Sunday, April 15, 2007


Even the big ticket, well-practiced teams are feeling the rush of time's winged chariot, but no one feels it like the guys at +39. They called us in over the weekend to announce a new cash sponsor, and in the background, almost taking over a time or two, was the roar of power tools—the afternoon shift of a 24 X 7 shore team working to repair their broken mast. If they made any effort to hide their frustration with the German team for their followup to the collision that broke the mast, or with their fellow challengers for voting to make their lives harder rather than easier, I missed it. So I guess we're launched. Coming out of Auckland 2003, Defender and Challenger of Record did such a good job of cleaning up the embarrassing hijinks and spying that the runup to America's Cup 32 has been eerily unruffled. Was eerily unruffled.

This was the scene on day two of Act 13. Now we're at the opening of the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger eliminations, and +39 is not fully recovered.

Carlo Borlenghi/ACM2007

Not that it's a big deal to the big picture. Just enough to build a buzz ahead of the Owners' Press Conference, where most of the questions from the floor were aimed at the "what next" interplay between those who do and those who do not want to put the next challenger trials on a circuit.

Larry Ellison famously does want to create a circuit, leading to a Cup match on a two-year cycle. Luna Rossa's Patrizio Bertelli does not. He argues that what sets the America's Cup apart is the special role of the defender in setting the stage.

I found it interesting that only 3 of the 12 men on stage raised their hands when asked if they favored a circuit on a two-year cycle. Ernesto Bertarelli was not one of them. But his tactician/skipper on Alinghi, Brad Butterworth, told me last year, "We think that making the Acts part of the event and worth more points would make the game better.” And in reading the New York Times online I find Michel Bonnefous, Bertarelli's boyhood friend and now head of America's Cup Management, quoted thus, regarding the Acts: "For the future we have to think of what kind of meaning we give to these pre-competitions. We have connected them to the whole system. Good, but it’s a little bit complicated. You have to do a critique. We didn’t find a solution this time . . . what we have learned is that the Cup could be run in a different kind of mood, with a more temporary and less secretive structure, with the teams traveling together . . . I think this could open up some window, so tomorrow if we want to do a competition over three stages in three different places, it’s possible. "

Being doubtful that Bertarelli and Bonnefous are far apart in their thinking, and having watched the Swiss defender deflect repeated attempts to draw him out on this subject, I interpret his refusal to raise his hand as one more refusal to be drawn.

Here's Bertarelli on the left, Ellison on the right, as captured by Carlo Borlenghi for ACM 2007.

It was Bertarelli, with the 2003 Cup going his way, who invited Ellison to become Challenger of Record, 2007. They cooked up this new-look Cup together, and I figure there's plenty going on behind Bertarelli's genial, just-focusing-on-defending face.

A few other points from the Owners' Press Conference:

Ellison declared his intention to be sailing as part of the crew, "every day until the last day we sail" but not at the helm "unless it's while we're having lunch between races."

Shosholoza and China Team both declared an intent to return.

One after another, different voices agreed that the pre-events had raised the level of sailing for all the teams and helped to tighten the competition by allowing new teams to test themselves against the top players again and again instead of—as in the past—discovering their failings while being eliminated. The same is true at the top, where defender and challengers have the measure of each other in a way that was never true in the past. That's why nobody is expecting a runaway match in June.

Areva's Stephan Kandler weighed in favoring a circuit and a two-year cycle, which is only about choosing a challenger. No matter what, the Deed of Gift states that the America's Cup is a match between a Defender and a Challenger. "The Acts are the best thing that ever happened to the Cup," he said. "They're the only way to attract sponsors because they're the only way to deliver a good return. It doesn't cost more to do that kind of racing because you're seeing other boats and learning from them [instead of doing all development in isolation]. What is special about the Cup is the myth and legend of the match. That won't go away."

Okay, let's go back to +39.

Interesting to visit the camp, which is noticeably downscale from the big-budget teams. Instead of a private club atmosphere on the top floor, they have sofas set up in an honest, open shed with a tin roof and the hospitality area set off by hangings of old sails, still with telltales dangling. A nice touch, actually. They're starting the Louis Vuitton eliminations with a 2003 mast borrowed from Alinghi, a three-spreader job rather than the four-spreader spar under repair, so they have to sew new patches, but otherwise the headsails fit, and so does one of their two mainsails. But fitting the new mast and adapting the rigging was a job in itself.

The mast broke in three places, and all the rod rigging was damaged, so this is a total rebuild along with new running rigging. In the heat of saving the mast tubing, everything else was sacrificed. Technical Coordinator Luca Devoti commented, "The ridiculous decision of the Challenger Commission is proof that somebody thinks we're pretty good."

And in response to the several of you who have asked, the luggage is still out there, somewhere, so I know what shirt I'm wearing to Race One.

With any luck and some more of Sunday's sunshine, the racecourse will be looking a bit like this view, with credit to Nico Martinez/Desafio Español

We're launched.—Kimball