Sunday, May 27, 2007

Blood in the Water

If I'm in trouble, I'd as soon call a Kiwi as a cop. Kiwis have a way of getting things done.

If I want to have a good time, bring on the Italians. Those people know how to live.

That sets up a dilemma, but it's up to them to sort it out. Cup down under, Cup in Italy, if either can get through Alinghi. They've both spilled blood to get this far.

(Note: I'm going walkabout, dear reader, and I probably won't be updating until we're racing again.)

Come Friday, June 1, we'll have our Race One of the challengers' final knockout round, and we'll have a serious look at the next challenger for the America's Cup. We won't know for a while, of course, whether that's going to be the Italian boat with the Italian backing and an Aussie at the helm and a Brazilian on tactics . . .

Luna Rossa, ITA 94
Francesco de Angelis, skipper
James Spithill, helmsman
Torben Grael, tactician

Or the Kiwi boat with the Middle East (plus Kiwi) backing and a Kiwi on the helm and an American on tactics . . .

Emirates Team New Zealand
Grant Dalton, bossman
Dean Barker, helmsman and skipper
Terry Hutchinson, tactician

You've got your Italian flash. Even if it's embodied for the moment in a nice, wholesome Aussie boy on the wheel who never says anything colorful, Luna Rossa as a team has the bella figura that appeals to the hot-blooded Mediterranean coast of Europe. In trouncing the supposedly mighty BMW Oracle team in the semifinals, Luna Rossa took the biggest scalp, so far, in America's Cup 32, and by doing the job mostly in the prestart and first cross, Spithill et al set themselves up as quick-draw gladiators. Luna Rossa's Kevlar-clad base has style, molte Italiano, and Valencia is packed with air horn-wielding true believers. If ITA 94 continues to raise its game at the rate that shocked BMW Oracle, and if Spithill strikes fire in the prestart duel, these guys could get through.

Then you've got your Down Under can-do spirit. Every team here has (or had) a mission, but for the Kiwis it's a mission and a half. Team New Zealand is a national institution that suffered a public meltdown in '03 and served up the America's Cup to Alinghi without a proper fight. Skipper Dean Barker had come to the Cup game as understudy to Russell Coutts and was not directly/uniquely responsible for the failures, but he was publicly on the helm and has been living on a knife-edge since. Barker does not have an illustrious string of world championship titles or Olympic medals to argue his case, but he does have the solid backing of Grant Dalton. In Team New Zealand 2007, that's what it takes. New and revived, they've lost some races, but they haven't shown a crack yet. If sheer competence and an over-my-dead-body determination are the key, then Alinghi will be looking at some very beady eyeballs come the America's Cup match.

As ETNZ tactician Terry Hutchinson sees it:

On Luna Rossa vs. ETNZ . . .
The two teams have been racing each other for two years, and we've split our races 50-50. This match will come down to who does the subtle things well.

On defining the subtle things . . .
A lot of our racing with Spain was decided by who got the first lee bow. If you can come off the line on the other guy's hip and live there for two minutes, that's huge. And NZL 92 is pretty happy making lots of tacks, downspeed if need be.

On Torben Grael's loosey goosey covering style . . .
The Luna Rossa guys have been fearless with some of their calls. We're happier with a two length lead; that's our style. Our weather team gives us a heads-up as to whether to aim for a tight race or a loose race.

On the celebrated starting skills of Luna Rossa helmsman James Spithill . . .
It's not smart to put pressure on Dean to win every prestart, and when someone has the upper hand, you don't go for some high-risk maneuver and maybe take a penalty. At that point we're happy following them into the course.

On comparing the boats . . .
I think the score will come down to how we go with them when it's windy, and how they go with us when it's lighter. Their hull shape pushes them that way [toward liking more breeze]. Maybe 10-12 knots versus 14-16. The BMW Oracle guys tell us that Luna Rossa has definitely gotten faster.

Oh yes, BMW Oracle . . .

When you analyze their first-cross percentages from the round robin racing, the numbers aren't as high as you might expect. And comparing ETNZ to Oracle? I think we have a better team chemistry. It's one of those intangibles. You can't put a dollar amount on it. Even in the low times, people are still working as hard as they can. As you get farther into these things, the game becomes risk management, and I don't think we've peaked."

On the outlook . . .
We expect every race to be a nailbiter.

As if I have any nails left—Kimball

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Dickson Resigned, and I Got the T-Shirt

First things first:

The only reason I walked into la casa de la America's Cup was to doubledog confirm that they've taken down the pictures of Russell Coutts and Paul Cayard.

I've been walking past for a long time now, without being drawn in to look at a bank of black and white photographs of recent America's Cup figures. And I heard about the Coutts/Cayard disappearance a while ago, but events were on the move and I can't do everything first and you get the idea. But I was having lunch yesterday along with British scribe Tim Jeffery and Cayard (who would make a great yachting scribe but has a better thing going) and the subject came up and Paul said, "Yeah, they took us down because of the catamaran thing. I mean, they didn't call us up and tell us so, but that's what it's about."

Here is la casa de la America's Cup . . .

By "the catamaran thing" Paul meant the Coutts-Cayard plan to launch a grand prix circuit in big catamarans, presumably at the expense of anybody else's plans to keep growing the America's Cup as a "brand." Here is the main wall in la casa . . .

And there is something missing all right.

That's regatta director Dyer Jones, past commodore of New York Yacht Club, behind the reflecting glass in the image hung on the middle island. And if you look closely elsewhere you can see empty brackets for the hanging of other pictures. But on none of these walls do you find Russell Coutts, three time Cup winner and also the winner of more America's Cup races than anyone in history. For that matter, skipper of the team that won the Cup so that it could come to Valencia. On none of these walls do you find Paul Cayard, skipper of an Italian challenger in 1992, helmsman of an American defender in 1995, skipper of an American challenger in 2000, etc. Once they were here and now they're not.


I'm not alone in believing that the America's Cup is bigger than anybody's notion of possession and "branding." For all we know, the people making decisions about what goes up or down at Port America's Cup, Valencia, 2007 are fated to be mere footnotes in somebody's future history of the Cup, which is the history of the sport of yachting, which belongs to all of us. (And if Fish does another edition of An Absorbing Interest I wouldn't want to be the Valencia footnote under the heel of his boot.)

The America's Cup to me is an idea and a tradition as much as it is a piece of silver. It's not anything that could be threatened by a catamaran circuit, unless people manage to reduce it to that. Foolishness like this could be one tiny step in that direction.

Dickson Resigned and I Got the T-Shirt

BMW Oracle called a press conference today, apologizing for bringing us in on an off-day, but I imagine they felt compelled to say something. The gist of it was that CEO/skipper/helmsman Chris Dickson "today offered his resignation, and it was accepted," said the team's business director Russell Green.

The timing is the only part of that development that was ever in question. Dickson took this on as a top-to-bottom administrator, and the America's Cup is a stage upon which you go large or go home. Dickson did both.

The session meanwhile provided an opportunity for Russell Green and operations director Laurent Esquier to respond to rumors that keep popping up (not because of the internet, but the internet sure feeds the process) including:

Has Russell Coutts been at the team base this week? "No."

Is BMW going to sponsor the German team instead, for AC 33? "We have a relationship that goes back six years; BMW's executives were here last weekend, and like us, they are disappointed with the results, but the discussions were good."

Do plans continue for an ACC regatta in San Francisco Bay in September? "As we wind down here, our focus turns to planning for the September regatta. It will be sponsored by Oracle, and we're looking forward to it."

I accepted the freebie shirt they offered, so it's true. Dickson resigned, and I got the t-shirt—Kimball

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Team New Zealand gets the job done

Hard to miss the contrast between the Kiwi team and the Spanish team at the end of Race 7. There were the guys on Desafío Español, not exactly jubilant at being eliminated 5-2 in the semifinal round, but walking around the deck shaking hands, exchanging the satisfaction of beating expectations and taking a young team so far. Ahead of them, now officially advanced to the final challenger round, the men of Emirates Team New Zealand were taking it like another day at the office. They're here for the Cup.

New Zealand has a heavily-Kiwi crew, but their tactician is an American, Terry Hutchinson, who commented, "We try to flat-line whether we win or lose. You needn't expect to see us turning cartwheels because we won today. The feeling on the boat was pretty much the same as the feeling two days ago, when we lost. We knew then, and we know now, that we have a big task ahead."

I think I mentioned, they're here for the Cup. And should they get it back, I think we can expect to see a pretty traditional defense in Auckland, whatever events might take place elsewhere in ACC boats.

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Thanks to a reader here in Valencia, I am corrected on matters relating to the Challenger of Record, which formerly was BMW Oracle. However, with the fall of that team the functions of the office fall to the still-active challenger who was next to enter a challenge, Emirates Team New Zealand. The Protocol, Article 6.2. And whoever wins the final round (and the Louis Vuitton Cup) will go to the America's Cup as the Challenger of Record.

Hutchinson also allowed that maybe the strongest feeling aboard as they wrapped up their semifinal match was "a sense of relief." Everybody's used up. The drawn-out round robins exacted a toll that hasn't worn off. Hutchinson's wisecrack was true enough: "I haven't slept in about six weeks."

The other part of the equation is that Emirates Team New Zealand, while never lacking confidence, never took any step of the semis for granted. The whole world expected the Kiwis to get through the Spanish, as Hutchinson noted, "I think we were the only ones who believed they were going to take races off us."

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Race 7 was complicated by a swell left over from a strong northeaster (blowing down the coast from Barcelona-way) that prevented racing on Tuesday. The breeze on Wednesday touched 21 knots for a time but was down to 16 at the finish, and I won't find it strange if you find it strange that "the best sailors in the world" struggle a bit to sail their boats in this stuff. It's, um, not exactly a storm. But to understand the why of it you need only get out on an ACC boat, or even near one, to see how powered-up and alive it is even in seven knots. With 80 percent of its 55,000 pounds in the ballast bulb an ACC boat does not feel or behave like most boats. And this is a Version 5 fleet that was designed from the concept forward to be at its best in less wind and sea than we had yesterday on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

I should add, in this context, that the defender, Alinghi, took out two boats for in-house testing and racing in their separate sailing area. Having witnessed the surprising disintegration of BMW Oracle, they don't want to be next.

Race Seven

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

Karol Jablonski, the Polish helmsman of the Spanish boat, took the fight to Dean Barker and the Kiwis and looked good for most of the prestart, but not the part that counts. The critical late countdown found him locked out of the starboard-tack layline, beyond the committee boat, with the Kiwi boat crowding in, preventing the Spanish from either tacking away or gybing without a foul. It's called control. Barker let the clock wind down until he was well outside the count for a timed run (as long as your opponent is behind you, it doesn't matter how late you start) and made his turn at about 30 seconds. Jablonski had no move available except to wait, then follow. New Zealand crossed the line 17 seconds after the gun with Desafío Español two lengths back.

Inside the course, Desafío Español tacked to escape. New Zealand tacked to cover, and the rest was a formality that took an hour and 19 minutes to complete. Finish line delta: 01:18. Not that it was boring. Oh no. There was the sight'em on the first leg of Desafío Español taking on water and two guys bailing with blue buckets. Great shades of the infamous blue-bucket bailing emergency that signaled the Kiwi meltdown of 2003! Well, it didn't get that bad this time, but you don't want these boats taking on water, changing their stability characteristics, and perhaps launching into a cycle of cascading failure. Before they were halfway up the beat, the Spanish team had the issue under control.

Then, coming to the first mark, New Zealand took a big one over the bow that washed bowman Jeremy Lomas off station, carried him aft along with the mid-bow man and took the pole into the cockpit. Some heavy bandaging on the hand was required to keep Lomas in the game.

NZL 92 has a reputation as a light-air goer, but ESP 97 is definitely in full light-air mode, according to the Spanish team's former coach, Paul Cayard. Both boats held up fine yesterday, and I would imagine that everyone connected to Luna Rossa Challenge was paying close attention. The Italian boat—New Zealand's opponent in the final challenger round starting June 1—has a reputation for liking a bit more breeze than most of this fleet—Kimball

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hold Everything

Well, hold your horses, and hold your boats ashore. The wind screamed all night out of the northeast—downcoast, driven by a low pressure system—and the racecourse looks like a lump of lumps. The race committee has hoisted the AP flag over Alpha ashore, indicating there will be no racing today, so the Spanish team will have more time to think about it.

And you know they've thought about it.

Beating New Zealand.

It's not in the script. It can't happen. They're down 2 races to four in a first-to-five and the goal was merely to make the semifinals. Going into Race 7 (eventually) they're already off-script and over-achieving. But they couldn't have come this far unless they could dream about it, eh? Karol Jablonski on the helm, John Cutler on tactics, Luis Doreste as strategist and the core of what is, looking around the deck, a pretty-genuinely Spanish team. Jablonski keeps saying, there's no pressure on us to win; it's all on the Kiwis to not lose.

Me, I'm just here for a story.

On any given day, the odds favor the Kiwis, and anything can happen.

Monday's ADN Valencia gave Desafio Espanol the biggest chunk of real estate on its front page: El Desafio prolonga su sueño. Desafio prolongs the dream. Sounds as if the headline writer isn't exactly expecting them to whip the Kiwis either. But that was one popular Spanish win on Sunday. The day that completed the shocking fall of BMW Oracle at the hands of Luna Rossa.

Yes, "shocking" is the right word. Luna Rossa skipper Francesco de Angelis, helmsman James Spithill, tactician Torben Grael and their international cast of cohorts may have gone into the semifinals confident that they had what it takes to win. But I don't think they expected to achieve a 5-1 drubbing and lead at every open mark of the course. Their expectations of a stronger opponent may even have fed some of the looser-than-loose, play-the-course-and-forget-the-tight-cover tactics of the early races.

So it is worth reviewing two of the questions we asked yesterday.

1) If James Spithill on the helm of Luna Rossa can hand Chris Dickson his tail and dispatch USA-98 in six races, what's in store for Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand?

2) Might the widely presumed, highly touted superiority of the Defender eventually prove as ephemeral as the widely presumed, highly touted superiority of the Challenger of Record?

Rhetorical questions these, until June 1, when we begin to gather empirical data on the final two challengers, and until June 23, when Alinghi and the Challenger answer the guns to decide the future of the America's Cup, once so American, and now so far beyond grasp. We don't have to attribute all of his motive to patriotism (and we won't), but there is no reason to question Oracle oracle Larry Ellison's comment that hearing a chant of USA USA USA from the shoreline, during pre-event racing in Newport, got to him someplace deep inside.

I've been asked, but the answer is no, I don't have any inside dope on whether or not the measurers made USA-98 give up some internal go-fast component. Some people are asking the question because of all those measurer-queries about deflecting keels and the like, but the people who are speculating are the same people who were attributing the same to Alinghi just a few weeks ago. It's a grasping for explanation where, at present, there is none. The only word out of the BMW Oracle camp is unchanged from what we got at the end of Race 6: Luna Rossa got real fast, real quick. Larry Ellison's base is presently locked down in debrief mode, and I'm told that perhaps I can talk to somebody in a few days.

Ellison has said that he is staying with the program, and coming back to challenge again, and there is still an expectation that we will see ACC boats racing in San Francisco Bay in September. When I sat down with United Internet Team Germany boss Michael Scheeren on Saturday, he was disappointed that Oracle has bailed on making an appearance at the Kiel regatta in August—an old decision, not based on the semifinal outcome—but Scheeren was still very much interested in racing in San Francisco. BMW Oracle Racing, meanwhile, remains the Challenger of Record until the events of America's Cup 32 lay that role to rest.

I was saddened but unsurprised that a few people used the defeat to take vindictive jabs at the team or individuals on the team. Guilty of hubris? I reckon. Guilty of being richer than I am? I'm not even in the same star system. But in their overall operations, and individual-to-individual, they were/are a class act.

I think it's important to say these things. I won't be going on and on about BMW Oracle, I'll be moving with the times. But this much is necessary.

Or maybe I'm just bugged that I'm sitting here with an otherwise-viable interview of Bruce Farr and Britton Ward, who led the design development of a perfectly-viable hull, but I'm not sure I have an audience hungry at this point for an analytical breakdown of how they used USA-87 as a test platform—focusing mainly on stability and how that relates to turning, acceleration, and straightline speed—to eventually create a more middle of the road USA-98. My personal hubris was to imagine that, along about now, the interview would be not merely viable, but hot.

So, like, hi. How ya doing, Bruce Nelson? (He's head of a 22-member Luna Rossa design team.) Are you busy for dinner tomorrow night?

Most of the sailors refer to ITA-94 by the sponsor name, Prada, which was also the team name when Prada went all the way to being the challenger in 2000. But 2000 was the year in which New Zealand became the first-ever successful defender from outside the USA. Prada got walloped, 5-0, in the America's Cup match by Russell Coutts et al. In 2003, team boss Patrizio Bertelli threw a lot of money at the problem (does that sound familiar?) but didn't make the finals (does that sound familiar?) against Russell Coutts et al, rebadged as a Swiss team. Now, again, Luna Rossa/Prada is the darling of the moment.

So, no racing on Tuesday, and Wednesday looks iffy. Alinghi has offloaded SUI 75, a 2003 generation boat (not raced in Auckland) that was remoded and raced as a Version 5 boat, very successfully, in 2005/06. The buyer is Sir Keith Mills, who has announced a British challenge for the next time 'round, whenever and wherever that is. He needs the boat for training, and he gets the benefit of recent, if not the latest, ACC technology. Mills is also looking for a second boat for his team—Kimball

Sunday, May 20, 2007

5 to 1 by 4 to 2

Three questions scream out in the wake of the semifinal round, Race 6.

1) If James Spithill on the helm of Luna Rossa can hand Chris Dickson his tail and dispatch BMW Oracle in six races, what's in store for Dean Barker and Emirates Team New Zealand?

2) Could the widely assumed, highly touted superiority of the Defender be as ephemeral as the once widely assumed, highly touted superiority of the Challenger of Record?

3) Is ACC the most expensive "one design" class in the world?

Luna Rossa over BMW Oracle by 00:33, five races to one, and done. Luna Rossa advances to the final round of the Louis Vuitton challenger eliminations.

Desafío Español over Emirates Team New Zealand by 00:15, four races to two, and not done. New Zealand goes to the final round, probably, but not until and unless they win one more race.

In the cacophony that followed Luna Rossa's victory, I was surrounded by a sea of excited people speaking in Italian. There were only a few words that I understood, and only two that kept popping up, and they were spoken with a certain relish: "Dean Barker." The Italian fans, I think, have the idea that James Spithill might be able to hand him something. And those air horns are taking over. Until Luna Rossa went up 3-1, it was mainly a sendoff thing. On Sunday there was a din of air horns surrounding the entire passage of Luna Rossa through the Darsena, both ways. These folks had to find a thin spot in the crowd on the far side of the harbor because they had a special project. Quick, what's the only country that had three challengers?

Luna Rossa has raised its game in a dazzling way. The mantra in this game is that you keep improving all the way to the Cup; don't peak too soon. According to Chris Dickson, his most recent opponents improved everything.

It's been exactly 20 years since a US boat first entered a Louis Vuitton Cup final—to select a challenger to go against the defender in Australia—and for the first time in those 20 years, there will be no US boat in the finals that begin here in Valencia on June 1. We expect it to be New Zealand that meets Luna Rossa, but should Desafío Español defy the odds and win through against the Kiwis, the excitement here would go over the top. This is the Spanish team meeting the public after its 15-second win over New Zealand on Sunday. Monday is an offday, and the champagne was flying . . .

It's not hard to imagine rearranging a few events here, a few points there, and then USA-98 wins the round robin racing, chooses Desafío Español as its opponent, and things go pretty much as they're actually going, with USA-98 substituted for NZL-92 and the press still speculating about all that magic that Oracle might be holding back.

Instead we had one of those minor firsts on Sunday, with BMW Oracle and Desafío Español each going out early to practice prestarts against the other on a line set for the purpose. Maybe it helped the Spanish team.

And then--

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle
Sten Mohr was sent in to replace Chris Dickson on the helm, but there was no new look to the prestart dance. James Spithill chased Mohr around inside the box, secured the left-end start that he was looking for, and started at the pin, on starboard, with speed, while Mohr luffed to clear the committee boat on port. Luna Rossa tacked to cover, got the first shift, and did everything right from that point on.

Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Desafío Español vs. Emirates Team New Zealand
This prestart was a tougher read. It looked to me as if Dean Barker (and tactician Terry Hutchinson) wanted the left and were in position to force Karol Jablonski, helming the Spanish boat (with John Cutler on tactics), to get off the top of him and leave New Zealand with a clean, starboard-tack start. Instead, after Jablonski tacked, Barker followed and appeared to fall into a spot that he couldn't live with. He was slow, and tacked, and with that paid a price that may well have made the difference when the two boats came together up the course. Jablonski was in control and ahead early in the first leg and stayed there all the way around the track.


Alinghi has never looked anything but strong, but the same was true (once) of BMW Oracle. In six races, Oracle did not lead around a single open mark of the course. Could a challenger maintain the same sort of momentum that Luna Rossa has shown—and storm Alinghi?

The ACC rule has been jiggered to tighten the box (it´s not really one design, of course), with the result that even teams on a limited budget—helped by the reality check of an occasional pre-event—are producing fast boats. There are so-called one-design fleets that aren't this close. Umpteen millions of dollars deep into R&D, somebody calls the wrong side of a shift, or one component breaks, and it's the nail that lost the shoe that lost the horse . . .

BMW Oracle had the best of everything. Even Henri Lloyd's R&D for the team clothing was trickle-down quality, with different designs and fabrics for different specialties aboard—just one example among many.

In 2003, Larry Ellison's Oracle campaign was riven with tension, dissension, and skipper firings, but Oracle made it to the challenger finals before going down to Alinghi, which went on to win the America's Cup and bring it to Valencia. For 2007, Ellison put Dickson in charge of his program top to bottom, as CEO, skipper, and helmsman making even granular decisions. It seemed to be working, until it wasn't, and BMW Oracle came up short in the semis. Contrast: Francesco de Angelis, Luna Rossa skipper, started out driving the boat and then decided to separate the functions and delegate the driving. His next (likely) rival is Team New Zealand, where team boss Grant Dalton never was the driver, but as a floater in the crew has the same sort of big-picture overview, combining shoreside and on-deck responsibilities without trying to be everything.

Was it right to bounce Dickson off the helm for Sten Mohr in what turned out to be the final race? Oracle lost anyway, so Ellison could be criticized for that decision. But if Dickson had kept the helm and lost, Ellison would have been criticized for freezing like a deer in the headlights. When you're losing, you can't win.

In 2003, James Spithill was part of the hapless One World campaign put out by Oracle. What goes around comes around.

Twenty years after Chris Dickson arrived on the America's Cup scene as New Zealand's wonderboy, he has yet to win the Cup, and he goes down on the sword of the new Aussie wonderboy, James Spithill. But I bet it's been one hell of a ride. The history of the America's Cup is the history of sailboat racing, and it is populated exclusively by people who dare. Shrinking violets need not apply. It couldn't have been easy for Dickson to meet the press after Race 6, but he knew what to do: Start by congratulating Francesco and James for daring and succeeding. Thus far. We're still a full month away from the America's Cup match. And there are more people who want the Cup than can have it.

Quote Unquote James Spithill

On staying in Valencia last winter while BMW Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand two-boat tested in Auckland, and Alinghi did the same in Dubai . . .
As it turned out it was a good decision to stay here. The weather was good, and we accomplished our goals.

On making big strides . . .
A lot of credit goes to the guys who are sailing ITA-86. We've been fortunate to be able to put two good teams on the water, and they've pushed us hard in our training.

On the Race 6 start . . .
Torben was liking the right, but the pin was a bit forward and you have to like that. Then the guys started to see some stuff [up the course] on the left, and we made our decision to go for it.

On combining tight and only-slightly-loose cover in Race 6 . . .
In Race 2 [passed in the last few lengths to the finish] we learnt our lesson. No matter how big the lead was, the boys kept focus.

Quote Unquote Chris Dickson

On being replaced on the helm . . .
That was Larry's call. It's his call to make. And you have to give credit to Sten Mohr for stepping up. We call it a ‘hospital pass’ in rugby. It's when the ball is coming your way and you know you’re going to get hammered.

On watching the wheels come off . . .
We're a strong team with huge depth. We don't have any glaring weaknesses, but we got outclassed in a number of areas. Every America's Cup cycle is different, and what is needed to win is different. This wasn't determined by any one thing. Luna Rossa has improved upwind and downwind. They've improved their sails, crew work, windshift calls. A month ago you might have said that we had the competitive edge. Luna Rossa has grown.

On the future . . .
Larry is committed to continuing with the program. Me, I'll probably take the family to Disneyland on the way home.

Hey Roy--why don't you see that Chris and family get a discount. Tell the girl at the gate that he looks like this, but he probably won't be dressed the way he is in this shot by our friend Gilles Martin-Raget.

No racing on Monday. Spain meets New Zealand on Tuesday to see if Desafío Español can stay alive alive alive—Kimball

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Present from Jimmy and the Boot from Larry

Two prestart fouls and a red flag against Chris Dickson. Take one penalty turn immediately after the start. Meltdown. Shoo. You go that way because I'm going this way, but wait, before you go, I have a present for you. Here's your tail. I don't need it anymore. Sincerely, James Spithill.

"Thank you very much for your contribution. You are excused from further participation." What NYYC's straw hats used to say to rejected wannabes; probably not what Larry Ellison said to Chris Dickson by way of excusing him from the helm of BMW Oracle for Sunday's race. Or perhaps Dickson volunteered to step aside. There is no way to know at the moment. It's Sunday morning in Valencia, and the word just hit the street that Dickson will not be aboard USA-98 for today's race--a loss would eliminate the American-flagged entry. I am hastily updating my Saturday entry before heading for the boat and the racecourse.

In five semifinal starts so far against Luna Rossa's James Spithill, I give Dickson an even start on two and a loss on three. There's no boatspeed magic to fall back on, and that's how Oracle got down 1-4 to the Italian boat. Sten Mohr now steps in on the helm, with Gavin Brady assuming the role of tactician and skipper. Mohr has held the number one match race card in the world in the past, and he has been driving the B boat to good reviews since 2006. Like a stand-in called from the wings to substitute for the diva, Mohr has nothing to lose here and everything to gain.

Meanwhile, it comes to mind that many people have predicted the Dicko show would implode. CEO, skipper, and helmsman in a world where the in-crowd marveled that he had finally matured enough to hold a team together.

As if to ask the question: You mean, what everybody thought would happen, happened?

More later. Now let's return to our previously-scheduled programming.

Take Luna Rossa's fourth win over Oracle, add a fourth Kiwi win over the Spanish, and that's the story of Race 5, semifinal round, the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup. But if you're a glutton for details, we have'em. A little color too.

THE CROWD had been waiting, sitting in the Spanish sun, in chairs, some on the grass, some standing, and when the TV coverage came alive at the public park at Port America's Cup, they roared with approval.

When they saw their home team, Desafío Español, on the giant screen, sails up, ready to race against Emirates Team New Zealand, the crowd roared with approval.

When they saw Luna Rossa on the screen, sails up, ready to race against BMW Oracle, the crowd roared with approval. And when BMW Oracle drew foul #1 in the prestart, the crowd ROARED.

They hadn't calmed down yet when Chris Dickson drew his second foul and there they went again.

Hey, I'm just a reporter.

Having watched Louis Vuitton Cup races from several privileged positions, I decided to watch Race 5 ashore with the people. Out at the mouth of the port, just before the sand takes over and runs away up Malvarrosa Beach toward distant Barcelona, anyone can come to breathe the air of the America's Cup. So let's back up for a minute. First there was the excitement of the departure of the yachts.

Probably this is the last weekend with a Spanish team on the water . . .

The chant goes Desafio Olé Desafio Olé Desafio Olé . . .

And the crowd was out, all right . . .

From the Veles y Vents (architecture by David Chipperfield, and the name Veles y Vents is Valenciano, so don't let it panic your Spanish) you can see everything going by in the harbor, if you have front row standing room. This is also where they keep the America's Cup on public view . . .

Another level up, a few people get to watch from the Foredeck Club . . .

And here are my friends of the day, assembled out at the park to watch the big screen . . .

Really big screen. They got pretty excited when Desafio hit the line at speed, on starboard tack, after crowding New Zealand something fierce and forcing them into starting downspeed with an extra tack at the committee boat end of the line. I was suspicious, however, that Dean Barker, Terry Hutchinson, and the Kiwi weather team wanted the right-hand side of the course and had been willing to pay a price.

By then, Luna Rossa and BMW Oracle were already 10 minutes up the course, but those who had watched their start with a critical eye were still dropjawed.

Forget being surprised that BMW Oracle was vulnerable in this series. We're talking the Chris Dickson airshow (CEO, skipper, and helmsman--it really was too much) flying one wing low and trailing smoke.

Now, it's not over. I won't bore you with the platitudes, but they are also the verities. The sort of people who crew BMW Oracle are not the sort of people who give up. Luna Rossa needs to win one more race to advance to the challenger final round. Oracle needs to win four more to become a great comeback story. It's Chris Dickson's to take back. The sailors on both boats keep telling us, it's not about boatspeed, and I guess we know what's left. My fellow scribes are running around comparing comeback stories: Bertrand in '83 America's Cup. Cayard in the '92 Louis Vuitton.

The rich get richer

And we're not talking money.

OK, I'm ready to deal with Race 5. At the start of the match of the day we have BMW Oracle entering the box from the left, on port tack, thus disadvantaged. All season, however, we've watched Dickson and company being very good at neutralizing this disadvantage with perfectly-timed port-tack entries and a lot of speed, to make it across the bow of their opponent and then take the prestart dance wherever they want. Not this time. They couldn't make the cross, so they wheeled head to wind. Andy Horton, who handles the traveler aboard Luna Rossa, said, "Finally we got BMW into a dialup on port. That was on our check list."

It was a mother among dialups too. You want to be a match racer? Can you sail backwards? How long (this was a long one). Don't let the runners stop the main or you'll lose the boat—that's one of the jobs usually handled by Ellison, but he took himself off the boat on Saturday to see if a bit more muscle and hustle from his stand-in, Tony Kolb, might help the team. Maybe it did, but that's not where the race was, and Ellison certainly does not account for the 1-4 deficit.

Somebody has to be the one to break off a dialup, and this time it was Dickson. He broke away to the left, only to be matched by Spithill, who hooked a bow under Oracle's transom where he could force his fellow antipodean (Dickson is a Kiwi driving an American boat; Spithill is an Aussie driving an Italian boat) over the line early. Dickson bailed out of that deal with an attempt to cross his opponent's bow and gybe around him to get back below the line. He didn't make it. Penalty. Meanwhile Spithill had nowhere to go but to spin like the second part of Dickson's catamaran, and they ended up head to wind alongside and close. Too close. Dickson made a right turn, and his transom banged Luna Rossa forward of the genoa cars. Penalty, and that made two, and one of those penalties had to be cleared immediately after BMW Oracle crossed the start line.

Usually, that comes out badly.

I'm not going blow by blow through Race 5. Luna Rossa failed to make any significant errors and finished 01:57 ahead and still has led at every free mark of the course throughout the semifinal round.

Emirates Team New Zealand was right to choose the right, and they led at every mark of Race 5 to win by 01:49 and go up 4-1.

The semifinals, first-to-five, might end on Sunday, or they might not. Is there any part of "maybe" that you don't understand?

I'll be on the water. Gotta be there. Now dig this pic of people lined up to be allowed to ride the escalator up to the Luna Rossa store. Wow. They let them in as space becomes available—Kimball

Friday, May 18, 2007

Didn't see that train a'comin

The BMW Oracle machine had me convinced they had a better hammer. I think they believed it too, or they couldn't have sold the notion half so well to just about everybody in Valencia.

I came here expecting to see a final-round showdown between BMW Oracle and Emirates Team New Zealand for the right to challenge. I may have to adjust.

Mind you, in this game, you don't write somebody off because he's down 1-3 in a first-to-five semifinal match. But if you're investing for widows and orphans, you'd be derelict to not move some chips off 98 in the wake of Friday's 00:23 loss to Luna Rossa. Australia II in the 1983 America's Cup match came back from a 1-3 deficit to become the first challenger ever to win. But the Aussies really did have a better hammer.

Chris Dickson and the BMW Oracle team have a fast boat, the measure of Luna Rossa in the sailing we've seen, but James Spithill and the Luna Rossa team have done a better job of getting in front and staying there. To date, they have led at every open mark of the course; Dickson claimed his one win with a squeaker pass and a 13-second delta at the finish of Race 2, puffing his cheeks and blowing out a big one as he crossed the line.

The "urban legend" had it that the white team could always reach into the kit and pull out another tick of speed. I think that one has been laid to rest. If Oracle comes back to win, it will be a great comeback, one that you could almost say was wasted on the semis.

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

No, they wouldn't see it as "wasted." I reckon they have a few people rummaging through the kit, and they've shown no signs of panic. They're legal for one more re-mode in this round. Meanwhile at the Luna Rossa base . . .

Spirits are running pretty high. This was a bit of the sendoff on Friday. Each day, everybody gets an air horn or three.

Luna Rossa is run by Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli, who went all the way to being the challenger in 2000, then lost to a successful Kiwi defense. This is a seasoned house. But Friday's start by Spithill had no magic in it, and you still have to wonder about some of the tactical calls. Hanging with the homies after Race 4, I talked to Paul Cayard—he's doing commentary for Italian television—and he walked through two leeward-rounding scenarios that would have given Luna Rossa complete control of the second beat, he said, with closure: "Game over." Paul was comparing that to what actually happened, Luna Rossa making an extra gybe and a ragged takedown, then allowing a split of 1.7 miles. That's not a typo. 1.7 miles. Yes, they came back together, and there wasn't much in it. Tactician Torben Grael got away with it. But I like Dick Enersen's take: "Applying the tactics of desperation from a leading position."

These three folks were on the Luna Rossa roof, doing the Italian colors their way ...

It was a day with steady wind direction, but variations in pressure, generally dropping from a high of 12 knots at the start. Controlling the first leg was the key in both races (Dickson won the side he wanted in the prestart), and the breaks could have gone either way. The official delta at the first mark was Luna Rossa by one second.

Early in my time here I talked to "Juan K," Juan Kouyoumdjian, who allowed that New Zealand's boat "might have a speed problem." I also talked to Bruce Farr and Britt Ward, who were at the front of the design team, and they sounded like people who expected to be in the game for the long haul. The round robins were on, and Farr said, "The machine (the computer running CFD numbers) is still running. In our case we might race with something that's not even built yet."

That sounds a bit different from navigator Isler on Friday, "It sounds trite, but you can only sail one race a day. At this level there are no fancy tricks to make your boat jump out of the water and go, or make the tactician on the other boat do something stupid."

In the prestart, USA-98 broke a "flipper" at the end of a starboard spreader—a flattened vertical arm that helps shape the oversized head of the genoa—and was weakened throughout the race on port tack, and through tacks. But that probably was not the race, even though the leading feature of the first leg was a long port-tack board with Luna Rossa gaining on the inside to lead around the first mark by a whisker. Asked if team boss Larry Ellison would be making crew changes, Isler said, "There's nothing to fix. We just need to go out and post a win a day, and that's possible."

Quote Unquote Francesco de Angelis, skipper:

On seeing BMW Oracle brought to earth—
The great thing about this sport is that you never know what is going to happen. You have to earn it on the water.

On that huge split—
If you have strong feelings, you go with that. I think both boats had strong feelings today.

On tight competition—
This racecourse seems like an easy place to sort out, but it's not. And the more you shrink the fleet [to the final four] the closer you expect it to be. All the races have been close. They will go on being close.


Lots of schoolkids showed up today at Port America's Cup. This bunch was pleased to share a little ditty that ran, VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA !

I broke it off barely before getting bowled over backwards, apologized to the teacher for inciting a riot, and moved on.

With Adam Beashel back aboard (mangled finger), Emirates Team New Zealand did the job of adding another point to go up 3-1 against Desafío Español. But listen to Kiwi strategist Ray Davies on coming off the start line with the nose ahead by half a boat length: "That half-length lead is where the race was controlled from. There was never a right shift to help them out." ETNZ by 00:42.

Challenged to explain how the Desafío Español team keeps people motivated in the face of loss, their American navigator Matt Wachowicz delivered a little speech that was so good it drew applause from the press corps.


I can't really quote the man, but what he said went very much like this:

You have to understand, we're a young team. We set limited goals, and we accomplished our main goal. We made the semis. Then we sat ourselves down and set a new goal, to win one race of the semis. So we did that, and then we decided the new goal is to win some more. I think the New Zealand team would agree that we've put together a fast boat that is about the same speed as their boat [Ray Davies nods yes] and the crew work is good. We have some holes in our game, but motivation? Motivation is NOT a problem. The guys are up. They are just so happy to be sailing. They've never been in the semifinal round of the Louis Vuitton Cup before. We take the fight to the Kiwis every time we go out there, and we'd go racing right this minute if we could.

I want this guy on my team—Kimball

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Larry Factor

In an quiet moment at the BMW Oracle base, navigator Peter Isler was sitting with longtime friend and fellow soldier of the America's Cup, Malin Burnham, telling him that the very rich software guy who owns the team had been a critical factor in building team spirit. He said of Larry Ellison, "We were all on the edge of burnout after two years of speed testing. Then Larry dumped the office and moved to Valencia and brought this incredible, infectious energy, and pretty soon we were all fired up to go yacht racing."

You know this Gilles Martin-Raget picture was taken not in the last few days, and Isler was speaking of events in the now long ago, before the round robin racing. But it is an interesting take on someone better known for his jets and his business practices and his very big yachts.

I would figure there is some version of the Larry factor in play as BMW Oracle prepares for Race 4 of the semis, down 1-2 to Italy's Luna Rossa. There's pressure. But the fact is that all the top sailors have been hardened in the same crucible. They don't crack easily. Not Luna Rossa helmsman James Spithill, when he lost a squeaker in Race 2. Not Chris Dickson, who's been at this game for 20 years, since 1987, when he had a boat that was fast enough to win the Cup but not fast enough to earn the right to challenge.

Speaking of Ellison's big boats, here's USA-98 and Mr. Big, Rising Sun. Big is big.

Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Back to business:

It's possible that we are looking at the two fastest ACC boats in the world in the Luna Rossa-Oracle matchup, but that's just tossing out a "possible." You never count out Team New Zealand unless they put themselves out. And in all the workup regattas, the fastest was the defender, Alinghi, so it's also possible that what we're watching here is a bunch of lambs competing for a pen in the slaughterhouse.

Possible, even plausible, is the thought that if we see continued racing in 10-12 knots, smooth water, the Luna Rossa-BMW Oracle matchup will be decided on the starting line, where Spithill, a 27-year-old Aussie, has been living up to his boy-wonder reputation. What was that purple line I tossed off the other day? "Wielding Luna Rossa like a master dueler with a magic blade." Hoo boy. But it's true enough.

Race 4: All of us who have lost someone to breast cancer owe a shoutout to Donald Wilson, the Chicago businessman who made an online bid of $102,000 for a Race 4 ride as 18th man on BMW Oracle—the money goes to Susan B. Komen for the Cure. Worth knowing: There's a longterm relationship here. BMW's Ultimate Drive Supporting Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a grassroots nationwide fundraising effort in the USA that has raised more than $10 million to date. If USA-98 gets to the Cup, Wilson gets to ride again. You know where his heart is.

Competing Visions

My first America's Cup was in 1980, a New York Yacht Club affair. Buttoned down. Breton red. After the Royal Perth Yacht Club got away with the Cup in 1983, they displayed a penchant for holding ceremonial matters on the grounds of the club. The same proved true when the Cup went to San Diego and then to Auckland. Not so, here. La Société nautique de Genève has lake waters capable of supporting America's Cup racing, but not the sailing conditions to make it right and (I suspect) no place to build a Cup City to match what has been done in Valencia.

I'm not alone, however, in thinking that the America's Cup future could look very different. The defender's refusal to commit to defending again in Valencia, if they are successful here, suggests to me that this is Valencia's one shot unless Desafío Español catches fire and shocks us all.

Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli invited Larry Ellison to become the challenger of record, and together they developed the "Acts," the pre-event regattas that toured Europe with great success and which produced the bonus points, going into the Louis Vuitton Cup regatta, that put Team New Zealand on top and allowed them to choose the Spanish boat as an opponent for this semifinal round. The Spanish say they will defend in Valencia if they win the Cup. The Kiwis have been silent, presumably because they would come under great pressure from the home front to defend in a traditional, long event in Auckland, while simultaneously coming under pressure from fellow competitors and sponsors to play it looser than that. It's one thing to do relationship marketing in the close quarters of Europe (the BMW Oracle people say they expect to host more than 15,000 VIP guests, with more than 750,000 passing through the public area), but it's another thing to do it in the antipodes.

Ellison is on record that he wants to put the challenger trials on a circuit, a predictable sequence of events leading up to a final defense of the Cup. This is a vision of mobile teams, each with a base somewhere but operating on the road out of tents and containers, venue to venue. Among those heartily endorsing: Stephane Kandler, head of the French Areva challenge.

Among those apparently opposed is the defender, Bertarelli, who hasn't gone public, but apparently would prefer to mix modes again, while finding yet another host city. The closest he's come to going on the record is for his skipper, Brad Butterworth, to say, "We believe that assigning more points to the Acts, to make them more meaningful, would be good for the game."

Among those clearly opposed is Patrizio Bertelli, the man who built Prada into a powerful brand and who also is head of the Luna Rossa challenge.

When you ask Bertarelli about the Cup, he speaks of its "transformative power." That is, like the Olympics, the America's Cup transforms the host city by becoming part of it for a time, by inspiring public projects and bringing in money. That didn't play in San Diego, but in Australia, the once run-down town of Fremantle was transformed and invigorated, and it never looked back. Valencia is too big to be touched throughout, but what was once an industrial port now has something new and beautiful. The talk is, if the America's Cup leaves, they'll try to run a Formula One race right there in the Darsena, with a bridge to complete the circuit.

Any way you look at it, the America's Cup is more than a boat race.

What, a free day?

This being a no-race day, I see no point going to the port to confirm that most or all of the teams are sending out one boat for continued development. Nor do I see a point in checking with the teams regarding "the mood of the camp." They wouldn't tell me anything not intended for public consumption. The Isler quote at the top of this story was interesting to me because it came from a private, unguarded moment, enough so that I asked for permission before I used it.

No, I hopped the bike and wandered with the aim of eventually ending up on the Gran Via Marquez del Turia, a wide, tree-line boulevard where the Valencianos like to display sculpture--in the islands in the center--on a scale that, most places in the USA, wouldn't get moved around. The first show I saw here, two years ago, I assumed was permanent. Boy, was I wrong. Right now, until July 15, Arts in the Street, Arte en la Calle, is showing Manolo Valdés, a local who likes to work in simplified, stylized, female forms. This lineup invites you to stop and ponder . . .

But I bet Valdez would more enjoy this moment of life imitating art. One more picture, just hold your arm a little higher . . .

The show runs four blocks. Crossing the streets between them, I find that cars honor my presence in the pedestrian walk, but scooters do not. If I die here, squashed like a bug, it will probably be under the wheels of a Vespa . . .

Gran Via Marquez del Tura is one of those mixed-use streets that Europeans take for granted and Americans are trying to reinvent. You have apartments above and shops at street level. In the space of one block you can buy Prada shoes and a Gucci bag and celebrate a great day of shopping with your favorite meal at Pizza Hut. (Sigh.) No matter where you go. Then again, I once toured the villages of Tuscany with a seven-year-old, and I would have killed to see a Pizza Hut sign. Looking up four stories, I was intrigued by what appears to be a mondo-modern penthouse tucked away up there . . .

With a hat like this, a lady could own Paris . . .

Time to move on. Thanks, Manolo, and Arte en la Calle . . .

On my way to an internet connection I stumbled across the Mercado Colon. Valencia is known for tile and mosaic work, and there's some of both in this picture. There was an art class sketching it at the time . . .

And they don't even put out signs to draw you into the grand courtyard at the university, nor do they hang a sign to identify this as art. But I think it is. One carefully assembled pile of stones between each column pair, the full length of one wall, 12 in all. Hey, I'm no critic . . .

Now before this turns into the slide show from hell (I hope before) I'm going to call it done and make the transition from Word doc to up-on-the-net. Gotta go to the port soon for a small affair organized by our own Mr. Louis Vuitton, Bruno Trouble, at the Foredeck Club, for the Society of International Scribes. SINS. We meet formally at each America's Cup and have been known to convene at other times (quorum of two) in airports or wherever. I could tell you more, but then I'd have to kill you—Kimball

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pick a Headline, Any Headline

Having done a stint as a writer for the movies, I know the hit-with-a-brickbat feeling when the director tells you to go rewrite the script. And rewriting the script is just what we're doing now in Valencia.

Is the headline, "Luna Rossa Wins!" or is it, "BMW Oracle Loses!"

Each of the pairings is now 2-1, but the 01:14 Spanish win today in Race 3—winning the prestart, laying a foul on Dean Barker, and then doing everything right around the racecourse—has not dented the air of inevitability around the expected, eventual, advance of Emirates Team New Zealand to the challenger finals.

The 00:34 win of Luna Rossa over BMW Oracle, however, does change the picture. In the minds of many, BMW Oracle had built up an air of inevitability regarding its own advance to the challenger finals, and that balloon is bust.

The balloon, that is. The inevitability. Not the ability of BMW Oracle to win races. At least there's nobody suggesting they threw the race to add drama to the Louis Vuitton Cup. And you know what? I'm still not ready to move my chips off 98.

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

But this was not a fluke. James Spithill got the best of the prestart. He had Luna Rossa on the line with speed on port tack at the gun. His final exchange with Chris Dickson had left BMW Oracle crowding the starboard-tack layline, burning speed to stay behind the start line, and then pinching around the mark and starting downspeed. For a long way up the beat you could figure that Luna Rossa's small advantage came directly out of that. And then—

Working up to the top mark, ITA-94 was on the right of USA-98, and there was a right shift that gradually moved top-to-bottom the full length the course. That was gravy on the plate for ITA-94. The first cross took place almost at the layline, and the rounding was a 29-second delta. "No passing lanes" was the universal description of Race 3, and that was that.

Torben gets religion

Five-time Olympic medalist Torben Grael took a heap of criticism in the first two races for playing it loose, ignoring the keep-a-close-cover testament of the match-race bible in favor of playing the course. In one race it worked out OK for him in his job as tactician for Luna Rossa. In one race it did not. Today he acted out the words of the match-race bible like a true believer:

USA-98 gybes; ITA-94 gybes.

USA-98 tacks; ITA-94 tacks.

Get it?

It was a different kind of racecourse, and it called for a different style of play. Grael did not meet the press after Race 3, but I'm pretty sure that's the gist of what he would have said. This one did not have the wide-open randomness of race one, nor the puffy streakiness of race two. Did I mention, "no passing lanes?"

Nobody is better at finding passing lanes than Larry Ellison's BMW Oracle team, skippered by Dickson with Gavin Brady making tactical calls. And if there had been passing lanes, New Zealand might have found a way around Desafío Español.

Reverse the positions between Desafío Español and New Zealand, and I'd probably be reporting "another workmanlike performance" on the part of the Kiwis in getting ahead and staying ahead of the Spanish team. Instead it was Karol Jablonski on the helm and John Cutler on tactics in what, for them was a validation of their underdog philosophy of going out every day expecting to win. They won the race on every leg, after winning the prestart. Jablonski, asked what he'll be doing on Thursday (a no-race day) wryly replied, "Well, the original plan was to go out and practice prestarts . . . "

©Chris Cameron/ETNZ

About New Zealand's penalty. Full marks to Dean Barker for describing it simply as "an error I made." Many of us who watched that port-starboard incident thought it was a call that could have gone either way, but that's part of the game. You live with it and you sail.

Now here's a thought. After the vagaries of Race 2, BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler called it, "completely maddening to sail against someone who won't tack or gybe with you." Today, after the all-new, got-religion Torben sat on top of the white team all the way around the course (Andy Horton is in on the tactics aboard Luna Rossa; I'd better acknowledge that), I was wanting to ask Isler how he felt about that, but strategist Eric Doyle was thrown to the press instead. Doyle's take: "Today was more consistent, and they sailed as conditions dictated."

Numbers that matter

Number of races lost by New Zealand since April 28

Number of marks BMW Oracle has rounded ahead of Luna Rossa in the semis

Number of helmsmen showing up at the press conference

(We miss you, Chris)

Quote of the day

James Spithill, 27, helmsman, Luna Rossa, sailing in his third America's Cup, on losing a big lead—and Race 2—in the last few seconds before the finish:
"That was a tough one to swallow. A result like that could crumble some teams, but there is nothing you can do to change that result. The thing you can do is focus on the next race."

No racing on Thursday.

Friday, Race 4. Maybe further re-modes? Different sails. A different breeze?

Same writers. Oh well—Kimball

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Step into the Pundificatorium

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Halfway up the first beat, the story begins:

If the designers of BMW Oracle have been bickering over who gets the credit for a fast boat, do they now start pointing fingers at who gets the blame? In semifinal-round configuration, USA-98 is showing me nothing against ITA-94, upwind in 10-12 knots. Luna Rossa looks like a pointing machine, but with shifts on the course it's not an easy read. Maybe I'd better just call it even, which doesn't fit the hype and the huge media buy-in. Mr. BMW Oracle Racing Machine, is this all you got? Some of my colleagues will start burning the back issues of their blogs, the ones where you've already been coronated. And that start by James Spithill, wielding Luna Rossa like a master dueler with a magic blade . . .

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Two-thirds down the first run, the story begins:

Torben, Torben, you're a dog that hunts. What are you doing in that patch of the woods? Oracle's over yonder, and she's making trees.

This BMW Oracle boat in semifinal configuration shows a tweak of the sled downwind. We've seen the boat stall (easily). We can be pretty sure she doesn't have much grip on the water, and the water doesn't have much grip on her. Small rudder? We're not speed testing here. Compared to the dice game of race one this breeze looks stable, but it's not, baby, it's not. The tacticians are earning their day's pay and I couldn't help noticing that the mark-one spinnaker set was cleaner on Oracle. In fact, every element of the crew work looks good. They trailed by 58 seconds at the top mark, but I don't think anybody's rattled. Big gains late in the downwind compress the delta to 20 seconds at the gate . . .

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Halfway up the second beat, the story begins:

OK, Torben Grael, five-time Olympic medalist and tactician for Luna Rossa, you called a textbook covering tack for your boy Spithill coming out of the gate. Early on, you bounced Dickson and company back to the left every time they tried to break right, and it's an oscillating breeze with oddments mixed in, and now you've left them loose on the left and there's way doggies more than half a mile of separation. You have the strength of your convictions, but so does Gavin Brady, doing your job over on Oracle, and the Oracle boat itself is looking stronger than it did on the first beat. I take all of it back, that stuff I said; if both boats are re-moded for the semis we still have a lot to learn.

But we have to come back together eventually, don't we. And lordy lordy forget about the leverage of splitting by more than half a mile, we're coming back together overlapped. Here's Dickson on port going for the duck and Spithill wheeling around to sit on his face as Dickson turns for the tack and, whoops, that becomes the equivalent of a dialup, doesn't it? Dangerously close for the boat on the right and that's you, Mr. Dickson, as both boats scrub speed . . . trying to keep control . . . ready to make the escape now . . . and here's Luna Rossa getting away with BMW Oracle deep bow-down and no speed (are they stalled again?) and building speed slowly so the Italian boat leads around the second weather mark by 14 seconds and gybe-sets but—they're ragged—the spinnaker set is slowslowslow and Oracle's spinnaker fills at the same instant and Luna Rossa drags a jib in the water while the white team is ticking like a fine watch. Girard-Perregaux?

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Approaching the finish, the story begins:

The breeze is deteriorating. Down to 13 knots, then 11. BMW Oracle is close to Luna Rossa and working low, then working up, then low. They can't go over the top because Spithill will carry them off the racecourse and dump them in the boonies. They can't go under the bottom either, because that never works. Then they're taking Luna Rossa high. Up. Up. Up. And wiggling back down. And wait. Luna Rossa doesn't have one single piece of their wind. This is impossible but—Oracle is through. You can see the boat accelerate. They've gone from behind and blocked to ahead and clear. They're winning race two and tying the series at one-all in an amazing comeback that has to demoralize the opposition no matter how good a game face they put on. There is no one aboard BMW Oracle that wasn't already one of the best in the world when they signed on. They've worked hard for years. Obsessively. They've used the time well. I've said it before. They are one intimidating opponent.

Luna Rossa is good. No, better than good. They could win this series (I'm not changing my bets). But no challenger team is as tough as BMW Oracle unless it's the Kiwis, and that has yet to be fully tested. Remember the movie line? "Come back here, I'll bite your ankles off!"

You can analyze the unknowns upside down and sideways, but BMW Oracle is the king of comebacks in the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup. Luna Rossa, you can run, but you can't hide. At the finish line, Larry Ellison is thumping people on the back and the adjective "happy" seems to apply.

Which Means

It's never over till it's over. People always try to come to conclusions too soon. It's not about one leg or one condition or one race. It's about winning five races no matter what the conditions and never giving up no matter how ugly it looks and now, for these two boats, it's about winning four more.

"Hard on the heart" is how BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler described it.

Here's "Pedro" on winning:
You have to have comeback ability to win the America's Cup.

On Torben Grael's tactics:
It's completely maddening to sail against someone who won't tack or gybe with you [he didn't seem completely maddened as he said it: Ed] but when you have a big delta, like we had today, it can be good to split. Certainly our closure on the first downwind leg made the race for us.

On BMW Oracle's speed:
You try to come into the semis with the fastest boat you can get. We're happy to go racing tomorrow with the same boat we sailed today.

On the many observations that BMW Oracle made huge downwind gains, and is she just plain faster downwind?
Boat speed is in play, but we have been using the runs well. In the conditions we've sailed in, there have been many opportunities for the trailing boat to look superfast.

And here is Michele Ivaldi, Isler's counterpart on Luna Rossa, on the many observations that BMW Oracle made huge downwind gains:
They have been gaining from behind, downwind, in both of our races. I think it is a feature of the race area that the boat behind has life easer. You can't close that much advantage on boatspeed alone. On the first run they got two or three really good puffs that made our job harder.

On re-moding a boat during the semis:
I would not be in a hurry to make big changes.

On letting USA-98 slip through in the final seconds to the finish:
We were late to respond. We paid a lot.

On the racecourse:
The claim that the seabreeze in Valencia is stable is misleading.

Finish line delta: 00:13.

A final note: I talked to the top three designers of BMW Oracle(another day for the details) and found no differences among them and no bickering over where credit is due; my colleague Angus Phillips of The Washington Post, however, stumbled into a different story. Thus my comment in the opening paragraph. But that is his story, not mine.

In the other race Emirates Team New Zealand again did its thing to take a 40-second win off Desafio Espanol. Anything can happen, but the likelihood is that something very much like that will happen in Race 3, on Wednesday. You sure can't say the same about the Luna Rossa-BMW Oracle match, now can you? This is good stuff.

©Chris Cameron/ETNZ

On Shore

It was homies day for many of us here, with visitors showing up from San Francisco Bay. Something like 150 people traveling aboard a square rigger on St. Francis Yacht Club's commodore's cruise were passing through Valencia this week. A few of them ran into Paul Cayard at Port America's Cup.

And there was a huge contingent from Golden Gate Yacht Club, the Challenger of Record.

Here's Norbert Bajurin, staff commodore of Golden Gate Yacht Club and laison to the racing team. The GGYC visitors had a big day at the base and on the water, watching their team in its come-from-behind win. The trip is especially meaningful for Andrew and Jennifer Stewart—for them, this week in Valencia is a honeymoon. At the dockout for the BMW Oracle boats, all eyes were on the docks.

BMW Oracle hospitality is unsurpassed and the Moet is very good, but sometimes you need a helpful vantage point.

I was at Golden Gate YC last year for a fundraiser for the junior program, and the energy and enthusiasm in the room was incredible. The team was auctioning off team shirts signed by sailors, and they were going like hot cakes at $600 per. For the junior program, remember. As Norbert said, the association with Larry Ellison's challenge, "has really invigorated the club."

Yep, I was there. I'm a believer.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ankle Deep in Rose Petals

Not speaking of anybody I know personally, though Luna Rossa boss Patrizio Bertelli looked to be rolling in the clover on Monday after a wire-to-wire win off BMW Oracle in squirrel-cage conditions. Bertelli doesn't ride very often, and he chose the day, so far, to ride as 18th man.

The rose petal riff has to do with Sunday's festival of la Virgen de los Desamparados and we'll get to that much later. I'm pretty sure that Oracle skipper Chris Dickson wasn't feeling like a virgin at the end of yesterday's thumping. Yes, the racecourse was as squirrely as they come, but Luna Rossa and Oracle were lined up for a long time leaving the start line in 10 knots, more or less, and if Dickson was counting to win this one on boatspeed, there was no there there.

The 00:43 win of Emirates Team New Zealand over Desafío Español was pretty much as-expected and by the book, so let's get that out of the way first. Dean Barker on the Kiwi boat got the side of the course that he wanted and caught a few shifts, claimed the lead, and protected that lead to the finish. With tactician Terry Hutchinson riding shotgun, it was a workmanlike performance, right out of the textbook, but they had to do it on a racetrack where there was no book.

©Chris Cameron/ETNZ

20-degree shifts? We had a passle of'em. 35-degree shifts? We had at least one. 5-knot differentials in wind strength across the course? Piece of cake. A gradient wind blowing from the land, across the city, all chopped up, and the sea breeze banging in late in the race, so that even though the line has been moved, three of the four boats out there go from spinnakers to jibs to beat to the finish? That was race day one of the semifinal round of the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup.

Not once did Barker/Hutchinson deviate from the playbook of staying between the opponent and the next mark. Karol Jablonski's Spanish team, meanwhile, kept them honest, made them earn the win, and did the B-fleet proud in the prestart. As navigator Matt Wachowicz put it, "We know we're the underdog, but every day we go out expecting to win."

OK, the race. Once again USA 98 proved that she can sail in from the port end of the line and cross her opponent. ITA-94 turned to follow, and it was good fun to watch Dickson lead James Spithill into the spectator fleet for a bit of circling. I should rephrase that. Here's Oracle navigator Peter Isler: "We didn't go to the spectator fleet; the current brought them to us." So the gang on the Shosholoza spectator boat got a treat. But it was startling to see Dickson (not for the first time) spin hard and stall. Obviously there is not much boat gripping the water.

With a 10 degree right shift popping in, and 3-knot variations in the breeze, and a current running right-to-left, it was not a day to trust your computer to read out the burn time—time to the start line—and it was, instead, a day to trust your eyeballs and the seat of your pants. On that, I'd call it even. The boats hit the line together on starboard, with BMW Oracle to weather, and they headed off to the Left Forty. It looked as if Dickson and company were planning to carry Spithill out beyond the port-tack layline and hang them out to dry. There were small shifts favoring one boat or the other, but nothing much in the boatspeed. The layline prospect was there, Isler said, until a 15-degree left shift rearranged the geometry: "It was fortunate for Luna Rossa that the shift came when it did. We were less than a minute to the layline, but the leftie gave them room to tack. We were still feeling pretty strong on them when we went underneath, but there were microclimates out there and Luna Rossa got into this private windstreak—you could see the dark line on the water—that was like a line of tape on the floor."

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

It was Luna Rossa over Oracle by 00:52 rounding the first mark . . .

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle Racing

But they split going downwind and arrived overlapped at the leeward gate. The split occasioned quite a bit of tongue-wagging re. Luna Rossa tactician Torben Grael. You could charge him for failing to cover, or you could just figure that it's hard to argue with five Olympic medals, or you could let him argue his own case: "On a day like this, your normal match-race style of covering could go wrong. Playing the shifts and the pressure is pretty important."

But, Torben, you probably noticed that USA-98 went from 1:21 behind to overlapped? "We gybed for the angle, and they stayed for the pressure."

There was a lot of talk about comparisons: The Kiwis covering tightly as they could; Luna Rossa playing it loose . . .

I mean, during this race, there were 300-meter gains and losses in a matter of minutes. (!)

Coming to the gate, Dickson rolled in with starboard-tack rights. Luna Rossa gybed to starboard (no good options). Dickson made an aggressive move to carry Spithill past the layline. It was a high-pressure moment on both boats, but Spithill broke the overlap in time to turn and go for the favored, left mark. Rewrite the overlap, and you have a different race. Dickson was forced to either follow around the left mark or sail an extra 3-4 lengths to round the right-hand mark.

Quote Unquote Peter Isler

On not following Spithill around the mark that was closer . . .
We would have rounded four lengths behind; maybe it would have been more of a dogfight, but it wasn't a day when you could say that the left side or the right side was going to be better. On a day like this, all of a sudden, boatspeed is out the window and it's all down to the sailors.

On rounding the second weather mark trailing by 1:21 . . .
We were actually quite interested in the race. We were looking at a Star boat a long ways off with no breeze and thinking that maybe things were going to fall apart completely.

On that dicey game at the gate . . .
That put a lot of pressure on the crew, and both teams came through.

Finish line delta: 02:19

So: Tuesday, Race 2. First to win five races moves on. The loser goes home. BMW Oracle needs to win if only to save the chattering classes from an unsurvivable orgy of speculation. If you missed any part of that I could go back over it more slowly

Gather ye rose petals while ye may

It may have been Mothers' Day to you, but Sunday to the Valencianos was the annual festival of la Virgin de los Desamparados. Being clueless until the thing was all over, I missed the dramatic procession of the statue of the virgin, the traslado, in which "the lady of the forsaken" is carried from the basilica to the cathedral under a storm of flower petals. I did catch a different part of the procession, which goes on for more than an hour.

The streets were lined with chairs. Uh oh. Everybody's looking at me . . .

Everybody's looking at me ! ! !

The flag is ancient . . .

Of course there's no point getting the girls dressed up if we don't have family picture time. Young man, this is no time for your antics . . .

In my day . . .

Later, along the Calle Caballeros, I found the rose petals . . .

And the rose petal hoarders . . .

Quick! Before the petal eater comes . . .

It's not too late! There's more . . .

Lots more . . .

And why rush? We'll go home when we're good and ready . . .

Enough for now—Kimball