Saturday, 28 July 2007

Snuffed Out

It’s almost as though they’re doing it deliberately. Oracle and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, that is… I barely manage to get a blog up before they move another chess piece and change the dynamics of the game again. This is the third week on the trot that it’s happened, or maybe they just have their lawyers working on this stuff the same day that I post.

Anyway, barely had I typed the words… If there is a glimmer of light, it’s that the newly set-up Arbitration Panel will start to consider the case of Oracle’s second Challenge and court action… than the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) come up with a letter from their lawyers to the head of the aforementioned Arbitration Panel, Professor Henry Peter.

It’s not, shall we say, written in the language of someone who intends to arbitrate anything anytime soon. In fact, it claims that the processes set up for the arbitration in Alinghi’s Protocol, ‘violate the most basic principles of justice and independence common to all legitimate adjudicatory bodies and are an affront to the most basic sensibilities common to all law abiding people.’

Right. So see you all in court, then.

The basis of the GGYC’s view seems to be (and I’m no lawyer, you really should follow the link and make your own mind up) that Alinghi’s control of the Arbitration Panel means it’s nothing more than a ‘Kangaroo Court’ (GGYC’s words, not mine), that the referral of the case artificially sets Challenger of Record, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV), against Alinghi, when they’re actually on the same side (rather than GGYC against the pair of them) and that the only court that has jurisdiction in this matter is the New York State Supreme Court.

Oh boy.

The only good thing I can say about it all is that at least these things are being rattled out with sufficient pace that the whole thing might be over soon and we can get back to the sailing.

My thanks to Rex Gilfillan for the heads up on the GGYC’s letter - in my latest learning-to-blog-lesson I’ve managed to change the Comments button so anyone can post (and not just those with Google passwords) – but if you want to send me some news, gossip or opinion directly, then click here. And now I’m going to go away and try and figure out how to put up a list of links. I may be some time...

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Pass Me That Blank Sheet of Paper…

I have to say, I’m kind of gobsmacked…

But not by the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) court action. Barely were the electronic dipoles set on last Friday’s blog when the GGYC, who represent Larry Ellison’s Oracle team, filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in support of their Challenge to Alinghi for a 33rd America’s Cup Match. GGYC are claiming that the current Challenger of Record, the Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) don’t qualify as a yacht club under the Deed of Gift. They want the court to invalidate CNEV’s challenge, and insist that it’s replaced with GGYC’s own challenge to Alinghi (the topic of a previous blog).

Nor was I surprised by Monday’s announcement that TEAMORIGIN, representing the British Royal Thames Yacht Club, had chucked their hat in the ring and become the third challenger. It’s in Alinghi’s interests to line up as many challengers as possible on their side – and they’ve persuaded the Brits to join the Spanish and South Africa’s Team Shosholoza in challenging under the disputed Protocol. The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), which Alinghi represent (or is the other way round?), followed this up with a press release to the effect that Larry Ellison was damaging the event and should give it up…

Equally unsurprisingly, Oracle responded swiftly, giving a press conference on Tuesday, where Larry Ellison reiterated his issues with Alinghi’s present Protocol and insisted that he didn’t want his catamaran challenger to end up on the water - but that it was the only lever he had to force Alinghi to come up with a fair set of rules for the game.

Ellison told the gathered fourth estate, ‘We had a meeting of all of the challengers at 2 p.m. today about these issues, the litigation and the associated uncertainties surrounding the litigation and I think we got a pretty broad agreement among the challengers. The outcome we'd like is to negotiate a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. No one wants to see this go to court. Our goal is to have a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. But you must understand—if you haven't read the protocol, you must read the protocol. The protocol says that if Alinghi doesn't like a challenger they may throw that challenger out of the Cup for any reason at their sole discretion. We think that's both unreasonable and unfair.’

I wasn’t even taken aback when Ellison also announced that he’d be sticking with the CEO and Skipper model for his Oracle team, but that this time it would be Russell Coutts instead of Chris Dickson in the role. That one’s been trailed for a while now, but the return of Jonathan E makes you wonder if it wasn’t the Protocol clause that allows ACM to exclude any challenger they don’t like, that set the whole GGYC Challenge and court action running. Did Ellison think that Bertarelli might seek to exclude an Oracle team that included Russell Coutts? Or maybe I’ve been working too hard on the thriller plotlines recently…

Nor was I fazed when Alinghi announced their party for the following day. And they were able to make some announcements that might settle some Challenger unease, not least of which was the entirely unsurprising news that their Cup will be held in Valencia in 2009. So at least the players on either side of the court room agree on that much - Ellison had said on Tuesday that if his court action succeeded and he won the Cup in 2008 in a catamaran, then the following summer he would run a conventional Cup in Valencia.

I suppose that’s something firm on which Cup teams can plan…

But I think that’s about as far as the agreement goes - Bertarelli had some choice words for Ellison at his press conference, describing the GGYC court action as ‘bullshit’. And Brad Butterworth followed this up with an email to the sailing newsletter Scuttlebutt … ‘Oracle struggled to come 5th in the last Regatta and my advice to Larry is to get Garrard’s phone number and order a replica of the Cup and be done with it.’ These don’t sound like the words of a man who’s going to be joining his old homie Coutts at Oracle any time soon.

So, we have Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts lining up – whether it be on the water or in a courtroom – against Ernesto Bertarelli and Brad Butterworth. Who ever would have thought? If there is a glimmer of light, it’s that the newly set-up Arbitration Panel will start to consider the case of Oracle’s second Challenge and court action. Perhaps they can negotiate their way through the murk, but hey, it could be worse, we could be cycle fans…

Meanwhile, Alinghi and ACM want to hold a couple of preliminary Acts next year, one in Valencia in July, and the second somewhere in Europe in the autumn – both to be raced in the current IACC V5 boats. The design rule for the new boats, along with the event rules, will now all be published by October 31st – which is a serious improvement over the end-of-the-year-if-we’re-ready that’s in the Protocol.

They also announced that Team New Zealand have become the fourth team to challenge through the CNEV Protocol. Dalton had already said that the current situation wasn’t holding them up, as they were focused on re-signing the team… ‘To a man our guys want to come back.’ That’ll include Ray Davies presumably, as the Mean Machine campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race was suspended. The team announced they don’t have the funding to continue, which frees up skipper Ray Davies to go again with Team New Zealand.

I found the speed with which TNZ plumped for Alinghi’s version of the Cup's future, rather than Oracle’s, a little unexpected, after the apparently acrimonious nature of the final days of the last Cup match. But there's an excellent interview with Dean Barker on Sail-World which explains the Kiwi's thinking - it seems it was Alinghi's offer to include the designers of the entered teams in the process of developing the new rule that swung it. It's also clear that TNZ are more willing to give Alinghi the benefit of the doubt over the new Protocol, as we discussed in a previous blog.

So... what really rocked my world was the news that ACM and Alinghi have decided that the teams will only be allowed to sail one of the new Cup boats at a time, and they will not be permitted to race each other except within an ACM event. Bertarelli pointed out that one of the biggest costs is testing, and the boat limitations will, ‘Reduce the amount of time wasting money going around the track without a competitive aim.’

This is why he wants Alinghi to sail in the challenger series up to the semi-finals, so they have some opportunity to sail against other boats. This is a dramatic change not only to the way we race for the Cup (leading to an F1 style travelling series where the final America's Cup match is simply the 'play-off' stage between the top two teams in a league?), but also to the way Cup teams go about their preparation.

Stop and think about it for a moment and you realize what a massive impact this is going to have on the way Cup teams do business (assuming we actually compete under these conditions). Sailing with Cup teams used to mean two boat testing and in-house practice racing - that’s what you did, day in and day out.

No more.

The planners within Cup teams will be starting again, you can chuck out everything from the Org chart to the schedule and start with several fresh pieces of paper. This is going to call for a complete rethink of how you approach the problem. Bertarelli wants to cut the costs, but I suspect the big teams will just be sitting around trying to work out where to shift the emphasis to try to make up what they’ve lost - and probably spending even more money.

For instance - how will twenty guys learn to race together? They can go out and practice the moves on their own on one of these boats until they’re blue in the race, but it isn’t the same as racing together under pressure. Anyone for a new class of 90 Maxi’s?

And how will the boat’s performance be gauged and improved when it can only sail on its own? Will the strategy be to just pour the money that would previously have been used for sails, salaries and maintenance costs during testing, into computer design code, and tank and wind tunnel testing? That way you’re betting on the boat just coming out of the box as fast as possible, you build as late as possible and the race crew just jump on right before the regatta starts. Needless to say, this is good news for designers and programmers, not such good news for the sailors, sailmakers and shore crews. If the last America’s Cup wasn’t as much of a design race as previously, the next one sure as hell will be.

Another strategy might be to build the boat earlier and design a heavily upgraded instrument system that might actually be able to measure the difference between one headsail and another. In the past, this instrument project always looked prohibitively expensive, compared to two boat testing, because of all the other benefits you get from having the sailors out on the water training together every day. But now it looks like it might be the only way that you’re going to be able to determine the yacht’s performance from one day to the next.

Or perhaps the teams with the cash will do both. And build a couple of one design 90 footers for race training while they’re at it…

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 20 July 2007

It Goes Around and Comes Around

The world turns in cycles – twenty years ago we had just seen the most amazing America’s Cup of the modern era in Fremantle. There was a 12 Metre World Championship underway in Port Cervo, Sardinia, and three British teams were forming to Challenge Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes syndicate – whenever Dennis finally got around to figuring out when and where he might hold it. I still have my Hawaii for America’s Cup t-shirt…

We all know what happened next.

And just as World War II followed World War I twenty years on, the Cup community seems to be repeating the mistakes of history. At least the consequences of this one are down the funny end of the tragi-comedy scale, rather than off-the-scale catastrophe. The difference for the Cup this time around is that a hell of a lot more money has been invested to get us to this point. There is more at stake.

So what are the latest plot twists?

If you want to see just how big the coach and horses could be, should Alinghi chose to drive them through their Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup, then there is an excellent story by Richard Gladwell at Sail-World.

While Disgusted, Valencia (otherwise known as the Valencia Sailing blogspot) reported on Wednesday that Club Náutico Español de Vela’s Deed of Gift required regatta-on-an-arm-of-the-sea (which is one of the Golden Gate Yacht Club's challenges to the legitimacy of the Spanish Club as Challenger of Record) might turn out to be a children’s Oppie training weekend…

And Louis Vuitton have finally, and to the surprise of precisely no one, given up sponsorship of the Challenger Series. Emirates TNZ can keep the cup, apparently…

Then there’s a rumour, apparently out of the UK, that BYM News are running that Club Náutico Español de Vela will withdraw as Challenger of Record. Hmmm....

Another story coming out of the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, has eight America’s Cup teams joining for a formal request for the current Protocol to be dissolved, ahead of negotiations for a replacement.

But Team Shosholoza have challenged the Swiss under Alinghi’s Protocol for the 33rd Cup. I suspect that this is not something that will endear them to the other Challenger teams, as the Challengers are only strong in negotiations if they remain united.

And the Golden Gate Yacht Club appear to still be waiting to hear from Alinghi, and have issued a further press release explaining their vision of the 33rd America’s Cup. They want it in 2009, in the same boats, in the same place (Valencia), with a global circuit of preliminary events, a neutral event management, a democratic challenger commission and a united effort to come up with a new design rule for subsequent regattas.

I could spend some time second guessing what all this means, and how it might all play out. But frankly, I’ve got better things to do than indulge in an exercise of literary wrist-slashing.

I’m going to have to find something else to write about. Something cheerful.

Anyone what to hear how the novel is going? No? Oh, all right…

Tour de France anyone?

But I spent ten minutes yesterday watching the Eurosport commentator’s breast-beating over pro-cycling’s latest positive drugs test, and German public tv’s response – pulling all live coverage of the race. But you know what? The Tour will survive, just like the America’s Cup - because too many people have been touched by it, one way or another, over the years. You can’t just conjure up 156 years of history any more than, it seems, you can conjure up an annual regatta on an arm of the sea…

There, I managed to be upbeat after all.

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Friday, 13 July 2007

It All Kicks Off…

I had barely completed yesterday’s post – largely an exercise in giving Alinghi the benefit of the doubt over their new America’s Cup Protocol – when it was made almost entirely redundant by the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC).

Larry Ellison’s Challenging club for his Oracle Racing team aren’t giving anyone the benefit of anything. They don’t like the way things are shaping up for the 33rd America’s Cup, and they’ve posted a further Challenge to Alinghi’s yacht club, the Société Nautique Genève (SNG).

It claims that the Spanish Challenge that Alinghi accepted as Challenger of Record is invalid, on the grounds that the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) is not a bona fide yacht club, because it’s never held an annual regatta on an arm of the sea, as required by the Deed of Gift.

More pertinently, I suspect, GGYC also claim that CNEV have carried out none of their duties to determine the conditions of the America’s Cup Match, but simply rolled over and accepted what Alinghi put on the table. The CNEV replied almost immediately, saying that nothing in the Deed of Gift states that their annual regatta must have already taken place when they challenge, and that their event will be held this month in Santander.

Nevertheless, the GGYC reckon that theirs is now the first valid challenge, and they want to negotiate a Protocol along the lines of the 32nd America’s Cup. Should Alinghi fail to come to the table, then as far as the GGYC are concerned, the 33rd Match will take place under the conditions specified by the Deed of Gift should mutual consent not be possible. To that end, they’ve informed SNG that they’ll be turning up in ten months time with (presumably) a catamaran 90 foot long, 90 foot wide, with 20 foot deep centreboards. Oh, and its owner is Oracle Racing, Inc.

A couple of points – I don't think Oracle/GGYC expect the next Cup to be raced in the 90 foot multihull. Their challenge clearly states that they want something along the lines of the 32nd Cup, and they want to negotiate that with Alinghi. Ellison’s position on the next Cup has always been thought to be a two year cycle, in roughly the same boats. The GGYC’s Challenge is all about taking Alinghi down a peg or two, and getting a Protocol with a level playing field. As I said in yesterday’s post, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the current Protocol - if Alinghi resolve all that uncertainty in their favour, it would lead to a very one-sided affair.

The big question is whether or not GGYC can make their claim that the CNEV Challenge is invalid, stick in a court (I’ll see your five lawyers, and raise you ten…). Or at least, will it give them enough leverage to negotiate a more reasonable Protocol out of Alinghi? Only time and the lawyers will tell us that. Normal service has been resumed. Meanwhile, potential Challengers are left hanging around street corners, whistling for it, while sponsors melt away and crew sign up for the Volvo Ocean Race. Alinghi produced a fantastic 32nd America's Cup, but if they handle this badly, they'll flush that memory faster than you can say New York Court of Appeal.

One final word – where’s the BOB when you need it? Tom shut up shop just in time, did he know he was going to be too busy flying to Geneva…?!

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Stand By to Stand By...

So you take a few days off, get out on the water, get some fresh air and come back to find… New boats?! Ninety footers…!!

It’s all change in the America’s Cup world, and coming after what’s probably been the best sailing Match we’ve ever seen, you’ve gotta wonder about the motives of those doing the changing. But it’s easy to be cynical, and we should remember that this is being brought to us by the same people that introduced a lot of the elements that made the 32nd Match so extraordinary – notably the preliminary Acts and reducing the design ‘box’ that the Cup yachts had to be built in.

So I think we should hold off making snap decisions about motivations here, until we know a little bit more about what’s going on...

And there is plenty of uncertainty. Alinghi claimed at the Protocol's press conference that these bigger boats were a late idea. And if you read the relevant para 14.1 in the Protocol, which deals with the new boats, there's a grammatical error that you’d think they’d have spotted if they had read it more than a couple of times - The new ACC Rules may provide for yachts having a maximum length overall of ninety feet in length overall… Unless they put that second length overall in there to make us all think it was a late addition...

Conspiracy theories again.

But notice also the words - may provide for yachts… Another example of the uncertainty.

The lack of a date and venue is particularly irritating to those people with lives in Valencia, who don’t know whether to shut them down and go home, or not. But that seems to apply just as much to the Alinghi crew, and the big decision is really Valencia or somewhere else, and we should know the answer to that one pretty soon…

Here's some more - how, exactly, might the Defender be going to participate in the Challenger semi-finals, now allowed for by the Protocol? By taking the place of one of the Challengers? By turning it into a five boat round robin? But given that there is also a provision for Defender trials in the Protocol, perhaps it’s a little early to get too exercised about this one.

(Taking a bit of a diversion - I wonder if any of the European teams have thought about proposing to race Alinghi in Defender trials, in exchange for a healthy percentage of the Defender's event profits, whilst ceding the right to run the next Defence? Given that the Challengers share 45% of the event profit between 11 of them, and the Defender gets 45% all to themselves, it would be a lower risk strategy for a new-ish team. They can't take the big prize home, but they won't need to raise as much money either.)

And while Alinghi could have a headstart in the design process because they are generating the new rule for the boats, they could also choose to negate some of this advantage - by ensuring that the measurement committee (who will ultimately be called upon to adjudicate the rule) are involved from the beginning, and that someone issues progress reports.

Alinghi can play this two ways - they drive a bus through the holes they've left in the Protocol to give themselves an undeniable advantage. Or they don't. The problem is that we won't know which way it's going to go until they start issuing the rest of the rules, and appointing the bodies that will oversee them. And by then, it may well be too late to level the playing field back up...

As to whether the whole new boat thing is good or bad, I jotted down some pros and cons for the three prospective viewpoints:

Alinghi/ACM

Pros

Alinghi gave every indication of believing they had (and actually had) a design and technical edge in the four or five years prior to the 2007 Cup match. But in the end, that edge wasn’t enough to stop it turning into a full-blooded yacht race, giving the sailors more influence than usual over the result. Moving the Cup into new boats ought to allow Alinghi every opportunity to properly use their perceived technical advantage and produce a significantly quicker boat to this new rule.

If Alinghi write the rule, they will have a headstart in designing a boat for it.

Cons

The next Cup is a series of 5-0 bore-fests and all the interest generated so far dissipates, leaving them with a seething throng of angry sponsors and media rights holders…

Challengers

Pros

A new class means a brand new opportunity to come up with something inspired. The only way to win in the old boats was to out-Alinghi Alinghi – in other words, endless navel-gazing refinement of arcane detail. Some people find it hard to get excited about this stuff. I can’t imagine why. The new boat will make it a lot easier to raise enthusiasm amongst designers, and will create opportunities to build a wonder boat.

Cons

Alinghi will almost certainly have a headstart in the design process.

If you didn’t race in 2007, you are faced with the problem of competing in a qualifying series conducted in Version 5 ACC boats, while not being allowed to build a new one. All of a sudden, competitive second hand boats may be at something of a premium.

The new boats will cost more. Alinghi have suggested that teams might subsequently be restricted to one new boat for this campaign (but there’s nothing in the Protocol to that effect), and they’ve also raised the possibility that there will be restrictions on training and testing. If they push ahead with either of these rules, they may be able to negate some of the additional costs imposed by the bigger boats. But much of Alinghi’s technical advantage seems to have stemmed from their ability to refine design ideas in an iterative loop between on the water testing and their tank and software predictions – why give that up? In which case, the sailing teams will have to jump from around 36-40 people to 44-50 sailors to run a two boat programme – in salaries, accommodation and other personnel overheads that’s a fair chunk of change, before we even get started on the cost of the boats, sails and gear.

Spectators

Pros

Bigger boats will look cooler and more exciting - the proposed length of 90 feet will make them a visual match for most of the modern canting keel supermaxis, and that’s important. It’s the America’s Cup – the boats have to look the part.

More powerful, lighter boats will be able to race in less windspeed - so there's not so much chance of waiting around for a week to get enough breeze to go sailing.

Faster boats means they will be more responsive to wind speed changes, and that ought to allow for more rapid gains and losses, and that ought to mean more passing – but see the cons…

Cons

The actual speed of the boats matters little to spectators – sailboats just don’t look quick when viewed from a distance or on television, unless it’s blowing like hell in huge waves.

What matters is relative speed – and although the design tools have been much refined since Il Moro built five boats to the first iteration of the IACC rule, we’re still going to see some serious differences in boat speed. The next Cup match will almost certainly be a return to the bad old days of 5-0.

Faster boats means the apparent wind will be further forward downwind, and that means the wind shadow will go further aft. It will make it much harder to use the wind shadow to attack from behind downwind, and will likely lead to less passes.

So....

Did I miss anything? It feels like there’s good and bad for everyone involved - no surprise that Alinghi have the smallest downside, in the short term, at least. The bottom line is that at some point, the weight of the desire amongst designers and sailors to change the boats had to be satisfied. A few weeks back, Alinghi's head designer, Rolf Vrolijk, gave an interview to Seahorse magazine to the effect that the current rule was finished. So if it's not for this Cup, it's the next, or the one after that. The only question remains: is this the right time? If Alinghi do a good job, then it can be so - but I’d rather answer the question in five years time…

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Swanning Around Cowes

Back in the day, when I used to write columns for Yachts and Yachting and Quokka.com (remember them? Quokka, I mean, Y&Y are still going...) I used to bang on about race committees getting their priorities straight.

If you’re running a big commercial event with lots of sponsorship money behind the event and boats, then you can put the competitors through all the hoops you like, so long as the sponsors get value. Or they won’t come back, and then you won’t have a regatta.

If you’re running a regatta for amateur sailors and owners, then they’re the customers, and you need to give them a good time. Or they won’t come back, and then you won’t have a regatta.

So I'd like the Royal Yacht Squadron to explain why - with a 25-30 knot breeze forecast the previous evening - they thought it necessary to get everyone up for a seven am start to the Swan European's round the Isle of Wight race. Only to then postpone it as we all staggered into the marina in the weak light of dawn, because - guess what? - it was too windy.

They followed this up by setting the final long beat of the last race of the regatta into the teeth of a foul tide, up several miles of the rocky island shore. Never mind the endless short tacking, I saw three boats go hard on the bricks - what a great way to end their week.

The weather makes it tough enough to drag people away from the Med to come and race in the Solent, we don't need to make it any harder.

www.markchisnell.com

Mark Chisnell ©

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Pass Me Another Superlative

Finals are so often a disappointment. I’ve sat through more than my fair share of dreary America’s Cups, but I’ve also sat through a bunch of dreary soccer World Cup Finals, Test Matches and Rugby World Cups. But every now and again, a couple of teams come along and produce a classic. Sometimes it’s for all the wrong reasons – the stronger team who flunk it. Liverpool’s recovery from 3-0 down against a superior AC Milan side in the 2005 European Champions League Final springs to mind.

So it’s even rarer when two teams come together who are so closely matched, so composed in the execution of their craft, that together they put down a marker in the history books, through their sheer and absolute bloody-minded refusal to roll over and die.

It’s even rarer in an event which only deigns to come round every three or four years at best.

We saw something very special in the last eleven days, but it’s finally over. The thirty second America’s Cup is done, and the celebrations and commiserations have begun. A 5-2 win for Alinghi - the Cup stays in Europe, and Ernesto Bertarelli’s team will defend again. But I would imagine that whichever side they’re on, they’re going to hit it pretty hard tonight. They’ve made history, departed the field of dreams, and now it’s left for others to write the record.

When the adrenaline has ebbed and the pulse finally calmed, will this be seen as the greatest ever America’s Cup match?

The context of the 1983 Cup - the ending of the longest winning streak in history, the recovery by an Australian team that found itself 3-1 down in the fastest boat, the manner of the pass in that penultimate run - it all takes some beating. As a page in the history of the Cup, it will never be matched. But for sheer wire-to-wire, edge of the seat, unable to relax action in every single race, this Match leaves it for dust.

So how else could you finish this most extraordinary contest than with a final race delta of a single second, the closest margin ever in a Cup race after the lead has changed hands on every single leg, with the final pass a couple of metres short of the finish?

Sometimes, it’s just the way it was meant to be.

It started with Dean Barker and ETNZ again avoiding the dial-up, ducking to leeward of Ed Baird as Alinghi turned into the wind. Baird got his boat back onto port pretty quickly, but Barker got the tack in fast enough to get right on the Swiss boat’s tail.

So they headed for the committee boat, ETNZ close enough to stop the Swiss from gybing, but not in a position to force them to windward. With lots of time on the clock, Baird sailed as deep into the box as he dared and then tacked round to starboard. The Kiwis tacked with them, and immediately started looking to get to leeward for the hook, so they could push Alinghi back towards the line early.

Ed Baird wriggled as hard as he could, tacking to port for a while, luffing and stalling, burning time off the clock, but Dean Barker had all the cards. And in the end the Kiwis chose to start tight to leeward, controlling the final approach, with their boat jammed up under the Swiss. And it looked as though Alinghi would have to tack away off the line.

But what happened next, established why the America’s Cup is still ultimately a design race. Alinghi held… and held… and held. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson said afterwards that they started in a maximum right hand shift, and it must have seemed like they waited for ever for enough left-shift to finally get rid of the Swiss – but a tiny boat speed edge goes a long way in this game.

Finally, the Kiwis forced the Swiss away, and we had the two boats on port headed for the layline. Alinghi were really patient, slowly gaining a handful of metres, knowing they couldn’t go back before they had enough to force the Kiwis to tack leebow, but they couldn’t leave it too late or they’d get trapped on the layline. Then, as they have done a few times in this event, Alinghi hit another gear. On this occasion it was when they started tacking. At the third cross, the Kiwis decided they couldn’t live with the losses and held on starboard. Alinghi tacked up on their hip, just behind and to windward.

When the Kiwis finally did come back to port, Alinghi were close enough that they could slingshot themselves into the cross with a speed build, then luff up as the Kiwis tacked leebow. Once again, the Swiss had found themselves enough of a lane to hold their position to windward – but could they force the Kiwis all the way over the layline?

It was desperately close – Barker and his trimmers doing their utmost to get up to Alinghi and force them away. When Alinghi finally tacked they were barely laying, with the Kiwis tacking to windward, and almost bow to bow. Now it was Alinghi’s turn to be aggressive, they luffed the Kiwis hard, almost head to wind, then bore away and accelerated. The leeward boat controls this game, because they can choose when to accelerate. The first time the Swiss crept ahead, and the second time Alinghi waited until the Kiwi boat lost a tiny bit of grip with the foils as they slowed. Alinghi bore away and Dean Barker and co. took another boat length to get their boat moving – Alinghi rounded seven seconds in front.

But the Kiwis were plenty close enough to attack on the run. And they were close enough to worry Brad Butterworth into the early gybe, away from the stronger right hand side of the course and the starboard advantage. To make matters worse for the Swiss, they were having problems with their gybing – the source of which hasn’t been revealed. At the next cross, Alinghi couldn’t get their gybe in ahead of ETNZ, and ended up crossing in front of the Kiwis.

Immediately, Terry Hutchinson saw his opportunity and gybed to go with the Swiss. They were now both on port, heading for the layline with the Kiwis in the perfect position to jump the Alinghi on the gybe to the gate. Butterworth knew he was in trouble, and the Swiss finally got a gybe off almost simultaneously – but in a fantastic bit of sailing on the New Zealand boat, they managed to gybe back and got right on Alinghi’s air. From there they rode the waves and pressure down, and got themselves in front of Alinghi and we had another pass.

Once again, Terry Hutchinson and his Kiwi strategists had the choice of sides at the gate, and just like race six, they took the left-hand mark (looking upwind). Hutchinson saying afterwards that they chose it for a little bias (it was closer, there was a left hand shift) and the clean rounding (they were approaching on starboard and it was a simple leeward drop). Alinghi helmsman, Ed Baird said afterwards that they were happy to take whatever the Kiwis gave them – the bias or the starboard advantage. It was just unfortunate for Terry Hutchinson that he had to make a choice. Another day, another five minutes, and he could have got both. But that’s yacht racing, even at this level.

So then we got an almost complete replay of the first beat. Alinghi waited their moment, came across on a shift, the Kiwis had to tack leebow and the tacking duel started. Again the Kiwis had to bail out to stem the losses and both boats settled on starboard. But Terry Hutchinson wasn’t going to repeat any more of the first beat. This time he waited until the end before he tacked back at the Swiss.

The Kiwis overstood to ensure that they could still lay the mark on port once they'd gone behind the Swiss. And they bore away hard to do the duck - they want to get behind the Swiss, luff up and round the mark, while the Swiss are still tacking.

But although the Swiss are right of way boat, the rules allow them to make it hard for the Kiwis to go behind them. So the Swiss immediately bore away at them, and we had the two boats reaching at each other. Now ETNZ had to bear away further to keep avoiding the collision as they got closer – and we're into the dial-down, which Brad Butterworth has been prepping his crew on for the last five minutes.

The Swiss on starboard had to be careful, there's a point beyond which they can't keep bearing away, because the Kiwis can no longer avoid the collision, and they can't go below a true wind angle of 90. But if the Swiss got it right, they can force the Kiwis to go so far to leeward to get behind them, that the Alinghi can get the tack in before the Kiwis can luff up and round the mark...

So, at the wheel of ETNZ, Dean Barker knew that if he went too far to leeward he’s toast. He had to do the minimum bear away to get behind the Swiss, and for a few moments that was a moving target as the Swiss bore away at him… But if he didn’t bear away enough to keep clear of the Swiss once they started holding their course (assuming the Swiss start holding their course early enough not to be judged by the umpires to have made it impossible for the Kiwis to keep clear) then Barker hasn’t avoided a right of way boat.

And that, in the view of the umpires, was what happened. As they closed the Kiwis were not getting in front of the Swiss, and Barker did a second big bear away, but it was judged by the umpires to be too late. It also left the Kiwis with such a huge luff to get back to the mark that the Swiss were able to tack and round in front.

It all happened fast, and the umpires were trying to make the judgement from their boats rather than overhead - it’s tough. But having seen the aerial shots in replay, and they only showed the last few seconds rather than the whole thing, it did look like the penalty was fair. But this will be chewed over for a long while…

So, the Swiss led round with a twelve second advantage, and a penalty to the good. Game over, right? Wrong. Unbelievably, there’s one more twist to this plot. If you were John McClane and this was a Die Hard movie, then you’d have already watched the baddie die four times, and frankly, when he gets back up for the fifth it’s starting to get a little unrealistic…

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss settled quicker into the run, and the 12 seconds turned into four boat lengths by the time the Kiwis gybed away. Alinghi seemed to have sorted out their handling problems, and were keeping themselves jammed between the man and the mark. Then the Kiwis split again and this time Brad Butterworth either didn’t or couldn’t go with them. When Alinghi went, it was with their air behind the Kiwis and a little separation had opened…

What all the commentators and anyone with access to the Met buoys could see by now, was that the wind had dropped to 8 knots and gone 30 or more degrees to the left at the finish line. Both boats are on starboard, and they’re about to get hit by the mother of all headers.

It was the Kiwis that spotted it first, their headsail was up on deck immediately, and they bore away, hoisted the jib and dropped the spinnaker. The change was smooth, and they were now to windward of the Swiss, in the new breeze and headed straight at the line.

Things were not going so well for the Swiss. Brad Butterworth said at the press conference, ‘I was a bit in denial that the breeze wasn’t going to hold, but Warwick Fleury did a good job of coaxing us to get the jib up on deck and get things going.’ It was just in time. The spinnaker pole broke off the mast as the breeze came on the bow and the pole went forward to the headstay and loaded up. For a while it was organized chaos on the Swiss boat. And all the time the Kiwis are reaching straight at the finish. Can they possibly build a big enough lead to get the penalty complete?

The gain-line clicked up… one length, two lengths… still the Swiss haven’t sorted out the mess… three lengths, almost four by the time the Kiwis swung their bow into the wind to shed the penalty…

No one can breathe.

But the Swiss were finally rumbling. And it was not a normal penalty, done by swinging around the leeward mark. The Kiwis had to luff, tack through the wind, and then tack back to get to the finish line. It’s horribly slow. And if you wanted to be absolutely brutal, you’d say that the Kiwis started it too early. But the finishing line has been moved, they don't have it 'pinged' in the computer, and they don't have a transit, so quite how they could have called it any better, I don't know...

The final seconds were just about unwatchable. The Kiwis got the penalty cleared and their bow back down and pointed at the finish - but they’re a full length short of the line. And it takes them forever to get the 24 tons of lead moving again… and Alinghi are now at full speed, blasting in to leeward…

History will record that the bow of Alinghi crossed the line a single second before that of Emirates TNZ. When he was asked what was going through his mind at that point, Brad Butterworth replied, ‘Put up the blue flag.’ It seemed to take an eternity for the race committee to decide. An almost surreal silence fell on the watching spectator fleet. And then… there it was. It was over.

It’s been a ride for everyone, but the sailors have really been through the mill. At the press conference the Alinghi afterguard took it in turns to tell us it was the biggest and the best. Ernesto Bertarelli commented, ‘This is definitely bigger and better than last time. It has been much, much harder than I ever thought it would be…’ He went on, ‘I want to thank and mention the whole team. It's been a real lesson in life. One of the hardest things I've ever done and today is probably, beside the birth of my kids, the best day of my life.’

Even Brad Butterworth thought this was his favourite win, and when asked if he was sure, stuck to it. And why not? There was plenty of history being made, along with Murray Jones, Warwick Fleury, Simon Daubney and Dean Phipps, Butterworth had just won his fourth America’s Cup.

Juan Vila became the first Spanish citizen to win, and did it on his home waters.

Simon Daubney told us that the key to the win had been the in-house racing. He then managed to name all 17 of the guys on the Alinghi B-boat. ‘We get to do the interviews, but the thing I’m proudest of, is those guys.’ Another class act.

And, perhaps inevitably, Brad Butterworth was asked once again, if he still thought the America’s Cup was a design game. And once again, he said yes. He pointed to the line-up off the start when the Swiss boat had held for what seemed an unfeasibly long time to windward of the Kiwis, and told us that you can’t sail in that close proximity to another yacht without an edge. Terry Hutchinson seemed to concur when he told us that in these last races, they just didn’t quite seem to have enough…

But I can tell you after watching this, that while you’re still going to have to turn up with the fastest boat to win the thirty third America’s Cup, you’d better be ready to race the friggin’ paint off it…

And finally, Bertarelli revealed just what he thought they were racing for – right or wrong, he believed that if ETNZ had won, his team would have been shut out of the competition by the Kiwis changing the nationality rules. Alinghi, for Ernesto Bertarelli, had been racing for their very existence for the last 11 days.

But Alinghi have won, and once again they get to make the rules – Bertarelli would not be drawn on the Protocol. The documents were signed with Desafio Espanol - as everyone expected – right as the boats finished. But we’ll have to wait till Thursday to find out what’s in them.

And the Kiwis? They weren't at (not invited, apparently) the final press conference, but several of them had been interviewed prior to that – Grant Dalton looked utterly gutted as he said, ‘Our guys have done an amazing job and right now the guys aren't feeling that sharp - it's been a long four years. I'm of course enormously proud of them but Alinghi did a better job than us. We enjoyed the Louis Vuitton Cup but knew it was a just a step along the rung to the ultimate prize of the America's Cup. We didn't come here to take part. We just came here to win it and we haven't done that. So now we have to re-group and see what the future holds.’

You gotta feel for them. But while history is traditionally written by the victors, hell will freeze over before anyone forgets the contribution these guys made to the greatest America's Cup match ever.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

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Mark Chisnell ©