Monday, May 7, 2007

Get Out of Jail Free

Why should "the best sailors in the world" have a get-out-of-jail-free card for crew screw-ups?

Victory Challenge pulled one of those "chase boat drops" on Monday, dumping 490 square meters of sail and associated strings in front of rival Desafío Español, and they did it suspiciously early in the rounding. We'd been watching the foredeck crew trying to catch up with some issues, but it's not as though they dragged the kite upwind and then dropped it as a last resort after paying the price.

The Spanish team popped a protest flag (having a spinnaker in the water in front of them probably dis-optimised their rounding) but they didn't file the protest and that's just as well. It didn't make or break their race, and how do you prove intent? Interpreting an incident like that is a Rorschach test.; an inkblot test. You are what you see.

Mind you, on these chase boat drops, I'm not scandalized. I don't do outrage well. I love sailboat racing more than anything, but in the end it's all horsefeathers, and these guys are welcome to set up their racing any way that works for them. Before the round robins opened, they agreed upon some additional rules regarding the exchange of right of way approaching a leeward gate (to fill in some gaps, they say, in existing ISAF rules). All well and good. They have chase boats, and so they have chase boat drops. But if sailing needs a dose of NASCAR (how many times have you had that conversation), can't you just imagine the footage when a drop goes haywire?

I'll get off this. I just want to make sure you heard me ask, why should "the best sailors in the world" have a get-out-of-jail-free card for crew screw-ups?

Muse of the day: At the America's Cup, sailing sounds like helicopters. Hope you don't mind the way I cropped it, Chris.

©Chris Cameron/Emirates Team New Zealand

Moving on. It was Victory's race on a day when they had to win. If they lose either of their races on Tuesday or Wednesday, they are mathematically eliminated from the final four. Sweden and Spain are the last two hopefuls for the fourth spot, and both face races against the top dogs. The odds are against both in those races, and yet, it was Desafío Español that handed BMW Oracle its only inflicted loss of the round robins (the loss to China Team was self-inflicted with gear failure).

If Desafío Español wins either of its races, they're locked into fourth, and they move on to the semis, where we wipe away the points and start all-new eliminations pairings. If neither wins another race, the Spanish remain ahead.

The boat on top of the leaderboard Wednesday night gets to choose its opponent for the semis. Everybody wants that spot. BMW Oracle has the points and the momentum, as of the last time I tested the breeze.

Victory Challenge grinder Ian Weighell offered some thoughts on the race and the series.

Quote Unquote Ian Weighell:

On the chase boat drop . . .
These are some pretty stressful situations.

On racing in a seabreeze . . .
In this range, 15 knots, if we can keep it tight, there are chances for us. Racing New Zealand on Tuesday is a real hurdle.

On the prospects . . .
The Spanish have to get one win, and we have to get two. The bonus points they carried out of the Acts just may hurt us, but we've known for years how the game works. Desafío Español deserves to be points ahead of us now. They've earned those points.

Elsewhere on the racecourse:

Chris Dickson on Oracle took his likely-bet win off Mascalzone Latino when some very nice, very close pre-start moves went wrong for Italy's starting helmsman Jes Gram-Hansen by about 1.1 seconds. You don't make a premature start, go back to restart, and then come back to pass the white team. That's the law. 00:57

Victory Challenge d. Desafío Español – fun to watch: 00:07

Areva d. China Team: 03:03

+39 d. Shosholoza: 00:50

Emirates Team New Zealand d. Luna Rossa Challenge: 00:36

And that's the other one that had everybody's attention. New Zealand strategist Ray Davies said, "It was mainly that Dean [Barker] did a good job in the prestart and pushed Luna Rossa, and we were able to win the first cross." On the upwind gains: "I don't think we had a straight-line speed edge, but there were a couple of tacks that we did better than they did. Without the advantage in the prestart, it would have been hard to pass."

©Chris Cameron/Emirates Team New Zealand

The starting situation presented quandaries, Davies added: "With the right side favored up the course, and the pin end [left] favored by 10 degrees, how much do you give up by going for one or the other? But both boats had the same game plan."

The opposition agreed that the outcome of the race was not dictated by boatspeed. American Jonathan McKee sails on Luna Rossa, and he saw the bigger, steadier breeze producing "a different kind of race from the light-air days."

Quote Unquote Jonathan McKee:

Compared to light air, shifts, and holes . . .
This was more bow-to-bow, not so much a wild card on the beat. If somebody had really been faster, that would have been it.

On taking a loss . . .
In the semis the races will be longer. It's not that this was an easy race for them, but on a short race the odds get better as you round the first mark first. This was about control. Positioning. A geometry game on a short course with a lot of time on starboard, and they were on the correct side.

On finishing the round robins in first place . . .
We don't have a realistic chance of that, but if you're not first, it doesn't matter whether you're second or fourth. The leader chooses an opponent based on their perception of who they want to race, and everyone here has a pretty good understanding of the strengths and weakness of the other teams.

Enough already. Here's parting thought numero uno:

On Sunday, after posting to the blog, and needing to psych up to write my interview of designer Juan K (you can find it at SAIL, I went out for a sunset walk that took me past Luna Rossa. And lo and behold, I had a rare sight'em, and it's only May. Picture escalators to carry the public up two flights of stairs to the entrance to the public area of Luna Rossa. Picture so many people trying to get in that there's a line, and at the foot of the escalator, there's a line manager. Sort of what you'd see at a nightclub where they allow only certain people in, or so many people at a time, which is what was happening here. And what's inside when you get there? A store. An opportunity to buy those 140 euro, Luna Rossa branded denim jeans I keep telling you about. If you want yours, you'd better hurry.

And parting thought numero dos: Do fish swim backwards in Spain?

In English, a favorite fish: tuna. In Spanish, the same fish: atún.

Now do something worthwhile. Go sailing. But not until you've contemplated the scale of the ACC boats, as captured here by our photogger of the day, Chris Cameron—Kimball

©Chris Cameron/Emirates Team New Zealand