first cross, the Italians were four lengths in front. As Luna Rossa tactician, Torben Grael told the press conference, it was a great weather call for the first shift, and a great start.

But this first cross was decision time again for Luna Rossa, and they chose to keep the right, tacking on ETNZ and forcing them back to the left. Again a split opened, Luna Rossa taking a little port tack lift out to the right, before hitting the header and tacking back - all good, solid stuff. But the Kiwis had found something better, they were deep in stronger left-hand breeze, and as the second cross came up it was obvious that ETNZ had halved the deficit.

It was the next call that sealed Luna Rossa’s fate - realising that they were now losing on the header, they tacked ahead and to leeward of ETNZ, instead of going all the way across and tacking on them. The move sacrificed a controlling position, in order to avoid making further losses by getting off the bad shift, and getting back in phase. But the problem was that Luna Rossa hadn’t gone far enough to get into the breeze line that was giving ETNZ her gains. And as both boats sailed out towards the starboard tack layline, the metres just kept going to ETNZ – sailing higher and faster to windward of Luna Rossa.

Afterwards, Torben Grael told the press conference that they knew they were on the header as they came into that second cross, and they believed they should protect the right-hand side – so what they did made sense. But in pure match racing terms, getting across the Kiwi’s bow to consolidate the lead was the call – it would also have protected the right. While the right hand wind shift did come back in the end, it was too late and not enough. So both boats sailed way over the starboard tack layline, with Luna Rossa forced to follow ETNZ back to the windward mark, rounding 20 seconds behind.

The story downwind was the same as it had been in the 8-9 knot breeze of race three – the Kiwis just trickled away. I don’t think it’s a huge speed difference, a couple of lengths or so down the run, but it’s enough to make it really hard for Luna Rossa to attack. The Italian cause wasn’t helped by the course being heavily biased to one gybe, giving little opportunity to get leverage and play shifts and puffs. Torben Grael said afterwards that the run was sailed with 18 minutes on port gybe, and just 3 on starboard – and that really doesn’t give the trailing boat a look in.

It got worse for the Italians at the leeward gate, where the right hand shift also means the right-hand mark is further upwind, handing the leading boat another advantage. Torben Grael’s rock or a hard place choice was to go around in the Kiwi’s wake and get slammed, or take another loss trying to get a split going by rounding the left-hand mark. Luna Rossa took the left-hand mark and an extra gybe to get there – and it all stacked up, by the time they were through the gate, the Italians were a formidable 54 seconds behind. ETNZ's tactician, Terry Hutchinson gave them nothing on the next beat, but ETNZ didn’t gain much either, the deficit 60 seconds at the top mark. And Luna Rossa brought a little breeze down with them on the final run to close the gap to 52 seconds at the finish.

Where now for Luna Rossa? They admitted that they don’t tack as well in this lighter breeze (we’ve watched the Kiwis control tacking duels right back through the round robins) and that Luna Rossa is not faster… Luna Rossa's mainsheet trimmer, Jonathan McKee thought a change to the boat overnight was possible, depending on the forecast, although he pointed out that if it was obvious what to do, they’d have done it by now. Jonathan, who’s a straight talking guy, just felt that the Kiwis have outsailed them. The Italians have another chance to reverse that tomorrow – and for the sake of the series, the neutrals will be hoping that they take it. Personally, I suspect it will need the breeze to get up over 10-11 knots…

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Mojo Risin'

Emirates TNZ are on a roll...

Dean Barker and his Kiwi team took the second of the weekend’s two Louis Vuitton Final races to go 3-0 up. If you're back on the blog after a weekend away from the computer, you can check out Saturday's race here...

Sunday's delta of one minute and 38 seconds sounds bad for Luna Rossa and it was – they led off the line by more than a boat length. The mojo is with the Kiwis now, and the Italian team will need something special if they’re to turn this around.

And it had all started so beautifully for them, with Jimmy Spithill and Luna Rossa extracting every ounce of advantage from their starboard tack entry. It was a phenomenal exhibition of boat handling in the dial-up - these machines with their skinny foils will stall quicker than a learner drive on a hill start. The two boats ghosted to a halt, head to wind in the light 8-9 knot sea breeze, and then backed down the same tracks they had gone up.

In that wind strength the pressure is always on the port entry boat as the clock ticks down, and Luna Rossa showed no sign of opening the door even a crack for ETNZ and Dean Barker to escape. So, with just a minute and fifteen seconds on the clock, ETNZ finally sheeted in on port, with Luna Rossa to leeward, heading for the committee boat to try and wipe off the Italians.
Barker responded to a gentle luff from Luna Rossa with 40 seconds left on the clock, and Jimmy Spithill took the opportunity to bear away and leave them. Luna Rossa accelerated into a gybe and started at full speed, mid-line on starboard. At the press conference, Luna Rossa’s Ben Durham said that they were happy to get down the other end of the line to take an eight degree bias advantage, along with the full speed build.

Dean Barker managed to bear away hard and get down inside the committee boat, and with ten seconds to go ETNZ tacked round to start at the boat. Luna Rossa had given the Kiwis an opportunity to get their weather call, which was to start ‘wide right’ – meaning on the right of the opponent with enough separation to follow them out to the left hand side of the course. But it came at a price - ETNZ must have been a knot or two slower than the Italians at the gun, with the foils still struggling to get attached flow. And soon after the start, Luna Rossa was a full boat length in front.

On either of the previous two days, this would surely have been enough for the Italians to take the lead and an almost certain win. But it wasn’t to be – the reversal came with a brutal speed that must have rocked the Italian Challenge. The gain line immediately started to click in the Kiwi’s favour. The tracks showed the story – the New Zealand boat was sailing higher and they lifted off Luna Rossa and went from a length behind to a length in front in about four minutes. Ray Davies, the ETNZ strategist, said they had both more wind and a right hand shift. Before the start, they had thought that the right hand side was a little stronger, especially at the top of the course, but it turned out to be a lot better. ‘Sometimes,’ he told the press conference, ‘it’s better to be lucky than to be good…’

It will be little consolation to the Italian team. Luna Rossa’s tactician, Torben Grael, hung on to that starboard tack off the line for a long while, hoping that the left shift would come back. And a couple of times it looked like it might, but when they finally had to tack and set up the first cross, ETNZ was a couple of lengths clear. Worse, the game was already almost to the port tack layline and Grael’s opposite number, Terry Hutchinson, showed no mercy in punishing the Italians for their positioning – ETNZ led round the first mark by 40 seconds.

And that was it, perhaps we should draw a veil over the rest, to spare sensitive Italian fans the gory spectacle… but in reality the final delta made it look worse than it was. Luna Rossa dropped no time on the second beat, and all but 15 seconds of the rest came on the final run, when they sailed themselves into a hole in an increasingly desperate search for the leverage that might get them back into it.

But still... It was a lighter breeze today, and there was always an opinion that the Kiwis had the better hull shape for under ten knots, particularly downwind. There’s not much Luna Rossa can do to change that. They had switched to their light air mainsail. The Kiwis made the change yesterday, and Magnus Holmberg told the television audience that Luna Rossa had indicated to him that they should perhaps have matched that call – but it didn’t seem to help in race three. At no point did Luna Rossa look quicker. But that could just as easily have been because once again, Terry Hutchinson hogged all the pressure and the best shifts for ETNZ and left Torben Grael with nada.

What is incontrovertible is that the Italian team are now 3-0 down, and deep in the hole. And they’ll know that it could so easily have been different - if they’d used the advantage in the pre-start to take the right, or perhaps tacked straight at a downspeed ETNZ off the line. But neither Davies nor Durham thought Luna Rossa could ever have crossed and got the right - maybe the Italians, even with the extra tacks, would have got a solid leebow at the first cross. They might have both ended up on port headed to the right and who knows...

But those are exactly the avenues of thought that they have to avoid. If only… helps them not one whit. They have to keep believing it’s possible. And they have to regroup on Monday’s reserve day. Max Sirena, Luna Rossa’s mid-bowman, told the press conference that the afterguard were meeting to decide just what was the best use of the day's respite.

So what is it? A day of beating up on their second boat in pre-start practice? Or maybe a change to the boat – but if you haven’t found it in four years, you aren’t likely to find it in 24 hours. Maybe they just need a day on the beach to try and erase the nightmare that has engulfed them. Ray Davies pointed out at the press conference that these big leads are often overturned on the match race circuit. But, for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen much in these boats.

As Francesco de Angelis reiterated in the post-race interview, they can only keep doing the right things and taking it one race at a time. But it’s a long road from here to the America’s Cup for Italy…

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

www.tackbytack.com

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©