Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Step into the Pundificatorium

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Halfway up the first beat, the story begins:

If the designers of BMW Oracle have been bickering over who gets the credit for a fast boat, do they now start pointing fingers at who gets the blame? In semifinal-round configuration, USA-98 is showing me nothing against ITA-94, upwind in 10-12 knots. Luna Rossa looks like a pointing machine, but with shifts on the course it's not an easy read. Maybe I'd better just call it even, which doesn't fit the hype and the huge media buy-in. Mr. BMW Oracle Racing Machine, is this all you got? Some of my colleagues will start burning the back issues of their blogs, the ones where you've already been coronated. And that start by James Spithill, wielding Luna Rossa like a master dueler with a magic blade . . .

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Two-thirds down the first run, the story begins:

Torben, Torben, you're a dog that hunts. What are you doing in that patch of the woods? Oracle's over yonder, and she's making trees.

This BMW Oracle boat in semifinal configuration shows a tweak of the sled downwind. We've seen the boat stall (easily). We can be pretty sure she doesn't have much grip on the water, and the water doesn't have much grip on her. Small rudder? We're not speed testing here. Compared to the dice game of race one this breeze looks stable, but it's not, baby, it's not. The tacticians are earning their day's pay and I couldn't help noticing that the mark-one spinnaker set was cleaner on Oracle. In fact, every element of the crew work looks good. They trailed by 58 seconds at the top mark, but I don't think anybody's rattled. Big gains late in the downwind compress the delta to 20 seconds at the gate . . .

©Gilles Martin-Raget/BMW Oracle

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Halfway up the second beat, the story begins:

OK, Torben Grael, five-time Olympic medalist and tactician for Luna Rossa, you called a textbook covering tack for your boy Spithill coming out of the gate. Early on, you bounced Dickson and company back to the left every time they tried to break right, and it's an oscillating breeze with oddments mixed in, and now you've left them loose on the left and there's way doggies more than half a mile of separation. You have the strength of your convictions, but so does Gavin Brady, doing your job over on Oracle, and the Oracle boat itself is looking stronger than it did on the first beat. I take all of it back, that stuff I said; if both boats are re-moded for the semis we still have a lot to learn.

But we have to come back together eventually, don't we. And lordy lordy forget about the leverage of splitting by more than half a mile, we're coming back together overlapped. Here's Dickson on port going for the duck and Spithill wheeling around to sit on his face as Dickson turns for the tack and, whoops, that becomes the equivalent of a dialup, doesn't it? Dangerously close for the boat on the right and that's you, Mr. Dickson, as both boats scrub speed . . . trying to keep control . . . ready to make the escape now . . . and here's Luna Rossa getting away with BMW Oracle deep bow-down and no speed (are they stalled again?) and building speed slowly so the Italian boat leads around the second weather mark by 14 seconds and gybe-sets but—they're ragged—the spinnaker set is slowslowslow and Oracle's spinnaker fills at the same instant and Luna Rossa drags a jib in the water while the white team is ticking like a fine watch. Girard-Perregaux?

Luna Rossa vs. BMW Oracle, Race 2
Approaching the finish, the story begins:

The breeze is deteriorating. Down to 13 knots, then 11. BMW Oracle is close to Luna Rossa and working low, then working up, then low. They can't go over the top because Spithill will carry them off the racecourse and dump them in the boonies. They can't go under the bottom either, because that never works. Then they're taking Luna Rossa high. Up. Up. Up. And wiggling back down. And wait. Luna Rossa doesn't have one single piece of their wind. This is impossible but—Oracle is through. You can see the boat accelerate. They've gone from behind and blocked to ahead and clear. They're winning race two and tying the series at one-all in an amazing comeback that has to demoralize the opposition no matter how good a game face they put on. There is no one aboard BMW Oracle that wasn't already one of the best in the world when they signed on. They've worked hard for years. Obsessively. They've used the time well. I've said it before. They are one intimidating opponent.

Luna Rossa is good. No, better than good. They could win this series (I'm not changing my bets). But no challenger team is as tough as BMW Oracle unless it's the Kiwis, and that has yet to be fully tested. Remember the movie line? "Come back here, I'll bite your ankles off!"

You can analyze the unknowns upside down and sideways, but BMW Oracle is the king of comebacks in the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup. Luna Rossa, you can run, but you can't hide. At the finish line, Larry Ellison is thumping people on the back and the adjective "happy" seems to apply.

Which Means

It's never over till it's over. People always try to come to conclusions too soon. It's not about one leg or one condition or one race. It's about winning five races no matter what the conditions and never giving up no matter how ugly it looks and now, for these two boats, it's about winning four more.

"Hard on the heart" is how BMW Oracle navigator Peter Isler described it.

Here's "Pedro" on winning:
You have to have comeback ability to win the America's Cup.

On Torben Grael's tactics:
It's completely maddening to sail against someone who won't tack or gybe with you [he didn't seem completely maddened as he said it: Ed] but when you have a big delta, like we had today, it can be good to split. Certainly our closure on the first downwind leg made the race for us.

On BMW Oracle's speed:
You try to come into the semis with the fastest boat you can get. We're happy to go racing tomorrow with the same boat we sailed today.

On the many observations that BMW Oracle made huge downwind gains, and is she just plain faster downwind?
Boat speed is in play, but we have been using the runs well. In the conditions we've sailed in, there have been many opportunities for the trailing boat to look superfast.

And here is Michele Ivaldi, Isler's counterpart on Luna Rossa, on the many observations that BMW Oracle made huge downwind gains:
They have been gaining from behind, downwind, in both of our races. I think it is a feature of the race area that the boat behind has life easer. You can't close that much advantage on boatspeed alone. On the first run they got two or three really good puffs that made our job harder.

On re-moding a boat during the semis:
I would not be in a hurry to make big changes.

On letting USA-98 slip through in the final seconds to the finish:
We were late to respond. We paid a lot.

On the racecourse:
The claim that the seabreeze in Valencia is stable is misleading.

Finish line delta: 00:13.

A final note: I talked to the top three designers of BMW Oracle(another day for the details) and found no differences among them and no bickering over where credit is due; my colleague Angus Phillips of The Washington Post, however, stumbled into a different story. Thus my comment in the opening paragraph. But that is his story, not mine.

In the other race Emirates Team New Zealand again did its thing to take a 40-second win off Desafio Espanol. Anything can happen, but the likelihood is that something very much like that will happen in Race 3, on Wednesday. You sure can't say the same about the Luna Rossa-BMW Oracle match, now can you? This is good stuff.

©Chris Cameron/ETNZ

On Shore

It was homies day for many of us here, with visitors showing up from San Francisco Bay. Something like 150 people traveling aboard a square rigger on St. Francis Yacht Club's commodore's cruise were passing through Valencia this week. A few of them ran into Paul Cayard at Port America's Cup.

And there was a huge contingent from Golden Gate Yacht Club, the Challenger of Record.

Here's Norbert Bajurin, staff commodore of Golden Gate Yacht Club and laison to the racing team. The GGYC visitors had a big day at the base and on the water, watching their team in its come-from-behind win. The trip is especially meaningful for Andrew and Jennifer Stewart—for them, this week in Valencia is a honeymoon. At the dockout for the BMW Oracle boats, all eyes were on the docks.

BMW Oracle hospitality is unsurpassed and the Moet is very good, but sometimes you need a helpful vantage point.

I was at Golden Gate YC last year for a fundraiser for the junior program, and the energy and enthusiasm in the room was incredible. The team was auctioning off team shirts signed by sailors, and they were going like hot cakes at $600 per. For the junior program, remember. As Norbert said, the association with Larry Ellison's challenge, "has really invigorated the club."

Yep, I was there. I'm a believer.