Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now They Tell Us

On my second trip to Valencia I was summoned to a 9 a.m. press conference at the BMW Oracle compound whilst still deep in California-Spain jetlag, but I was awake enough to remember Chris Dickson telling the crowd that his team had just launched something radical.

So, right now I'm in pre-jetlag stress from packing to go back to Valencia for the long stand, and I'm not going to search through my notes for an exact quote. But I'm pretty sure that I'm doing Chris no disservice by reporting that he called USA 87, then brand new, "the most radical ACC design ever launched."

In the racing that followed, many people—and especially press people—followed every move of USA 87 looking for signs of "radical." The mast was pretty far forward, one of the features required in a tandem-keel configuration, and that was the buzz.

USA 87 did indeed appear to have sprightly handling (as you would expect of a tandem keel), but it was significant that the people sailing against it discounted the story. "Nothing special" was a typical assessment from the other teams as to what was under the water.

Now we have Michel Kermarec (an appendages specialist who works with "Fresh" Burns on the design team) telling press people things like, "there never was anything but a standard keel and rudder."

As Bill Clinton might say, Define radical.

As any veteran would say, Welcome to the America's Cup.

Photo by BMW Oracle

Also, now, we're beyond unveiling day and all the chatter about what was seen, and too much of that chatter focused on keel struts and bulbs. I suppose that's because it's harder to perceive, much less talk about, volume distribution. But in that critical quality there are significant differences in this box-rule fleet. Keels and bulbs come and go, and what was shown on April 1 is not necessarily what goes into battle. The top-tier teams are assumed to have multiple, measured keel packages, giving them a lot of flexibility in responding to either changing conditions or new discoveries.

Bruce Farr, part of the BMW Oracle design team, comments, “You can tune these boats quite effectively by changing the appendage packages.”

I suppose I should note that USA 87 is now the old-new boat in the stable, the one called out to race in the recent fleet races to keep the new-new boat (USA 98) and its performance private.


Tuesday, April 10, and it's airplane day for me, back to Valencia and this time for the long stand. I love flags, and I think you might agree that this, from Valencia, is quite a flag.

Is Alinghi really better than the challenger fleet? What didn't we see in the Funny Regatta just completed, with Alinghi, Emirates Team New Zealand, and BMW Oracle all leaving their new-new boats in the shed?

Monday launches the Louis Vuitton Cup, Round Robin 1, and the serious process of choosing a challenger. Gamesmanship? That will continue. The Kiwis, for example, can reasonably expect that they will make the final four without showing everything they've got, so we won't know what level of gamesmanship is still in play until much farther down the road.

They don't do much English in Valencia, so where did I put my pocket Berlitz ? ? ?