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