Friday, May 4, 2007

Chewing on the Food Chain

Luna Rossa would be looking sooo good, if only Larry Ellison hadn't come to the party.

BMW Oracle on Friday passed Luna Rossa just about where they always pass Shosholoza, up the second beat.

But, starting at the start: I'm pretty sure that Chris Dickson and his brain trust got the side of the course they wanted—they seemed to set up to take the left, and I'm calling it an even start—but there were a lot of small tweaks in the breeze, and they broke for Luna Rossa early on. James Spithill and his Italian team consolidated the early lead, but there wasn't much in it.

When these boats met in their first matchup, it was close all the way. Spithill threatened but could never break through. Now we had the shoe on the other foot. Could Dickson break through? It looked like this leaving the first weather mark.

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

And it looked like this coming back.

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Oracle made its first gains downwind. Navigator Peter Isler said, "We soaked down without losing much on the line. They saw the gainer and had to decide whether or not that rate of gain was going to continue. Their answer was to gybe. Maybe they hoped we'd go with them. We didn't.

"Obviously it was a boatspeed thing that we were able to get strong on them [that's Oracle team speak for gaining a strong position: Ed.] and force them to make two extra gybes. It gave us the gate we wanted and the side we wanted."

Dickson and company took the right-hand gate (looking up the course)and the right-hand side for the second beat. As they say, right is right. Luna Rossa rounded the opposite mark and carried themselves out to the left, pretty much on the same track that the pair had sailed on the first beat. Which makes it worth revisiting a Gavin Brady quote that I ran on Wednesday: "Luna Rossa seems to very comfortably split with the opposition and go for an advantage. When you sail with that kind of confidence, you're a strong team. I imagine Luna Rossa looks at us the same way, and we haven't really seen any weaknesses in them, but maybe some weaknesses will be exposed."

I'll let someone else speak to that, but I do know that on the second beat, Oracle was the first to tack, and I know that Luna Rossa tacked soon after that, and when they came together you could have fit two boats in between them. They still had some weather work ahead, and another spinnaker leg, but hindsight tells me that the door slammed shut right there. A delta of 19 seconds was the smallest in that flight, but no matter how much Mr. Ellison may have overpaid for what he's got, he's got something good.

And what I got from my morning chat with designer Bruce Farr is that the team expects USA 98 ("a middle of the road design") to keep getting better.

There's a bit more from "Pedro" Isler that's worth including. Asked if USA 98 is simply a better hammer (which I think it is), he had this to say: "In 12 knots and smooth water, these boats go about the same speed. So think about this. In a one design fleet, a good team is one that can stay close when it's behind and then make the moves to pass when the opportunity presents."

'nuff said.

Jaw Drop du Jour Honors to +39 for a premature start, and then turning left to sail across the bow of Mascalzone Latino, hard on the wind alongside. I didn't think they were going to make it, and they came away with a foul to go along with going back to restart. For Mascalzone Latino, every race is a must win, and this one—once they had cleared +39—was comfortable all the way to a 2:07 delta.

Careful What You Say Honors to Mascalzone mastman George Skuodas, on the backstay-abuse violation that cancelled their win over Desafío Español and cost Vincenzo Onorato a 10,000 euro fine: "We've been sailing that way for months." His explanation, they missed the memo.

Role Model Honors to the most improved team out there, Shosholoza, for a 2:08 win off Team China, which whipped itself with a premature start that shouldn't happen even in your Wednesday night beer can races. Once upon a time, however, Shosholoza looked pretty ragged, and they are the gold standard for how to raise a farm team.

As for the food chain, nothing happened to upset it. Try:

Emirates Team New Zealand over Desafío Español by 00:43 and over Shosholoza by 00:29 (the Kiwis dominating but not running away). Mascalzone Latino over +39 by 02:09 and over United Internet Team Germany by 00:34 (staying alive). Luna Rossa over Areva, 01:16. Victory Challenge over +39; 01:03, and over Germany, 01:18.

The Saturday dance card isn't sexy, but we do get to see Desafío Español go against Shosholoza and then face off against Mascalzone in the rematch.


To Tom Perkins for a new record. Perkins is bound from the Caribbean to the Med (and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in Valencia) aboard his 287-foot "modern clipper," Maltese Falcon. He sent this email to my homies at Latitude 38 in San Francisco:

"Just a quick note from East of the Azores. I'm happy to report that the Falcon has just broken the Cutty Sark's best 24-hour run. The Cutty did 362 nautical miles and we've done 380. I believe the Cutty's record has never been broken by a square rigger . . . until today. The wind's averaged about 27 knots and the forecast is for slightly stronger winds into Gibraltar, so we'll be shooting to break 400 miles tomorrow."

To Bernard Stamm for sailing out the Velux 5 Oceans even after the event fell apart around him. He had every chance of winning that thing again, even if he'd had the competition he expected.

To Robin Knox-Johnston nearly 40 years after becoming the first person to circumnavigate non-stop, for completing his second lap of the planet on Friday.

So, how many people have sailed solo around the world?


And my hat is off to every one of them—Kimball