Saturday, June 2, 2007


I'll take Valencia, but it sure would be fun to hit the bars in Auckland tonight. Dean Barker and his crew on Emirates Team New Zealand just hammered their opponents something fierce and now they're up two-zip in the final challenger round and looking like a team that could go through Luna Rossa 5-0. That's not at all what I had been thinking beforehand. Nor is it a prediction. Yesterday looked different and tomorrow is another day. But the story was compelling: New Zealand in front but not by much and Luna Rossa throwing everything they had at the problem. You could have imagined this was not Race 2 of the challenger round but a final deciding race for the America's Cup with both crews prepared to cough blood. 23 tacks on the first beat. James Spithill at the helm of Luna Rossa buried and tacking to escape. Barker tacking to pound him. Spithill quickly tacking again and Barker extending a touch, building speed and then pounding Spithill again and Spithill immediately tacking again and again and when he finally broke it off the Italian boat had gone from one boatlength behind to three. Access denied.

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

How it came to that:

With both boats wanting the right side, Barker had the starboard entry in the prestart and went to the dialup but was the first to break it off, bearing away on port to start a loose dance that included—late in the dance—the Kiwis flagging for an umpire call on a port-starboard near-miss. Green flagged. NZL 92 never stopped turning, so, good call, umpires, and no loss from the Kiwi point of view because they had just forced Spithill to wheel hard right, away from the line, to avoid them. Then the Italian boat had to make another big, speed-eating turn to chase the Kiwis toward the line in an attempt to set a hook and push them over early. All they got out of that was a downspeed start in swampy backwash and a downspeed tack to port, to get off the hip of NZL 92.

One way to look at that: They seized the right, and paid and paid and paid.

Yes, you can lose money on real estate.

New Zealand (Davies again) "had a good rumble going" and made its matching tack with speed. As both teams would have known, making their start in 12 knots of true wind, the top mark had an additional two knots coming from two degrees farther right. To no one's surprise, the breeze would be 17 degrees farther right at the finish.

For a while Race Two looked a bit like a rerun of Race One: two boats heading out on a long port-tack board, except the left-right, windward-leeward positions were reversed, and the leeward boat this time was not going to get to a right-hand shift that would allow it to cross ahead. No, Barker on the left had pocketed a small lead off his better-speed start. There was no point at which Spithill could have picked that pocket or escaped his licking. Luna Rossa tactician Torben Grael lived with this for about eight minutes, then decided he had to try something before they hit the ditch (the starboard layline). Thus the tacking duel, per above, with NZL 92 making only 21 tacks to ITA 92's 23 tacks.

To be fair, the way these guys train, a 23-tack beat is another day at the office.

Make it a 25-second delta at the top mark.

Make it 35 seconds at the gate, with NZL 92 going for the most conservative of drops (clean and tidy two lengths ahead of the mark!) and ITA 94 making a last-minute decision to follow around the right-hand mark and dumping an emergency on the foredeck crew and ragging up the rounding. Nothing profound, but it happened. Make it a 39-second delta at the second weather mark and 40 at the finish with the Kiwis loose-covering for the occasional low-risk gainer and tight-covering the rest of the time.

That refreshing seabreeze in your face just isn't the same when the other guys already have their spinnaker drawing . . .

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

The man who engineered the new-look, back-from-the-grave Team New Zealand is round the world veteran and team boss Grant Dalton.

Here is Dalton's take on the day:

“They made us sweat for every meter on the first beat and they were close enough to capitalize on any mistake. In a tacking duel there are plenty of opportunities for something to happen, but the boys responded to the pressure. No hesitation. No misunderstandings. No drama. Faultless execution. They were just doing what we have trained for. The weather team and the afterguard got the calls right, and Dean’s start set us up for the win.”

Ray Davies went one step farther. He called Race Two of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, "One of the best days we've had."

For Race Three, the weather eyes are predicting less breeze—down by 2-4 knots—which in theory is better for the shape of the New Zealand boat. They switched mainsails between Race One and Race Two, and there was speculation that may have helped them on Saturday. The Kiwi team did not, however, join publicly in that speculation. What I'm waiting for now is something to remind me of why, not so long ago, I was dazzled by James Spithill's prestart skills. Methinks Mr. Barker has been schooled for this matchup, and rather well—Kimball