Monday, April 30, 2007

Anything Can Happen, And It Does

And the last shall be first. Dig this:

China Team relaunches its broken boat on Sunday, dumps an easy two points into the lap of Luna Rossa on a 2:57 loss, and then comes out on Monday and scalps its first earned points off BMW Oracle when the mighty US team blows a tire. Sail. Headfoil. Whatever.

Twice the jib blew out of the headfoil on the first beat. USA 98 sailed to the weather mark bareheaded and rounded behind by 3:24. In case you ever wondered just how important it is or isn't to have two sails on the case. On the second beat the crew got a headsail up, but they seemed to be handling it as gently as China Team was handling its every maneuver. That is, conservatively. Finally given a shot at a win, and still testing the boat in a breeze that touched a frisky 15 knots, Pierre Mas and his boys were anxious to not shoot themselves in the foot. This was in the prestart:

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Add irony: Chris Dickson was spared the loss. Not disrespecting China Team or anything, BMW Oracle sent out the B team under helmsman Sten Mohr, with Bertrand Pacé in as tactician and Ed Smyth as navigator.

Ian "Fresh" Burns, head of the design team, was assigned to meet the press to explain this incident, which was reminiscent of an incident in the Acts. Here's Fresh:

"It was a failure of the luff groove that holds the headsail. The crew tried a rehoist, but the damage had been done. In the 13-14 knots that we had at that moment, you've got your big headsail on and the rig is fully loaded up, and that's actually the range in which something will probably break if it's going to break. Everything's pretty pared back in the rig—the headfoil is a combination of carbon, Kevlar, and other materials in what is actually a rather complex piece of geometry. We have a whole range of foils, but that one was our frontline foil. Until today. It may have been 'over-optimized.' We'll be looking at that."

Meanwhile, it's been sadly easy of late to talk to the members of China Team, while certain rock stars have been swamped with press attention. Today, things turned around a bit. This was the best picture I could get of skipper Pierre Mas and his guys. That round fellow on the right is Pierre being happy about the day but saying, "Today they had an 'engine problem,' but that's sailing. I will be more proud when we can get a proper win in a race that is really competitive."

And while we're not on the subject, what do you make of this innovation in international yachting?

It's called the Mixed Zone, and once or twice a day it becomes the center of the yachting universe for about 45 minutes. Here we see a moderate day:

Because we have so many races going on here, and sometimes we have boats coming back from racing at staggered hours, the Zona Mixta replaces the traditional America's Cup press conference for the time being. However, I'm not alone in looking forward to the return of the press conference, which in the past has produced some classic moments to rival classic moments on the race course.

Now, while a China Team win is an irresistible topic, that matchup should not have produced the news of the day. That would have been the rematch of Emirates Team New Zealand and Mascalzone Latino, important for both in terms of points on the board but even more important for the Kiwis as a matter of pride. Their loss to the Italians in the opening round of sailing was a stunner—no matter how many times we say that almost any boat here can win on the day—and they had to wipe that out. Which they did.

Dean Barker and company managed the start nicely, getting away clean, with speed, on a timed starboard-tack run, while Flavio Favini got squeezed at the committee boat end and started slightly downspeed. The "Latin Rascals" showed well up the beat, but the Kiwis simply showed better. They put up a classic tacking duel climbing the course, with Barker punching at Favini and punching at Favini and punching at Favini and then—you could see it coming—eventually crossing ahead. Barker never lost control after that, but there was nothing easy in the day.

© Chris Cameron/ETNZ

I agree with Tony Rae, who noted that it might have been a bit harder to stay in front on this one. Compared to the race lost to Mascalzone, "It was dicier today," he said, "and probably harder to defend a lead. It was pretty steady on the day that they got in front and stayed there, but today was a classic example of how one boat could be sailing in six knots while the other is sailing in ten."

The best races of the day, however, were sailed in the B fleet. Areva came alive and took a heart-stopper off Mascalzone Latino, then won a close one against +39. In its own match, Desafío Español came home ahead of +39 by all of one second.

A little less exciting, but real: Luna Rossa ahead of Victory and Shosholoza ahead of Germany.

There's a building close to my apartment in the old city that I've been curious about for a while. Since we've had racing daily without a break, I haven't had time to learn my own neighborhood, but today (on the internet, between races) I was able to identify this as La Lonja, a Gothic 16th century silk market significant enough to have a place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's a museum now, of course. If these sailors ever take a day off, I might even drop in. Looks the way Spain ought to look, eh? And dig that flag of Valencia. I love flags. Gotta have one—Kimball

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Keels Are For Hugging

I've encountered several people who have gone the carryon-only route, flying to Valencia, based upon my reports of late-arriving luggage. So there. I've done some good in this world. Had I also been able to whistle up some wind, we could have seen the second-round rematch today of Mascalzone Latino's upset of New Zealand—which provided the first fireworks of the challenger eliminations. Reading that much, you know it didn't happen. Nor did we have the perfunctory matchup of +39 versus Areva.

On the other racecourse, however, we had Luna Rossa over China Team by 2:57, BMW Oracle over Germany by 3:17, and Shosholoza beating themselves to hand spoiler points to Victory Challenge, 0:52 ahead. "Spoiler points" being the point of view of Desafío Español and Mascalzone Latino, and there, that completes the list of three rivals for the fourth spot in the final four.

Shosholoza carried their self-inflicted beating all the way to breaking a spinnaker pole. Since they're further back in the standings, Desafío Español and Mascalzone Latino would have preferred to see Shosholoza win.

Mr. Lucky-On-Sunday was Angus Phillips of the Washington Post, who rode as 18th man on BMW Oracle. The thought bubble in this shot reads, And so I told the President . . .

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

Well, I'm not one to be outdone. Here I am on MY ride with the Kiwis during the Acts. Take that, Phillips. And thanks to Daniel Forster for the lenscraft.

© Daniel Forster

Looking at the dance card, and not having an invitation on a raceboat, I saw this as a good day to stay ashore. I had good company here. Have you hugged your keel today?

What could this lineup of people possibly be for?


And they're off on their tour of Port America's Cup. That large building behind them is the Media Center, the largest single-purpose structure at Port America's Cup, and it doesn't even house all the media. To think, in Newport they didn't even like the press.

So is it light air everywhere? The NOOD on the Chesapeake has had one day with zero sailing and a second day with "some." And way out west, the Ensenada Race has been a crawl. Here's a press release photo that I imagine was shot by Rich Roberts. The caption reads: Magnitude 80 inches toward the finish line on a glassy Todos Santos Bay.

Course time for Doug Baker's Magnitude 80 was 21:04:23, which is about double the monohull record. Stark Raving Mad, a cant-keel Reichel Pugh, arrived 12 minutes later.

And that's your Ensenada Race report from Valencia—Kimball

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lights. Camera. Action!

It was made for the movies. Desafío Español taking a big one off mighty BMW Oracle to wake up the home audience on a sunny Saturday in the south of Spain, and then without time off to lick its wounds the US team cranking up against rival numero uno, the boat at the top of the leaderboard when round robin racing began, Emirates Team New Zealand. And beating them up bad in the prestart. And then getting greedy and giving it all away and having to hammer their way back to take the race but good.

Hammered: The Kiwis.

Dissatisfied: The Spanish, with Desafío Español taken down by Luna Rossa in their own second flight.

Interesting subtext: My Spanish and Italian colleagues of the press corps speculating that the American team threw the race against Desafío Español, "because they want Spain in the semifinals."

Me, I'm congenitally indisposed toward conspiracy theories, though I reckon that every now and then, one proves true. Here's Desafio steaming out of the weather mark in the lead.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

So we're halfway (at last) to the cut to the final four, and we roll directly into Round Robin 2 with BMW Oracle at 21 points, Luna Rossa (19); Emirates Team New Zealand (18); Desafío Español (17).

Still in the hunt: Mascalzone Latino and Victory Challenge tied at 14.

Fading but not gone: Shosholoza at 12.

The top dogs know that, barring a cataclysm, they're going to the semis. What's in play now is winning for pride, sniffing the opposition, and claiming the right to pick your opponent in the semis by being on top of the leaderboard at the end of the round robins.

As I write this, it's well past 10 pm in Valencia (the restaurants must be roaring about now) and I figure the shore teams are busy in at least some of the compounds. It is legal to re-mode between round-robin rounds, though with RR1 finishing late today and RR2 gearing up tomorrow, there are limits. Luna Rossa's American mainsheet trimmer, Jonathan McKee, said, "There's plenty that you can change overnight, if you think you need to." And will you? "You'll have to wait and see if we have a new certificate tomorrow."

Quote-Unquote Jonathan McKee

On match racing at the America's Cup:
"People have raised the game. It's become more difficult to win the starts, and you see more starts that are even."

On the helmsman's role in winning or losing:
"Tactical style is never just one person. It's important that the whole afterguard come together. Hard races help you do that, and we're getting hard races here."

(Which might be relevant to those who are calling for Dean Barker's head. Here's Dean; it's not easy being Kiwi.)

That Start

You'll wait a long time to see a prettier dialup. Chris Dickson at the helm of BMW Oracle came in from the right end of the line, on starboard, and Dean Barker at the helm of Emirates Team New Zealand took the pairing right up into the wind, keeping the game in the middle of the line, for openers. Dickson and his team set up nicely, slightly behind—where you want to be if you're the boat on the right, because you quickly become a windward boat that must keep clear—but if you blinked you missed the transition with ETNZ the first to start drifting backwards, and then a beam-on drifting match with the booms full out. At a glance it looked dicey for Dickson, being to weather, but it quickly became apparent that there was no way Barker was going to get at him from that position, and BMW Oracle was in control of the situation.

With Dickson hunting down, Barker decided to get out of dodge, but the result was that Dickson was able to herd the Kiwi boat to the left and then above the line, right out of the starting box as time expired. That's where the greed came in. BMW Oracle could at that moment have pushed the game just a bit farther, tacked, and returned to dip across the line—back into the starting box—for a clear ahead entry to the course. New Zealand would have had no choice but to follow. Instead, Dickson went for the kill, not tacking but gybing, opening a trap above him where he intended to nail the Kiwis with a port-starboard foul as they tacked and attempted to return. Not to be. The American boat stalled coming back onto the wind--think, a serious case of the slows--while the Kiwi boat accelerated out of the trap, crossed clean, and started ahead with better speed in a breeze of about 9 knots.

It was a classic case of overachieving. Dickson's post-race take: "New Zealand wiggled out, but we have a lot of strengths in our team. You just have to take a deep breath and get on with it, do what you do well, chip away at them."

Which translates into rounding together at the top mark (New Zealand was credited with a 3-second lead) and sailing over them on the run for a lead at the bottom of 24 seconds, second weather mark of 43 seconds, and finish line delta of 38. This is the second weather mark rounding, with BMW Oracle setting its kite and New Zealand still beating upwind.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Dickson's reminder: "We're only halfway through the round robins." As for the loss to the Spanish team? "The day was tough, tricky, shifty. It's hard to go out there and win them all."

China Team will be back on the course on Sunday, according to trimmer Wearn Haw Tan. The work team that flew in from France freed the sailing crew on Saturday from further work on the boat, so they'll be reasonably refreshed as they get back to business, looking for their first win. Their boat suffered a keel box failure, but they made it back to the dock with boat and mast mostly intact to relaminate the relevant parts. As Wearn Haw Tan put it, "Better in the shed than in the sea."

Subtext: They're installing the mast at first light and tuning in the morning to race in the afternoon.

Round Robin 2. Once it seemed an impossible dream—Kimball

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thanks for the Energy Dose

"A bit overwhelming" is how Alison Turner describes landing in Valencia on a school project to reconnect with the America's Cup heritage of Deer Isle, Maine. But she seemed pretty upbeat in her role as one of four kids from that lobster-fishing paradise on an island washed on one shore by Penobscot Bay and on the other shore by Blue Hill Bay. Alison's great, great grandfather was a crewman on America's Cup defender, Defender, in 1895 and aboard Valkyrie III in the defense of 1899. All four kids, and one teacher, and a lot of Deer Isle share the heritage. Their hardy, seafaring ancestors were recruited to man some of the largest, scariest racing yachts ever put on the water. Ordinary men couldn't or wouldn't have done it, but they did, and the America's Cup stayed in America on an unbroken streak until 1983.

A metal ring that Alison brought with her was made from the melted-down hull of Defender. Each crewman received a ring as a memory of the experience, but only a few remain and the memories had grown faint, until this history project kicked off. The travelling group includes several additional teachers and Bill Whitman, a New York Yacht Club sailor who traces his own roots back two centuries on the island. Whitman, who stepped in as benefactor when the school's fundraising came up short, brought along a cap—the one that Alison is wearing here—from Defender. Usually, the hat is held by the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society, but it really needed to make this trip.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

I sat down to interview the gang in the more than adequately comfortable, upper-level hospitality level of BMW Oracle Racing. And I wound up getting interviewed myself. I think I was the first animal they had encountered in Valencia who could give them the lay of the land. That's me sitting there being a bit surprised at the role I was playing.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

Before the day was over, however, the group had met racing crewmen and America's Cup experts aplenty. And tried a few of the interactive features at the BMW Oracle compound, with team photographer Gilles Martin-Raget following them around.

Here is how one of the teachers, Tom Duym, explained the connection between the island and the Cup: Heading the NYYC's 1895 defense was one Oliver Iselin, who apparently summered on Deer Isle and was familiar with the skill and daring of the local lobstermen. When Iselin was urged to crew-up Defender, not with Scandinavian paid hands but with "proper Yankees," he knew where to turn. You can judge the success by the fact that they returned in 1899. Part of the value of today's project, Duym said, is that so little has changed. One of the students. Billy Billings, is a lobsterman, and lobsterboat racing (now with diesels) is still considered good sport.

Me, I got a great dose of up energy off meeting students and teachers. I wish we'd had more time, but thanks.

Regular readers will notice a shift in tone today, away from race observation and analysis. There's a reason.

While I was at the BMW Oracle compound I ran into an old friend, and a great figure of a different era of America's Cup racing, Charles Corbitt. Charles was a backer and confidant in Dennis Conner's campaigns and I couldn't tell you everything else. That small slice would be enough of a resume in any case. And we had to talk, and pretty soon I was going out with him on the Thalia G, one of the team's big boats that follow the races, along with Tom Ehman, who wears so many hats for BMW Oracle that it would take half a dozen people to replace him. And then like magic we were joined by Malin Burnham, Star boat world champion, skipper of Enterprise in the Enterprise-Freedom campaign (for example) and the man who did more than anybody else to make Conner's comeback win in Australia possible.

It was a good day in its own way, but on our racecourse we got skunked for wind. Instead of watching BMW Oracle match up against Desafío Español and then its great rival, Emirates Team New Zealand, we twice chased the race committee to different neighbourhoods, looking for wind, before the whole show was blown off as daylight ran out on a wet, gray day.

I observed that every body just loves to take pictures. Here's one of the Deer Isle kids, early on, shooting down into the docks.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

And Charles Corbitt doing the same.

When Chris Dickson sailed USA 98 past our transom, that got people excited.

Malin Burnham, wily veteran that he is, set up while the boat was still approaching, to catch a quarter view shot.

Over on the other racecourse they had some excitement, including one collision and a race where the finish delta was recorded as zero. I missed all that. I can tell you that in the first flight, Areva was credited with a win over Germany, +39 was credited with a win over no-show China (still in repairs), and then it was +39 over Germany with Shosholoza over Areva.

I don't much feel like sorting through other people's reports to construct my own version of events I didn't witness, and anyway, none of those boats will be sailing in the America's Cup match, and that's my report. Humid. A bit chilly. Not a proper racing wind and not what we were looking for. And yet, on the way home, what a scene, eh?

Sorry to leave you with bad news, but here is Peter Isler's report on the weather prognosis for Saturday: more low pressure with breeze determined by the positioning of clouds and thunderclouds. Judging by the rain beating on the windows, there's one passing through now—Kimball

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Luna Rossa Si! España Si! USA! USA!

It was one of those days when the headline changes by the hour. How could you resist the Swedish come-from-behind with a penalty turn completed in time for a five-second win over Areva?

How could you resist a Luna Rossa win that is sure to go down hard in the New Zealand camp, which would have had the race except for a prestart penalty for tacking too close?

And then, in a race started well into the cocktail hour, there were those all-red Latin Rascals led by Flavio Favini driving Mascalzone Latino, stealing the favored side at the start from BMW Oracle and holding them off in the fiercest, most relentless downspeed tacking duel we've seen here so far. Could the Mascalzone guys repeat the upset they pulled over New Zealand? This was the real thing. Chris Dickson driving for the white team coming at them again and again. Favini playing it close. Gavin Brady waving flags at the umpires, yelling for a foul call. Dickson coming at them again and again. And then the red team cracking. Favini playing it too close. No question. Dickson turning to avoid the collision. And the flag from the umpires and the red-team meltdown, trailing big-time at the first mark with a penalty still to burn off. BMW Oracle looking every ounce the accomplished, well financed, well practiced, confident monster of an opponent.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

We're a long way from the end of the challenger selection, and those who move on to the semis and finals are sure to re-mode at least once. None of the big guys have shown us everything they've got. But the undefeated record of BMW Oracle to this point, and the way they devoured the Italians today, builds a mindset. Pierre Orphanidis, who writes the Valencia Sailing blog, fell into that mindset when I said something about the race and his reply was, "Yes, but can they beat Alinghi?"

That's not really the right question, not yet, but I understand.

The take from BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler: "Everything changed. All of a sudden instead of a close race we had some breathing room. Now we look to the races on Friday. It will be very important for us to get a feel for how our speed stacks up against Spain and New Zealand. Obviously it's important to get to the semifinals, but there's value to being at the top because you get to pick your opponent—which of course gives you an opportunity to make a regrettable mistake."

The take from Mascalzone mainsail trimmer Marco Constant: "The weather mark was slightly out of position, and with the current we were playing up the middle of the track. It was our mistake. We thought we were pushing them out to the layline, but in the process they were gaining on the tacks." Comparisons? "I think they have an appendage package that's slicker than ours. I think they have a rig package that slicker than ours. They're experienced. The downwind leg was one-sided, but they set themselves up very well against us. That's why they are where they are, and that's why we are where we are."

Spain had a good day too with Desafío Español racking up wins against Germany and Sweden (Victory Challenge was not so lucky against the Spanish).

And there's no escaping the local angle. I watched some television this morning, and America's Cup racing was in the news, and it was all Desafío Español, with reason enough. Their day moved them into fourth and dropped Mascalzone to fifth in the standings after 9 of 20 flights.

I remind you yet again, gentle reader, that amidst the dramas on the racecourse and ashore, all we're doing in the round robins is sorting a final four. Then we wipe the slate clean and go into the semifinal round to eliminate two more boats. A few days ago I thought that perhaps two spots were in play. Now I'm thinking only one, and I figure it's between Desafío Español and Mascalzone Latino to get that seat.

But predictions are dangerous. What am I doing? Making a nomination for least successful move of the day, that's what: The Kiwis closing on the finish in light air, with a come-from-behind lead and a penalty to burn off, putting up a jib and turning up, hoping to force Luna Rossa up with them, away from the finish, hoping to then tack through, completing the penalty turn and zip down to finish in front. Zip being a relative term in a soft breeze. It didn't work for diddly. James Spithill on the helm of Luna Rossa, and Torben Grael on top of the brain trust, didn't buy it for a minute. Instead of putting up a jib in a defensive maneuver, they kept trucking under spinnaker, sailed across the Kiwi bow, and left Dean Barker and company behind to do a forlorn penalty turn all on their lonesome. Delta 00:48.

Team manager Grant Dalton's take: "At the back of our minds right from the start was that we needed a comfort zone of more than 30 sec to complete the penalty. We weren’t going to achieve that by sticking close to Luna Rossa. They’re too good for that. We went for a big separation to the right where there was more pressure on the first beat, that paid a little but we did not get the gain that we needed."

© Chris Cameron/ETNZ

I've posted the points standings at the bottom, but on the way through the day I sat down with an interesting guy. Here's that story.

Making Shosholoza Sing

Whether they make the final-four cut or not—and yesterday's racing makes you think they've already peaked—Team Shosholoza is having a good run. In that, you have to include principal designer Jason Ker, who has taken this a long way, ten years after getting his first private commission to design a raceboat.

RSA 83 was optimized for the now. "We knew the weather could be random in April," Ker said. "The breeze could be light, or it could be strong, and we'd have to be ready for either. Going into May we expect the breeze to be light, but consistently light, and we're designed for that and maybe for early June, but not late June when you expect the seabreeze to be up. Alinghi is clearly designed with the expectation of racing in a stronger seabreeze."

The game with Shosholoza is to see how long they can survive. Unlike the big guys, they're showing everything they've got. The corollary, with the teams who expect to be contending in the finals, is that they will re-mode as they go.

Even with RSA 83 radically redesigned for 2007—it was the first V5 boat built, and the new bow gets rid of a lot of reserve buoyancy to help the boat cut through waves—Ker said that, "The potential hasn't changed massively. A lot of our improvements have been in sails and sailing. For us as a small team, there has been a lot to come to grips with. We get better every time out, but it's harder to find the gains, to find a new finesse, condition to condition. To continue to the next Cup, and to get to the next level, we'll have to have two boats. Then you can have training sessions where you're in control, and you make sure you're learning what you want to learn."

And what's his life these days?

After two years in Spain, his family of a wife and two kids are happily ensconced and multilingual and enjoying Valencia, "Though I haven't seen as much of it as I should."

Well, that's the Cup life. He's a Brit by birth, and there were 14 months in Cape Town before Valencia, and we don't know what comes next, do we?

Quote Unquote: "There are some things you can learn only by being aboard the race boat. There are other things you can learn only by not being aboard. I spend my days in a chase boat behind Shosholoza. I observe heel, the mast, sail set-ups, comparisons, maneuvers in which the guys on the boat are too caught up to see what's going on. And sometimes it's best to wait, to look at the data after the race, rather than make an instant judgement."

April 26: The Goodies

1. BMW Oracle, 19 points
2. Emirates Team New Zealand, 16
3. Luna Rossa, 15
4. Desafío Español , 15
5. Mascalzone Latino Capitalia, 14
6. Victory Challenge, 12
7. Shosholoza, 10
8. Areva, 7
9. United Internet Team Germany, 3
10. +39, 2
11. China Team, 1

Friday forecast: North-east, 12 to 16 knots, cloudy with possible rain, 13ºC to 19ºC and 70% humidity.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Deep, Deep Inside the AC Beltway

One of the truisms expounded by any number of players around here is that nobody wants to win the America's Cup on a fluke. Hogwash. Given the opportunity, I'd be glad to win the America's Cup on a fluke.

Scandals? Rumors? The America's Cup is grand nonsense or it's nothing. When was the Cup ever without fustigation? From Lord Dunraven to the antics of Alan Bond, who had quite a gleeful summer of bickering in Newport in '83, there's always been something. Now in Valencia we've gone from talking about the weather to sailing in what we've got, and there are people who are sure that our lost racing days were all part of a dastardly plot, and Alinghi's overdue weather briefing on Wednesday didn't satisfy everybody, and seven flights in, the big players haven't even pulled out all their ammunition yet and . . .

Remember, all we're doing in the round robins is sorting the cut to the final four. Then seven players go home and the game gets seriously serious for those remaining. Only then is it time to look into the inventory of sails that were set aside (the big teams measured a minimum inventory for the round robins) and perhaps reconfigure the package, based upon your evaluation of opponents, or if your meteorology team sees different winds in the offing. If you haven't already sent those guys out to be hanged. I came here expecting a BMW Oracle-Emirates Team New Zealand finale in the Louis Vuitton challenger series, and there's still room for me to be surprised, but nobody has shown me what they're going to use to surprise me. Here's the US team handling Areva.

© Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

I figure the most interesting discussions behind closed doors right now would be about what to change and how to change it in the short time between round robin racing and the semis. When May 8 and 9 were scheduled as reserve days at the end of RR2, no one really expected them to be used. Now they just might be.

Wanting to expand that window, the challengers recently asked event management to push back the start of the semis. They were told, No.

The challengers also wanted to extend the period for making changes, from 24 hours ahead of the first warning signal to 0800 on the first day of racing. Again, no. Do you think serious changes are contemplated?

BMW Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand have never doubted that they would make the semis. Luna Rossa, which has generally been placed in the same category, has taken some lumps--losing in one day to Shosholoza and BMW Oracle--but they were a credible threat throughout both races. They were never "put away," so I'm keeping them on my list for the semis. If nothing else they have trimmer Joe Newton, who can come out at the end of a day like that, smile, and say, "We were very pleased with our speed."

If the sailing thing doesn't work out, Joe, there's always the diplomatic corps.

But Patrizio Bertelli's team cannot afford any more slips. Their expected win on Wednesday over Areva was convincing, but it was no runaway, and watching the tacking duel up the first beat of their second race, against hard-luck +39, I'd say that Luna Rossa helmsman James Spithill and tactician Torben Grael were in control of the leg. But +39 was matching them for speed.

Shosholoza? A great story whether they make the cut or not. They came in talking "next time" and when next time comes, expectations will be high. The subtext to their win on Tuesday against Luna Rossa is that they started their training in second-hand Luna Rossa V4's.

© Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Yep, the Shosholoza team is good story. On Wednesday, however, they were put in their place by New Zealand. I won't pretend to know what Grant Dalton may have said to his Kiwis before the race, or left loudly unsaid (I do know they were up at dawn to mark Anzac Day), but New Zealand got Mascalzone'd early on in this round robin, and in their world, that's not allowed. Out of the woodwork came the "Dean ain't got it" chorus. Beating up on Shosholoza was a moral necessity, and they were businesslike and efficient in the way they went about it. It was their race. But the delta, 01:23, had more to do with windshifts and the fortunes of war than with relative speed. What's in it? The South Africa team set up their boat for light winds, the house bet at this time of year, because for them, this is is the America's Cup. For the Kiwis, as with other big teams, peaking now would be too soon.

Against Desafío Español in the second flight of the day, Shosholoza showed well up the first beat and down the first run, but the local team was in control in a localized breeze that touched 16 knots. This pair was great to watch. They really mixed it up, upwind and down, but Luis Doreste and his team had the best of it in a race that neither boat could afford to lose. The result left Desafío Español one point behind fourth-place Mascalzone and Shosholoza four points back.

Compared to lapping the track on Tuesday under Luna Rossa's hot breath, BMW Oracle had a bye and a matchup with Areva. Not scary. Strategist Eric Doyle noted that the first beat went off in 9 knots, "And after that it slowly eased; Areva seemed to fall out of the comfort zone." These guys still have Mascalzone and Desafio to sail before they get to the race everyone is waiting for, against New Zealand.

Full marks to "Robert" and "sturdee" for quickly spotting Peter Isler out of BMW Oracle navigator's uniform in yesterday's lighthearted quiz. I fear I owe someone a photo credit for this and will eagerly add it if you ring my chimes.

Here is Pedro photographed by Gilles Martin-Raget, as we more often see him around here these days.

OKAY I saved the weather for last. I've never been big on conspiracy theories because they tend to attribute too much foresight to the alleged perpetrators. I don't know to what extent the defenders might have imagined causing problems for challengers by scheduling the match in June. They claim the schedule was intended to maximize opportunities for television while avoiding conflicts with other sports. I'm gonna buy it because it's plausible and we'll just never know, and it's quite a stretch to imagine that Ernesto Bertarelli, as defender, wanted things to kick off this way.

So, the briefing in brief: April 2007 is one very unlucky month for sailing in Valencia. Period. Signed, Jack Katzfey and Jon Bilger, Weather Team, Alinghi.

Statistically, they said, Valencia in April-June runs 80-90 percent sailable days. April '07 is running 50 percent so far, according to Bilger: "We had seven consecutive non-sailable days, and we came close to have 11 consecutive. But normally in these months, this is a great place to sail. You can't predict the weather three years out."

Photo by © Ivo Rovira/Alinghi of Jack Katzfey

The problem, Katzfey said, is a high pressure system (a "blocker") centered over France, where temperatures are running about 7 degrees above average (Celsius). That high should be down over Africa, for racing to proceed as planned.

At the moment we have a spot of rain over Portugal, headed this way, but with a sailing breeze in it, according to these chaps. I reckon we'll take it.

Flight 6
Luna Rossa d. Areva -- 00:33
Victory d. +39 -- 00:55
Desafio Español d. China Team -- 02:01
Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia d. United Internet Team Germany -- 00:24
Emirates Team New Zealand d. Team Shosholoza -- 01:23
Bye BMW Oracing

Flight 7
BMW Oracle d. Areva -- 2:54
Luna Rossa d. +39 -- 1:22
Mascalzone Latino Capitalia d. China Team (withdrew)
Emirates Team New Zealand d. United Internet Team Germany – 01:03
Desafío Español d. Shosholoza -- 00:57
Bye Victory Challenge

The Goodies
BMW Oracle, 15
Emirates Team New Zealand, 14
Luna Rossa, 13
Mascalzone Latino Capitalia, 12
Desafío Español , 11
Victory Challenge, 10
Shosholoza, 8
Areva, 5
United Internet Team Germany, 3
+39, 2
China Team, 1

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rebooted and relaunched

Yep, a little wind goes a long way when it comes to sailboat racing. Seven knots building to 10 or better isn't much where I come from--San Francisco Bay--but it changed everything around here.

With 15 of 20 round robin races still to go, the battle for the fourth spot (and maybe the third?) in the semifinals looks pretty open from where I sit, and nobody has a lock on anything.

Meanwhile, the Alinghi guys have finally scheduled a press conference on the subject of weather (0845 Wednesday) which they probably should have done much sooner, considering how many people have cooked up conspiracy theories about the defender's intentions and/or intelligence in the scheduling of this show. But, if the weather holds tomorrow, they're behind the story.

There's more to come, but for now, I'm going to leave you with a little question. Did Bob Dylan come to the America's Cup yacht races, or is there a different explanation for the presence of the famous fellow pictured here? Correct responses will receive a hearty hurrah.

Monday, April 23, 2007

There was no racing today

In one of the great movies of all time, Bambi, one of the great screen characters of all time is reminded by his mother of something that my own mother often called to mind. That would be Thumper, and when he gets a little out of line, his mom asks, What would your father say?

Thumper squinches up and declares, "If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Proof of Concept

Okay, the heat is seriously on to get in a full eliminations series for the challengers. But there's another story here. Proof of concept of those ill-named Acts. Shosholoza ahead of BMW Oracle for 2+ legs of their race. The South African team was outmatched, but there they were, mixing it up, holding BMW Oracle out of the advantaged right-hand side of the course, giving a heavy-weight team a scare.

Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

When Shosholoza first came to Valencia, there were times when it hurt to watch them sail, but they had great spirit and a great fight song and people took them to heart. They've said all along this is a learning-curve "next time" effort, while holding onto a dream of making the cut to the semifinals this time. They're no farther from that after today's expected loss that, for them, was a win of sorts. They've come a long way.

But could they have done that if they hadn't been in competition for two years? I don't think so. Aside from offering brand exposure for sponsors, the pre-event racing gave this team, and others, the opportunity to measure themselves, learn, and grow. Take that away, leave them training in isolation or perhaps sparring with one of the other second-tier teams, then toss them into the ring with the likes of BMW Oracle and they would be swallowed in one gulp.

It was enough to make me wonder if Larry Ellison, one of the architects of the pre-event format, might have been having regrets as he looked up the course at the transom of Shosholoza. But I think not. Restructuring the America's Cup is his personal project. It's the opposite of the old days, when a single challenger would show up in Newport to try his luck.

After the race, Shosholoza navigator Mark Lagesse stopped by and said, "The team is upbeat. I'm a bit down because I think we should have won. But everything went well except the left shift. That's where we lost a five-length lead. We didn’t lose it on the gate."

Oh, the gate.

At the end of the first run, Shosholoza went for the port-rounding mark at the gate, gybing to get there. The jib was slow coming across, however, and the spinnaker did not fill quickly on the new side, which makes it harder to set up for the takedown, and the kite went shrimping. In a move unique to the America's Cup, the crew quickly (though not instantly) released the sail to be picked up by their support boat. It's not unheard of around here. In fact it has a name. It's a "tender drop." You can hardly see the tender here -- a rubber boat-- but that's the Shosholoza support team picking up the sail.

Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

"There are quite a few languages on the boat," Largesse said. "Eventually we just said, heck, let it go. We didn't lose much on that."

From what I saw, BMW Oracle had more going for it than just one shift. I'd still put my money on them every time out against Shosholoza, even if they don't have a fight song to match. Gilles got this rather nice shot today.

Photo by Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Elsewhere, China Team had episodes of looking not bad, and sailmaker/trimmer Sylvain Barrielle was upbeat. He thinks they're going to have some Shosholoza moments (my words) before this is over. He says, "It will happen."

Am I alone in thinking that China Team has the prettiest boat out there?

Desafio Español meanwhile beat up on Areva pretty badly in the prestart, keeping the French on the defensive and downspeed with the Spanish enjoying full speed and maneuverability. On the course they traded the lead a few times, with the French taking over when the Spanish team broke its spinnaker pole. Olivier Douillard, the guy who handles the traveler and also goes up the mast on Areva, commented on coming from behind: "You keep the pressure on and people make mistakes. We're happy to take it."

And here's an interesting comparison:

BMW Oracle and Shosholoza split at the start, with BMW Oracle going left and Shosholoza going right. But the American team quickly tacked to sail in the same water as their opponents. In an earlier start, Luna Rossa went left while United Internet Team Germany went right. But the Italians waited something like 4 minutes, 20 seconds to tack, and when they did they were behind. Something about the courage of your convictions, I guess, but they're the boat that most people would bet on to win that matchup, so I might have expected to see them attempt to do it mano a mano instead of buying real estate for leverage. Especially when it turned out the leverage was against them. Not that it ultimately mattered. They gained the lead and rounded the first mark ahead by about one second. Finish line delta: 50 seconds.

The background story (step over here, speak quietly) is the faceoff between the challengers and event management, with the challengers wanting to extend their series and event management saying something on the order of, tough luck.

It's festering. Yeah, that's the word. Festering. Not for the first time are big egos and big muscle colliding in the world of the America's Cup. Let's hope it doesn't become the story of the regatta. (See the web story on the home page.)

Now, with this many races on two separate courses, I can't keep up with everything, so I'm going to throw in the towel and paste in the press release of the day. Brace yourself. Here it comes.

Valencia, 22 April, 2007 - The light conditions prevailing at the Louis Vuitton Cup continued on Sunday but the gradient breeze proved just strong and stable enough for fair racing. One flight of racing was completed in front of a large spectator fleet eager to see America's Cup action.

Flight 3 started after a brief postponement in 8 knots of Northeasterly breeze. This flight should have been routine for most of the bigger teams over their smaller rivals, but this was not the case in many of the matches.

Most surprising was China Team which led Magnus Holmberg's powerful Victory Challenge team for two thirds of the first beat. They were then overhauled by the Swedes who proceeded to extend, scoring the highest finish delta (3:50) of the five races.

There was more upset for BMW ORACLE Racing when Team Shosholoza led the American boat off the start, again claiming the favourable right side. Paolo Cian and his young Shosholoza crew did a superb job fending off Chris Dickson's vastly experienced team and led them around the first lap of the race course, despite dropping their spinnaker in the water at the leeward gate. But in the closing stages of the second beat the South Africans were finally overhauled and Dickson then prudently covered Shosholoza to preserve the win.

United Internet Team Germany also looked strong on the right of the first beat against Luna Rossa. Behind the wheel of the Italian boat James Spithill engaged the German team's Jesper Bank in a tacking duel in the latter stages of the first beat to take control. While Luna Rossa led for the rest of the race it was by no means a walk over for the Italian team, who won by just 50 seconds.

On the south course, there was further upset in the match between Areva Challenge and Desafío Español when the French underdogs led off the line. They were eventually overtaken by the Spanish team who led round the top mark. But disaster struck on the Spanish boat when, during their first gybe, the end of their spinnaker pole broke. Although Karol Jablonski and his Spanish team caught up on the second beat, they were crippled by their broken pole on the run to the finish and Sebastien Col and has French team went on to secure an important win.

In the final match on the south course +39 Challenge gained the right at the start, but were unable to match the pace of Emirates Team New Zealand who scored a large win against Iain Percy's team.

With the wind going soft in the late afternoon, Flight 4 was postponed until Monday, when Flights 4 and 5 are now scheduled.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's the Planet

Being more or less (and mostly less) under way with racing in the challenger eliminations, and groping for yet another angle on no-race days, I checked on my home waters where the Singlehanded Farallones Race is being sailed today. And I saw that the NWS is forecasting winds SSW 8-15 knots as a front moves in from the Gulf of Alaska.

Folks, it's not Valencia, it's the planet that's off-sked. Rain in April is not unheard of on and around San Francisco Bay, but it's not "supposed to" happen.

Before she went on-staff for China Team, German photographer Heike Schwab went to Dubai for the winter training of Alinghi and Victory Challenge, "And it rained in December," she says. "People there were saying that it never happens." You know the rest. No matter where you go in the world . . .

So I hit the Media Center (oops, Centre) in the a.m. and already you could smell the fear. We're all running short of no-race-today angles, and here came The Voice of the America's Cup, Peter Campbell, asking, "What was that Jim Carrey movie where the same thing keeps happening day after day?" I sent him away thinking Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, and I'm pretty sure what the audience Down Under will be hearing from Peter Campbell. He's always on, but he's never topped his 1983 line, "Australia, you bloody BEAUTY!" That's Peter Campbell at work on Olympic Finn medalist and BMW Oracle grinder Craig Monk.

There being no pressure, given the prospects for nonracing, I committed my fellow scribes to the racecourse with a hearty vaya con dios. No regrets. Here is the official summation of the day:

Valencia, 21 April, 2007 - On the first scheduled weekend of racing at the Louis Vuitton Cup a large spectator fleet assembled on a sunny and warm Saturday to watch the action, but once again the wind didn't cooperate, and there was no racing. It's the fifth day to have racing postponed due to a lack of wind.

The challengers have agreed to amend the racing schedule to allow for the disruption caused by the postponements. Each of the Round Robin One flights will now be conducted in order and Round Robin One will be completed before Round Robin Two begins.

Fortunately, the forecast for Sunday is more promising. A stronger Easterly gradient wind should allow racing in Flights 3 and 4, on what is forecast to be a mainly clear Sunday.

Instead of going out, I took a look around the south wing of Port America's Cup, where work has been running a bit late. But it seems as if it will be ready for prime time when prime time comes. These huge and rather handsomely-faced structures that once housed the activities of the industrial port have been turned over to entertainment, infotainment, and retail. The public walkway is sandwiched between the big sheds and the moderne camps of Emirates Team New Zealand, Areva, Victory, Desafio Español, Germany, Mascalzone Latino, and China. Hmm. Wonder if Mascalzone team gear got a sales boost this weekend off their big win on Friday?

Looking back the other way, we open toward the main entrance to Port America's Cup. The banner overhead reads, more to do, to see, to eat. Dig the lineup of bikes on the left, one of many bike-parking areas, and the reflective face of the Emirates Team New Zealand compound.

Did I mention, this is not your father's America's Cup.

Back in the Newport Days there was also a VIP entrance of sorts, but it never had a name on it, did it?

Along the northern reach of Port America's Cup (going toward Alinghi, BMW Oracle, Luna Ross, for example) the work on the sheds was pretty well done months ago.

You can see that these sheds front the water, and the displays inside are really rather well done, the models especially, because they're BIG.

Here's the model of America.

Of course, if this was a Bobby Grieser shot the lighting would be perfect, but you get the idea. These people were admiring the model of Alinghi 2003.

The interactive stuff works, too, especially for kids. Want to be the guy who jumps the halyards? Start young, laddies.

But a real champion takes on the job one-handed with ice cream.

And this likely fellow wanted to prove he could hold it for as long as I would keep shooting.

Somewhat less attractive to the younger set, but a nice way of telling the evolution through years, a display of wheels.

And of course, there are seemingly limitless opportunities to shop for your essential America's Cup gear. Most of the teams have shops with cool-looking, logo'd clothing, but if you're smart you'll look for the leading edge, technical stuff made like the real team kit. Beyond the logos, there are reasons why these guys wear what they wear.

This is a straight-up America's Cup shop in the big shed. You won't find any technical stuff here, I believe.

So that was my sabado at Port America's Cup. There's more, but I'd better save it in case of, well, in case of the unspeakable. I'm a pretty mellow guy. I made it through nine days of waiting for my luggage without putting my fist through sheetrock. (After two failed delivery attempts I had them hold it at the airport; made that trip yesterday.) I can wait for wind. But there's no question that this waiting is taking a toll on the event.

Meanwhile, I like Valencia, not that I've seen much of it. But if I am open and friendly in my stumbling Spanish, the people are open and friendly back. There are things to see and things to do. My neighborhood in the old city is attractive and fun, though it's a shame that the neighborhood surrounding Port America's Cup is drab at best. Until now the port was industrial, so there was no reason for the neighborhood to blossom. A lot of my fellow scribes have pitched camp close by, for the convenience, and I understand the thinking. I've had nights when I wondered if the transiting was worth it. But I'm here until July, and I would fear a serious breakdown in attitude if my whole world was anchored inside the America's Cup Beltway, with a horizon line of the drab. As for thievery on the streets of Valencia--that's been in the news in some publications--I'll take that up another time.

Come June there's going to be a match for the America's Cup. We're going to get there, so let's end this on an end wall of the exhibit hall, presenting the question, how many different ways can you say, no hay segundo.
There is no second.—Kimball