Sunday, June 10, 2007

European Union

An eerily quiet day at Port America's Cup. Two NZL boats went out, but both Alinghis are in the shed, all through (or are they) with sparring against Luna Rossa. Time was, defender and challengers never commingled. But Prada-Luna Rossa boss Patrizio Bertelli is united with Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli in wanting to keep the America's Cup in Europe, so on Friday and Saturday, out went ITA 94 to spar against either SUI 91 or SUI 100. There were differences of opinion as to which Alinghi was out, on whichever day, and I'm not going to confuse myself further with that.

In sum, Alinghi got the best of the racing on both days, though some people criticized the crew work on board the defender. I don't think the details will matter, come the America's Cup match. In the words of Sir James Hardy, "You shouldn't read too much into it. Alinghi was sailing against beaten men."

I ran into Hardy at the Louis Vuitton Cup prizegiving, and he was grinning from ear to ear, having been Alinghi's guest aboard a spectator boat to watch the proceedings on the water and--unjaded veteran that he is--delighting in it all. In fact, there was quite a substantial spectator fleet out there, so who knows what shenanigans the defenders may have been up to, or not, in terms of using their best or worst kit and knowing they were being watched. They would have pretty good metrics on any sail combination they might fly—not necessarily their best and not necessarily their worst—and their goal is to get a guage on Luna Rossa in order to extrapolate a guage on the boat that beat Luna Rossa in the challenger finals, New Zealand. The boat they're going to meet in the America's Cup.

On Friday James Spithill and the A-team were on the water for Luna Rossa. On Saturday, the boat was in the hands of Philippe Presti and the B-squad. (For the record, Ed Baird helmed Alinghi on Friday, fueling speculation that he is the chosen driver, for the Cup defense, in a camp that has been run with a driver competition between Baird and Peter Holmberg.) Spithill on Saturday was freed for evening duty with Louis Vuitton, to say some nice words, as runner-up, about the Kiwis who squelched his shot.

Hardy, an unabashed Spithill fan (Aussies are like that) got a bit excited when his man took the stage: "Tell James I choked on my champagne again."

For anyone who just came in, let me introduce "Gentleman Jim Hardy" as an accomplished small boat sailor in his day, and then skipper of Australia's challengers Gretel II (1967), Southern Cross (1974), and Australia (1980). He was sailing advisor to the Australia II team that captured the Cup in '83, and in his spare time he was a pioneer in developing the Australian wine industry and establishing its position in the world market. Remember when nobody drank Australian wine? The knighthood thing happened in 1981.

And yes, I would agree. To watch an Alinghi beat up on Luna Rossa is all well and good, but, "You shouldn't read too much into it." I would expect to see a few more ripples cross the pond between now and June 23, which is Race 1 of the America's Cup match.

The night belonged to Louis Vuitton and Team New Zealand. Left to right, Bruno Troublé of LVC, Dean Barker, LVC president and CEO Yves Carcelle, and Grant Dalton.

And now I must sing the praises of the Louis Vuitton prizegiving dinner, held at the greenhouse, L'Umbracle, in the City of Arts and Sciences, the spectacular Santiago Calatrava architecture that has become the signature of the new Valencia. Many a time I've been through here, strolling and savoring, but I never imagined that I would experience it in this fashion. A feast set within a visual feast. Bruno Troublé was proud to point out, The table is 120 meters long . . .

That's a picture that ought to run HUGE. Let's try a detail shot. Thanks to the great Bobby G for the pics.

That would be Bob Greiser, no ordinary shutterbug. And it wouldn't be Valencia without fireworks . . .

Now I must ask, what's a home team worth ?

Italy fielded three Cup challengers and went gaga for the America's Cup. From talking to the Italians here (so many, many Italians here) it's clear that the defeat of Luna Rossa was a great disappointment. But they'll be fine.

Team New Zealand is a different deal. A national institution. Part of the collective psyche. They've pretty well purged the ghosts of 2003 at this point and are now free to race for the America's Cup and win or lose with honor. But if they had gone down 0-5 to Luna Rossa (Luna Rossa went down 0-5 to New Zealand) it would have been a national emergency. A dark night of the soul for every cab driver in Auckland who knows the meaning of footing to the header, or gybing on the lift, and staying up all night to watch the home team sail.

But how does this holy grail of yachting thing play in the US of A? The San Francisco Chronicle never got around to sending a reporter to cover the fortunes of Larry Ellison's campaign with BMW Oracle, even though Ellison has a house in San Francisco and headquarters his giant software company in a suburb to the south. The New York Times has the good services of Chris Clarey, who technically works for the Herald Tribune, and he's in for the duration. However, the Washington Post, which had veteran Angus Phillips on the case through the challenger finals, has noticed the absence of an American challenger. They've pulled the plug and called the man home. This, even though the Washington Post has enough juice to get Angus an invite to the visit of, and the dinner for, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Here is Tutu, meeting the sailors of South Africa's challenger, Shosholoza. I have to be honest with you, the SAIL Magazine blog did not make the cut . . .

Nonetheless, quote unquote Angus Phillips:

"I'm outa here."

Me, I find myself missing the days when there was still a Spanish team in the hunt, and local kids would swarm this place chanting VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA VIVA ESPAÑA !

Remember these guys? This is all going too fast—Kimball