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