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