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