Friday, June 29, 2007

The Gallipoli of Spinnaker Snafus

Kiwis, I hand it to you. I've seen and participated in some considerable spinnaker snafus, but what happened in Race 5 of the America's Cup match was a standard-setting intergalactic bell ringer, the Gallipoli of spinnaker snafus.

It was also the undoing of a strong bid to put the Kiwi challenger up 3-2. Instead, the advantage is now to Alinghi.

And to think it all began with what Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton called, "A twenty-cent tear" in a high-load area as the Kiwi boat led around the weather mark by 12 seconds. Then there was the quick-as-a-bunny crew work to try to get a replacement kite hoisted before that kite could blow but NO not quick enough, as we see in the Thierry Martinez/Alinghi image here.

The twenty-cent tear went platinum and the kite went to pieces just as the new one was ready to hoist and then the recoil, as the load released, tried to fling the bowman right off the spinnaker pole and while he was grabbing hold for dear life to anything he could grab hold of, the new sail went up—miscommunication? tack not tacked?—and became enraptured in the old sail and there were spinnaker parts flying everywhere. Spinnaker parts flailing from the masthead. Spinnaker parts trailing in the water. Spinnaker parts driving Cadillacs to Washington, DC . . .

They had to get rid of both sails to make room for a third, and that took a while, and doggies if the new-new sail didn't wrap. Can't win fer losin'.

As Dalton said, it's a situation that would be pretty hard to replicate and practice.

Or forget.

Ivo Rovira/Alinghi

Off Malvarossa Beach, Valencia: June 29, 2007

Race 5 removed any doubt that NZL 92 might be a sufficient weapon to win the America's Cup. It is that.

Let's revisit this thought one more time: About a million years ago, looking ahead to racing for the America's Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand's American tactician Terry Hutchinson predicted, "I think it will be about how they go against us in the light stuff and how we go against them in a breeze." In Race 4, Alinghi looked just fine in the light stuff, and in Race 5, New Zealand looked just fine in 14-15 knots—the alleged Alinghi weather—until they developed those technical issues with the big, bright ballooner(s) out front.

Even having the series tied 2-2 going into today's race was not enough to erase the thought that, perhaps, it was supposed to be 4-0. But no. What the sailors were telling us early-on was spot-on, that the boats are very close in performance.

Had the prestart been a boxing match with points awarded, the points would have gone to Dean Barker on the helm of NZL 92. Barker got beneath Ed Baird, driving SUI 100, at the first encounter, which was not quite a dialup, and with New Zealand holding Alinghi above the line, Baird ran away into the spectator fleet. Both boats close-shaved the press boat and a few more, then New Zealand broke off the game to lead back.

NZL 92 strategist Ray Davies said, "Our expectation was a good, even track, so the call was for Dean to take it to them in the prestart, but opportunities can change quickly once you get in among the spectator boats. Deano decided to not engage much more."

Leading back, Barker kept squeezing his opponent so that Baird tacked to port at the gun. Nowhere else to go. Barker kept going for a bit but soon tacked to cover, and then came a drag race to the starboard tack layline and beyond in that "Alinghi weather" and there was nothing in it. The broadcast technology showed a tiny port-tack lift on the right-hand side of the course, and maybe those 2-3 degrees were real, and maybe they helped New Zealand, inside on the lift. With Alinghi pushed beyond the layline, New Zealand was helped again with a bit of clockwise-wind going to the mark.

And then the rounding and then Gallipoli and then Alinghi doing its thing, adeptly, to seize and secure the lead and the win.

Dalton said that, from here, "How you react is the key to how you go forward as a team. You can make it the defining moment, but it's important that we don't."

And having written this much, I see that it's pretty much about how New Zealand might have won, but lost, Race 5. It's not about how Alinghi won it. Perhaps that's not fair, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But howzabout this Ivo Rovira shot of the tow home . . .

Ivo Rovira/Alinghi

The jury speaks, sort of

Once again, if you're up for the details of this mushy jury ruling re. emergency drop capability for the mainsail, check in with Tom Ehman at BOB. Anybody who could have once functioned as head of the challenger committee is a better read on this stuff than I could be.

Silver-frame Kores

I had a little fun recently with my friends at Kaenon, when they ran an ad touting how NZL 92 tactician Terry Hutchinson "chooses the original, the tried and true Kore. Our original award-winning design." And I just had to point out that the silver-framed Kore that Terry favors is no longer in production. Black, yes. Silver, no. Those same silver frames are favored, for that matter, by a lot of the sailors at the top of the game. I discovered they were un-replaceable when I lost a pair and went to the store and tried.

All in good fun, and I received a cheery note from Steve Rosenberg at Kaenon saying that, basically, the athletes love the silver frames but the bigger market does not. Here's Steve: "I have bean counters in my ear constantly, and while I tune them out most of the time, this was one decision where they got their way."

It's just like I said, guys, Don't wear'em. Save'em and sell'em on eBay—Kimball