Saturday, July 28, 2007

Air. It's Not Just for Breathing, Anymore

With the America's Cup descending from superlative to squabble and my deck shoes only days removed from the streets of Valencia, I seriously needed an energy infusion, and I seriously got it by showing up for some kite racing on San Francisco Bay. Do you feel the need for air?

Thanks to Chris Ray for our first batch of pics.

The first-ever U.S. national championship for kite racing attracted entries from South America and Europe, and yes it was interesting for who won and how, but it was even more intriguing as a snapshot of a young sport growing in all directions at once. The hydrofoil-board is faster upwind, we learned, and the only reason it's slower downwind is that it's too fast. Is that cool or what? And no, it's not a contradiction, or not exactly. Read on for the why of that. Otherwise, the events that crowned Bay sailor Anthony Chavez as the first U.S. champion also demonstrated an advantage – in this kind of competition, at this stage of development – for what the riders call "directional" boards without foils. Here's Anthony . . .

This is the first time I've ever seen Sailing Instructions where the five-page SI's were stapled to 14 pages of the basic rules of racing under sail: when boards meet, room at a mark, penalties etcetera etcetera. When I say "young sport" I mean it.

Cabrinha Kites-sponsored Shawn Richman, a Maui guy who admits to being a bit of a freak at home because he kites instead of surfs, says, "Kiting just exploded; we need to establish certain parts of our sport; we need these benchmarks."

Richman, who plans to enter UC Santa Cruz in the fall, followed his kid brother, Jesse, into the game five years ago. Jesse also rides for Cabrinha and was leading the competition for a while – it wouldn't have been his first title; he started riding as a preteen – then finished third behind Chavez and Jeff Kafka. There was a huge spread in the talent pool, but once the fleet was split into gold and silver divisions, the look and feel made sense. Shawn said of the final day of racing, "There were 35 people out there, and everybody was doing something different, and I think now we have a baseline of what works and what doesn't. I've been riding a twin-tip [short symmetrical board] and a month ago I was doing great with that. Then I came here and got killed in the first three races."

Here's my snap of the brothers . . .

And here's Jesse relaxing between heats . . .

And I do mean heat, even though wet suits were required . . .

Shawn switched to one of Jeff Kafka's asymmetric "directional" boards for the final day and came away convinced that, for course competition, that's the way to go. You won't get any argument on that from Chavez, who shapes his own boards and has been part of the development of kite-course racing from the get-go on the San Francisco cityfront.

The point men for that development were Chip Wasson and John Gomes. Gomes came out of yacht club junior programs and traditional sailboat racing, got hooked on kites, and decided that he wanted to have it both ways. St. Francis Yacht Club is his second home, and the clubhouse sits just a few hundred meters downwind from Crissy Field, one of the great sites for windsurfing and kiting, and Gomes had no trouble three years ago in getting StFYC to experiment with putting kites on a racecourse. Obviously, that worked out. Local racing is in its third season, and for 2007, Gomes made it his project to take the organization to the national level. That's how he became the regatta developer for the first-ever US Kiteboarding National Championship -- sponsored by Wells Fargo -- and that's how San Francisco Bay became recognized by US Sailing as Fleet One. Gomes says, "Riders are looking for alternatives to freestyle competition; racing expands the scope."

Wasson acknowledges Gomes for trailblazing the way to recognition, and he was quick to acknowledge the support that the game has found at St. Francis. "Kite racing is suddenly an international development," he says. "It's impressive to have something so new supported by a solid backbone."

Okay, let's talk foils, because Wasson was riding one, as we see in this shot by Erik Simonson, and he was very successful on the upwind legs. Shawn Richman sums up the racing: "Chip would get to the weather mark 30 seconds ahead of us, but it would only take us 10 seconds to pass him downwind."

How come? It's because the foil-born board catches up to the kite too quickly, and the rider loses the ability to resist the kite and guide it through those big S-sweeps that generate apparent wind and more speed. Wasson at times was reaching downwind at higher angles than the competition just to generate resistance because "Falling is slow. We've shown that the foil can be better on some points of sail," Wasson says. "This gets it on-stage"

Inevitably there's a comparison to the foil-born Moth dinghy, but as Wasson points out, "The Moth has two foil points in the water. Riding a single shaft foil is a real trick. But we have a couple of developments coming down the road that I think will be, shall we say, interesting." The guy developing Chip's foils is Mango Manny at Carafino Foilboards; check it out.

And we can't leave this topic without a look at Erik's awesome shot of this guy on a foil-born kiteboard, not racing, just being a kiter.

Regular readers may notice that we have a little speed bump here. My America's Cup blog is morphing into something else, and it's a discovery process. I'm still thinking on a new name and a new mission statement. In the meantime, I was too (I have to say it) stoked by the energy of the kite racing scene to not put something out there. See you again soon, and as I sign off I can't resist sharing this little gem from the bug file: A bug that made it trivially easy to accidentally set your blog's language to Albanian has been fixed. If you notice that your blog's archives and other text appears to be in Albanian (and you don't want it to be), use Settings > Formatting to change your blog's language.

Nope. No problems so far—Kimball

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Do the Swiss Understand Baseball ?

If the owner of the New York Yankees became simultaneously the Commissioner of Baseball, would you feel good about fielding a team?

That's pretty much the question that Larry Ellison is posing as he contests defender Ernesto Bertarelli's plans for the staging of America's Cup 33, demands a renegotiation of the protocol and the naming of a new Challenger of Record, and threatens to haul the whole show into court if he doesn't get the response he wants. Nobody has more fun than us, eh? And is it possible that Ellison doesn't trust Bertarelli? Here's Ellison: "We believe that Alinghi has been designing their boat for several months now. But we can't begin until they tell us what the rule is."

So can Bertarelli get away with ignoring Ellison—his Société Nautique de Genève has not accepted BMW Oracle as a challenger—or will they be forced to the bargaining table to create a new protocol, or do we go to court?

The Protocol Governing The Thirty Third America's Cup
Part A 4.4: ACM may, at its sole and entire discretion, accept or reject any entry received.

So far SNG has accepted the Spanish Challenger of Record, Club Náutico Español de Vela (represented by Desafío Español), the South African Team Shosholoza (representing the Royal Cape Yacht Club), the British newcomer TEAMORIGIN (Royal Thames Yacht Club), and as of Wednesday, Team New Zealand (the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron).

None of those teams, historically, are entirely free of Alinghi's, um, how do we put this, influence?

Even Team New Zealand took money from Alinghi, soon after 2003, to get their program going again, and unkind observers wondered aloud if they would have trialed against the defender in the spring of '07, had they not been under an obligation.

Just in case you were wondering why a few unfettered challengers view themselves as being in a class apart.

One such, besides BMW Oracle, would be Sweden's Victory Challenge, where I find this posting:

Golden Gate Yacht Club and its BMW Oracle Racing have sued Société Nautique de Genève in the High Court in the state of New York, the court which has the right to rule on disputes regarding the Deed of Gift, the original deed of gifts pertaining to the America’s Cup.

But in its press release Société Nautique de Genève chose to refrain from commenting on the true dispute behind the summons: ”that Golden Gate Yacht Club asks the High Court to void the challenge lodged by Spanish Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) on the basis that CNEV does not fulfil the requirements demanded of a challenger in a Deed of Gift, to void the steering protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup which has been agreed between SNG and CNEV since CNEV is an invalid challenger and since SNG accepted CNEV’s invalid challenge on its own and created a protocol that eliminates the challengers’ rights and excludes important information about competition rules and conditions.”

Société Nautique de Genève focuses only on the part of the summons where Golden Gate Yacht Club demands that the court “rules that SNG accepts GGYC’s challenge and implements the conditions set forth in the Deed of Gift by, together with GGYC, creating a new protocol agreeable to all parties, and in case this fails, that an America’s Cup match is carried out together with GGYC in accordance with the rules set forth in the Deed of Gift.”
Bert Willborg/Victory Challenge

Ellison's legal challenge, of necessity, challenges the validity of the protocol and relies instead on his team's interpretation of the Deed of Gift. Coutts keeps saying he looks forward to getting back on the water (Bertarelli sidelined him this time around with an adjustment to the AC 32 protocol designed just for Coutts), but if we detour through the New York court system he'll want to have something else going in the meantime.

So I wonder? What does this mean for his proposed circuit of big catamarans, the one announced jointly with Paul Cayard? I "attended" the press conference audially, but no one asked the question I wanted asked.

On Wednesday as expected, Valencia was officially named the host city for a match in 2009, with pre-events in 2008 in Valencia and another European site yet to be determined. "May through July" was the designated time frame for AC 33. The plan promulgated continues to rely on Version 5 ACC boats for pre-event racing and "qualifying" with a new class of 90-footers for the actual match.

My, it wasn't just any committee that dreamed up this one.

Here's proof that the Swiss don't know what a fright Halloween can be:
It was also announced today that the Class Rule, the technical definition of the boats for the 33rd America's Cup, will be published on October 31st. The Competition Rules, with the precise format of the different racing phases, and the Event Regulations will also be published on October 31st.

Michel Bonnefous, CEO of America's Cup Management (ACM), said: "We are glad to announce today the cornerstones of the 33rd America's Cup, which should extend the positive trend for the event that was launched with the 32nd edition. As the Event Authority, we have now secured a venue that has already proved to be ideal and we hope to have set the elements to facilitate a close competition."

And now that Russell Coutts is out of the closet as the new CEO and skipper of BMW Oracle (yes, BMW is sticking with the program), it's put-up or shut-up time for the rumor squad that once had Alinghi tactician/skipper Brad Butterworth -— formerly Russell's right hand man -— bailing on Alinghi to join forces. I don't think they anticipated seeing these two camps at such loggerheads.

Anyone with half a memory will recall that Chris Dickson formerly held the title of CEO and skipper for BMW Oracle, and that worked fine all the way to the scene of the crash. While Dickson had a reputation for involving himself in every decision, Coutts in his public statements is saying that he intends to hire shoreside talent to free himself for sailing time and boat development, "the things I like to do and probably do best."

Now, after all the carping about Valencia and its alleged failings, I'm one toe deep in the twilight zone listening to the chorus of enthusiastic endorsements for coming back for more racing in Valencia, but it's the right call, of course. The infrastructure is there, and the sailing off Malvarossa Beach is actually rather good -- 2007 has been quite the year for weather anomalies; I'm glad I'm not in London just now -- and racing in Valencia is about the only thing that Ellison and Bertarelli agree upon at the moment.

Stop Press

I've got more on my mind, and maybe I'll be back with more, but the truth is, this is hasty pudding. I'm not entirely over the jetlag of a 25-hour door-to-door return from Valencia to San Francisco, and the sourdough is great but I'm still confused by the absence of tapas, and I have to figure out the future of this blog. I know that it's going to continue. I know that it's going to get a new name. I know that it won't be limited to the America's Cup for topics. And I know that I've got the web page messed up, and the only way to fix it is to start the process of posting, so that I can eventually find my way through to the repair. I'm going to get at it, and next time out, I'll try to be on-form—Kimball

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Last Man Standing

I'm resigned to leaving Valencia with one question unanswered.

Would Alinghi have dumped the old AC class—the one that gave us such thrilling racing this time around—if Team New Zealand hadn't given them a scare?

I believe Alinghi skipper/tactician Brad Butterworth 100 percent when he says that the sailors (at the top) are ready for a new type of boat. The other side of the coin is that these guys are talents, and the boat is only a platform, and the world around doesn't really care (and can't tell) if a different boat is 4.3 knots faster. Finally we had come to a point at which start-up teams could bring credible boats and teams to an America's Cup contest and put up a bit of a show. So what's the hurry to change boats, especially if there's a chance of racing again in two years in Valencia?

Unless, of course, you're designing the new rule in-house and giving yourself a head start.

The familiar AC rule was created in the wake of the big boat/catamaran debacle of 1988 and drew upon a confab of international naval architects. The process by which the new rule will be developed was not clarified in last week's press conference, but I got the distinct impression that Alinghi has the task in hand and I needn't worry my pretty little head about it.

So I won't. As near as I can tell, I'm the last man standing in the press corps, and that's possibly the last dog swinging from the lamppost yonder, and America's Cup history is rife with examples of defenders finding ways to give themselves an edge. There's nothing new there.

Granted, things may not be as black as I'm painting them, but assailing the defender is another of the grand traditions of the America's Cup. Those of us whose memories reach all the way back to Newport (we few) have our obligations.

The masts are down on both Alinghi boats, and the base is empty empty empty. The team has gone off to Switzerland with the Cup, for a well-earned celebration, and I note that Sunday was the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Deed of Gift by George Schuyler, who kicked off this whole stream of events by deeding the schooner America's trophy "for friendly competition between foreign countries."

Team New Zealand is equally empty. They had a wind-down barbeque (on Friday, I think?) for family and friends, but I wasn't there (ETNZ, outside of press conferences, talked only to Kiwi journos, or by special appointment, and after Race 7 they locked down hard) so I can't tell you about it except that it was a lot more sedate than the Alinghi victory party.

Over the weekend Jim Hardy (Sir James to me) came around to kill some time while he waited for his airport connection, and we got to talking about how hard it must be now for the New Zealand team. It's not as though they were overwhelmed. They were close enough to taste winning, and part of the mindset of a competitor is to wake up in the morning believing that you're going to win. Losing takes adjustment. Jim said, "At the end of the racing in 1970, I stood at the wheel and I couldn't lift my arms. I had really believed we were going to beat Intrepid and the weight of that just took over. I could not lift my arms."

Kudos to Team New Zealand skipper/helmsman Dean Barker for attending every press conference following a race that he lost. [further preachy soapbox editorial about other people deleted deleted deleted]

Two nights after Alinghi secured the win, I was at The Docks (a restaurant with a different name, but known thus to sailors) and wound up taking post-dinner refreshment with someone who runs one of the former challenger teams (I did not ask permission to say the name, and between the hours of 0100 and 0300, a man has a right to assume his privacy, but I will say that he has no association with any U.S. team), and this fellow was not at all happy with the performance of America's Cup Management over the course of AC 32. To paraphrase, they're newbies, and they’re learning as they go, so they're grabbing every crumb that goes by rather than pursuing a vision of what could be. This individual was likewise underwhelmed by the number of challengers that have become beholden to the defender, generally by taking some form of funding from him, thus ceding a degree of independence. He had a phrase for those teams, but unless you're into breeding dogs you might find it indelicate.

He would know better than I. But even down here in the press gallery I can see that the superyacht regatta should have been in Valencia, not Palma. Just because those guys can afford to pay any price imaginable doesn't mean they will cheerfully take a gouging. So there was space in the superyacht harbor and there were last-minute discounts. And it was patently ridiculous (for example) for ACM to insist (for "branding" purposes) that participants in the Oyster class rally/regatta lower their Oyster fleet pennants before entering America's Cup Harbor. What you do, gents, is send the ACM photographers down, shoot the Oyster pennants flying in the harbor, and use those images to show the sailing world that, yes, this is the center of your world and you should be here too.

Enough. I will assume until it's proved otherwise that ACM can learn. Individually the people come off well enough, but apparently something happens when they call a meeting. Then there's the fact that a lot of things were done right, and the press facilities not only offered everything needed but were staffed by a wonderful group of people who went the extra mile day after day. I walked around, shook hands, and said my thanks to them, but it wasn't enough.

So here we are. Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli has carved himself a big place in the America's Cup story. He revolutionized the game by buying a winning team rather than growing a farm team. Then he revolutionized the game again by introducing pre-event racing, reintroducing fleet racing, dropping nationality requirements, and taking control of the challenger selection racing. With the 90-foot class he's taken another big step. The people I know who are least thrilled with it are professional sailors who thought they saw Cup racing on a secure growth arc, and now they're not so sure.

Okay, Mr. Bertarelli. Show us.

So long for a little while

I love my job.

Don't tell my boss, or I'm hosed, but I've enjoyed doing this daily column even if it's called a blog and even if Got Live was just a drivel of nonsense tossed on top in a hurry.

I have a magazine deadline to meet while I remain comfortably ensconced in my apartment in the old city of Valencia. It beats writing in airports, and besides, I like it here. Today is the Festival of the Virgin of Carmen, and I'm working, not festing, but that doesn't mean I can't decorate. I love flags, and the bandera de Valencia is a flag among flags. Calle del Editor Cabrerizo is too narrow and short for me to stand back very far, but guess which balcony is SAIL-Valencia . . .

Soon I'm going to Bilbao and around on a walkabout, and toward the end of the month, in case I'm still employed, I'm boarding a plane for California. But I get the idea that the home office wants this blog to continue in some form. I think that's an intriguing idea. We haven't figured out the details, or how often such a thing would appear, or what we might call it. But if you're looking for a fix, do drop by farther down the road, and we'll see what we can do for you.

And as always, if you're out sailing, when somebody says
HEADS UP! put your head down—Kimball

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Life at Ninety (feet)

Forgive my lack of outrage.

Or if not outrage, indignation, or, something. If you're looking for that, check yourself into just about any other sailing site, forum, or asylum online and I bet you'll get a dose.

Not here. No way. I am privileged to have a front-row seat at the greatest circus on earth, my earth anyway, the America's Cup. And love'em or hate'em, the defenders today released documents and announced intentions that go a long way toward guaranteeing my gainful employment (no comments, don't even think about it; and by the way, I've probably got another one or two of these columns in me, so drop back in on Monday or so) for the next few years.

We're talking a concentration of power, expansion of the monetization of the Cup, a dynamic new 90-foot class that will thrill all of us and doubly challenge the upstarts—in short, ample fust for the fustigation. And no, we do not yet know where or when the next Cup match will be.

Alinghi has grandly shouldered the traditions of self-interest in the face of slings and arrows, a tradition that was launched by a very different set of defenders in 1870, and which has been honored since with a consistency wondrous to behold.

These are the same successful defenders who, a few days ago, celebrated LOUDLY and all but flung the Cup around but did not share the moment or the stage of the press conference with the challenger whose performance had made America's Cup 32 such a stirring contest. That would have been nice, but what is nice?

We characterized the recent match as a battle for the future of the Cup, with the Kiwis on the side of tradition. My read on the 5-2 scoreline is that New Zealand could have won, but they lost, and if we sailed it again there would be something like a 90 percent chance of the same outcome.

If you don't like the way things are done around here, there's one thing you can do about it. Alinghi team boss Ernesto Bertarelli said something recently that I can't quote to the letter, but I've got the gist of it right here: "The beautiful thing about the America's Cup is that, when you win it, you can do what you want."

He means, of course, subject to the Deed of Gift, and given an agreeable Challenger of Record, which he appears to have in the Spanish team, which has formed a yacht club for the purpose of the challenge.

Using that sort of "yacht club" has outraged a few people, but the fact is that yacht clubs are not a fit at all in the new reality of America's Cup competition. They're built in by the Deed of Gift, but the power of any challenging club has been so fully and repeatedly circumvented, by special agreements protecting the interested parties, that a club burgee is merely a necessary window dressing for the people who are really running things. Bemoan that fate if you will. I'm already on the other side of the river, and I'm not swimming through the floating carcasses to get back.

Those 90 footers

Our friends today were vague regarding the details of the new ACC class, though I'm sure that it is already closely refined. They do in fact sound exciting for the sailors and probably good for public interest. They'll be 11 feet longer than the existing boats (which will still be used for pre-event racing), and one suspects they will look markedly different from the plank-on-edge thingies that have developed over the last 101 ACC builds.

Oh yes. There is a 101. Team Germany started building a new boat while the last round of racing was under way. I hope they like their new boat.

Alinghi skipper/tactician Brad Butterworth mentioned sliding keels, which also are referenced in the Protocol. That merely means the keel can be lifted for shallow harbors. These are going to be deep-deep-draft boats, and they will need that. But forget about the complications of canting keels, a good decision in my book.

Between Butterworth and Alinghi general counsel Hamish Ross, there appeared to be a desire to cast the boat-type decision as something last minute, or at least very, very recent. That helps keep things vague. When I asked about the recent sale of SUI 75 to Britain's new TeamOrigin challenge, Ross said from the podium that the team had not known about the new class at the time of the sale. He chased me down later to modify that, and some time later, ACM distributed "quotes of the day" including this legalish sentence attributed to Ernesto Bertarelli, who was not present at the press conference: "Team Origin were made aware of the possibility of the class change before they bought SUI 75 and there is a clause in the contract that states this possibility." As Ross said, "They'll need it for the pre-event racing anyway."

And those pre-events are now being cast as qualifying regattas, which, on the face of it, could place yet another obstacle in the way of startup teams looking for sponsorship. If you can't guarantee that you'll be showing the logo at the main event . . .

Butterworth, who once again alleged his loyalty to Alinghi (Are you staying? "It looks that way."), said of the existing ACC class, where the competition has been so close because the boats are so similar, "I think they've got to the end of their life." As to the 90-footers: "I think any of the good teams will take it on. They all have good designers and people. I don’t think the rich will get richer.

“I think the rule should be reasonably tight, a box rule, but obviously the rule we have now is pretty complicated. It would be nice to open it up a bit, to encourage people to come up with innovative ideas. This is a design contest, a technology race. That’s the way the Cup has always been, and we are going to keep it that way."

Paul Cayard, in the audience, had a different opinion. His thought, "This will make it easier for Alinghi."

Presumably, much will depend upon whether teams are allowed to build more than one of the 90 footers. Butterworth again: "In the last challenge we tried to get the teams to limit costs and we got nowhere. A lot of it is in the testing time. A lot of that is waste."

More is more

This column is getting out of hand, and I'm ready to bail. The last time I checked, I was on deadline at SAIL magazine, so I'm going to leave you with just a few more bits.

America's Cup Management CEO Michel Bonnefous shared the stage for the press conference and spoke of "a natural relationship with Valencia and Spain . . . but we haven't reached an agreement so far" to sail the next regatta here.

With the industrial port of Valencia seeking to expand, there are issues to be resolved. If the Cup stays, 2009 is the date for match 33. If the Cup moves, the date pushes back to 2010 or 2011.

Even though I'm aware (or perhaps because I am aware) that the Cup's Deed of Gift is incorporated in the State of New York, and the ultimate authority is the Supreme Court of the State of New York, I'm still puzzling over this item from the Protocol—

24.1 Composition : the Sailing Jury and the Arbitration Panel shall each comprise three (3) members. Members may be

(b) residents of any country, except the State of New York without the prior approval of ACM, including a country of a Competitor in the Event.

And we don't want to go back to court, do we—or cede any risks?


Each person or entity, including its officers, members and employees, having the right to make an application to the Sailing Jury or the Arbitration Panel hereunder shall not resort to any other court or tribunal than the Sailing Jury and the Arbitration Panel. Any such resort shall constitute a breach of this Protocol. Notwithstanding the above, nothing shall prevent SNG [Société Nautique de Genève] from making any application it considers in its sole discretion appropriate regarding the administration of the Deed of Gift.

Probably twentyish crew for the new class. Bigger, faster, and they can hurt you. What more could we ask of a boat—Kimball

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Race 7.2

Strangely enough, the Spanish don't celebrate the Fourth of July. They have it in their collective head that independence day is something about a war with Napoleon. But the Spanish are pretty easy when it comes to a party. I'll bet if I got ambitious I could cook up a tradition of The Fiesta of the Wandering American Journalist the Day after the America's Cup, and who knows, it might still be going in a hundred years.

Not happening. Actually, there's plenty happening in the wake of America's Cup race seven. Tomorrow, the Alinghi people are talking about the protocol and plans for the next event—which may or may not mean that we get some definites—and today Alinghi had a wind-down on the roof of their team base where Alinghi's American helmsman Ed Baird shared a few thoughts about America's Cup 32.

Ivo Rovira/Alinghi

Quote Unquote Ed Baird

On that crazy finish, which actually held an element of humor for him because . . .

When we took the team to Dubai to train, we sailed our very last race in a shifting breeze, and we were ahead by about 150 meters. I looked beyond the finish line and saw something dark on the water, something different in breeze, and I asked, 'Guys, I see some wind beyond the finish line; is there any chance we might be getting a big shift?' And they said no, no way. And then we got slammed. Yesterday I said the same thing. "Guys, I see wind beyond the finish line; is there any chance we could be getting a shift?' And the answer was no, no way . . .

And the moment . . .

There's a woman on the bow of the committee boat, and it's her job to put up the flag of the winner. She started to raise the blue [Alinghi's color of the day] and then she hesitated, and I thought NOOOO! It was a moment of heart failure.

On the effect of having a gate in a match race. The gate—two marks set along a line square to the wind, about six boatlengths apart, replacing the traditional single leeward mark—was introduced to Cup racing in this cycle to provide additional escape opportunities and attack options for the boat behind. This was part of an overall search for ways to make the competition more exciting. Gate-rounding choices figured large in several races, including the last two. In both of those, Emirates Team New Zealand led to the gate but did not lead around the next mark . . .

Choosing a gate is a bit like choosing a position on the start line. If the gate is not perfectly even, you have to weigh out which is more important, the distance gained or lost at a mark versus the side of the course it takes you to. The difference is that gate distances are doubled compared to a start line because you have to sail down to the gate and then back up.

The gate does give the boat trailing a chance to get back into the game, but in this series, New Zealand did the same thing we did. They'd look at the gate and do the thing that would give the most advantage to them at the moment, then wait to see what happens. Both boats at times were successful by taking the gate opposite to their opponent, but if you take the gate on the left, you're going to have to be a length and a half ahead of your opponent, going upwind, to cross.

And asked about his role . . .

As a helmsman you are so focused that you have a very incomplete picture of the racecourse. You don't see what's going on around you, but if I'm not comfortable with a call I can speak up.

On the headgear/backpack setup he wore during racing . . .

It gives me some information about what's going on around the racecourse, but no, I can't tell you what that is. Other teams are doing the same thing with readouts on the wheels. What we have is actually old technology that was developed for warehouse workers, and it's not being used anymore, so it was hard to find.

Yes, the winners were feeling good today. The Kiwis took this hard. The men of Emirates Team New Zealand know that they had a shot. This was not a preordained outcome. You can't do a thing like this unless you believe in yourself and believe that you're going to win. Now? Now they won't stop believing in themselves, but this thing about losing is going to take some adjustment—Kimball

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

One in a Hole

You couldn't have scripted it. A seven-race America's Cup running to a conclusion made inevitable by Alinghi's big lead in the deciding race, with Emirates Team New Zealand trailing after three lead changes and now carrying a penalty that's going to cost them probably an additional 30 seconds, so you might as well go take a nap.

But wait.

There's Alinghi, almost to the finish, sailing into a hole . . .

No, not a hole exactly but there's a new wind from ahead and Alinghi still has a spinnaker up and New Zealand has already responded. The Kiwis are jib-up, spinnaker-down and on a roll in more breeze than the defender has and something's wrong aboard SUI 100. The pole is screwed up. The spinnaker is not driving the boat. That's just a lot of drag up there, and the sail is not coming down. There is no jib up and the boat's barely moving and the Kiwis are passing. NZL 92 is in front yet again and it's going to get to the finish line first.

But they still have that penalty.

This can't be happening. This is the America's Cup, not the Friday nights back home, but there it is, real as real can be.

Now Alinghi's sorted out, spin cleared and a jib drawing and finally they're getting a bit of the breeze. Yep, they're starting to move pretty well now and there's New Zealand turning up to take the penalty, just short of the line, and now they're turning back down and the turn is oh so slow. But there, it's done. And now Dean Barker has New Zealand aimed at the line again but here's Ed Baird at the helm of Alinghi also right at the line and—

At the press conference after the race, Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth is asked what went through his mind at that moment and Baird says for him, "Please put up the blue flag."

A couple thousand people are holding their breath because somebody just won and nobody knows who.

And the blue flag does go up, signaling a win by the port-entry boat. Alinghi. By one second.

So the defender takes Race 7 after five lead changes, by my count, and America's Cup 32 is history. It's Alinghi over New Zealand, 5-2, in the most hard-fought Cup ever. More lead changes, less predictability, and Alinghi was better. That's why they won. But change anything and you change everything. This was close. In an avalanche of superlatives, the word if comes to mind.

If NZL 92 had taken the other gate . . .

If NZL 92 had settled for trailing around mark 3 instead of getting trapped in a dial-down penalty . . .

If NZL 92 had peeled to an asymmetric spinnaker when the wind first began to work forward on the finish-line leg . . .

Then there is a good chance we would all be back on Wednesday for Race 8.

"If nothing else, it makes the closing scene of WIND a lot more believable." Quote unquote Stu (sheesh, I've gotta stop quoting the Other Magazine guys) Streuli.

But you can't go far down the road of "ifs" without going nuts. The day belonged to Ernesto Bertarelli and Alinghi. The Alinghi design team produced a boat that was not overwhelmingly superior, as many people had expected, but it was the right boat. Whenever there was anything to choose from between SUI 100 and NZL 92, the edge, however small, always was with the Swiss defender.

Skipper/tactician Butterworth, in this series, finally saw his winning streak broken. He went through three Cup matches—1995, 2000, and 2003—without losing a race. And then won Race 1 of the 2007 match to make it 16 in a row. But his first three wins were 5-0 shutouts, and we know this was no shutout.

"The harder it is, the better it gets," team boss Ernesto Bertarelli said, "and this was harder than I ever thought it could be. It's been a lesson in life."

Story points:

This was American Ed Baird's first opportunity to steer an America's Cup match, but he was also part of the Kiwi team that won the Cup in 1995.

Alinghi navigator Juan Vila became the first Spaniard to participate in an America's Cup victory.

Bertarelli announced a press conference for Thursday to discuss the plans, protocol, and challenger of record (Spain) for America's Cup 33.

Off Malvarossa Beach, Valencia: July 3, 2007

Both upwind legs were about the might of the right.

Leg One: New Zealand entered the course and sailed bow forward up the first beat, so was technically ahead, but Alinghi was on the right, with starboard-tack advantage. NZL 92 was almost able to clear on the first cross, but the operant word was "almost." Butterworth kept coming at them and coming at them and gaining on the encounters so New Zealand's tactician, Terry Hutchinson, had to break it off and follow around the mark.

Leg Two: Alinghi looked solid down the run but with only seven seconds in the bank at the weather mark never looked safe. Then a bad gybe opened the door for the Kiwis to take their wind and pass. So there was NZL 92 leading into the gate, with options, and Hutchinson chose the left gate (looking upwind) thinking that it would keep the boat at best speed and optimize opportunities. Instead, he would soon be calling it, "The one that will haunt me." SUI 100 chose the opposite and gained the might of the right, again, for the next upwind leg. Ed Baird said later that his team would have been happy with either mark, "But we knew we'd be strong on the right."

It looked like a rerun of the gate in Race 6, and the outcome was the same.

Leg Three: Speaking of reruns. It was SUI 100 coming at NZL 92 on starboard, 10 tacks worth, and NZL 92 bow forward but never enough to get around. Then, closing on the weather mark, the Kiwis tried to duck, Butterworth called for a dialdown, and Alinghi nailed it. Barker/Hutchinson drew a foul, and we figured it was game over. Here's Baird: "They have to stay clear of us as long as we don't turn below 90 degrees off the wind. I was able to do that and still aim at them, and I guess the judges saw it the same way we did."

Leg Four: Alinghi had separation and the comfort zone of a penalty on NZL 92, so there was no reason to expect any excitement. But that's where we came in, isn't it? And when the breeze turned around and Alinghi's spinnaker pole shattered (I haven't told you that part yet; Butterworth said, "We had carbon all over the place.") and with the Kiwis reacting sooner to the new breeze, with no pole-shattering issues and also getting more of the new breeze, this little nailbiter almost became the turnaround that would have kept the Kiwis alive.

Again, almost is the operant term.

I'm still looking for the words to describe how Alinghi did, and did not, dominate the sailing in America's Cup 32. I'll get back to you on that—Kimball

Monday, July 2, 2007

Defending the Cup

What can a press guy do on a day with no racing except sit around the Media Center and fustigate? The 32nd America's Cup has brought us the most hard-fought contest since 1983, and the first in boats that are so close in performance. I wrote about that yesterday with great enthusiasm. On Tuesday we will have another attempt to sail Race 7—only the second Race 7 ever sailed in the Cup, but now that it's a best-of-nine with the score 4-2 Alinghi, it's not a decider unless Alinghi wins.

And if Alinghi wins, the Cup stays in Europe and goes another step toward becoming a pro circuit but, as ever, unique among sporting events. There being no overall governing body, the development will be driven by the defender, who has a hip-pocket challenge standing by from Desafío Español, meaning that it is very likely the next Cup match will take place in Valencia and will be run entirely by the defender, meaning that once again the challengers are not in control of the challenger selection racing.

Perhaps it will be otherwise, but that's the view from here. There are any number of issues that derive from having a defender-governed challenger selection, so the eventual publication of the protocol for America's Cup 33 will be a matter of great interest.

As will the independence of jury and race committee.

The astute reader will note that I have left extra space for reading between the lines.

Meanwhile, I've watched for months as the signage around town has evolved from "Alinghi & us" to "Who will challenge Alinghi?" to this sign that I found today a couple of blocks from home: "The final duel." I guess it's really the end, almost.

Race 7 on Tuesday, with a seabreeze in the forecast. It's do or die for Team New Zealand. Alinghi can close this out with one more win, which raises the question, how many more times do I get a crack at the press pool and the daily prizes from Louis Vuitton--unless NZL 92 catches fire, probably the last Louis Vuitton prizes this event will ever see—Kimball

Sunday, July 1, 2007

No Racing, Great Racing, and Aljazeera

I woke up this morning and I felt so alive. I couldn't wait to get down to the port, and when I got here the place was already humming. Even the events that followed—no racing, the breeze never settled in, but we had a long wait—couldn't bring me down. No sir. I've seen America's Cup racing revolutionized twice now, and this is the real deal. The pre-events that built up a viable challenger fleet, and then the match itself, with races fought down to the last broken tooth and hangnail. Yes, Alinghi is up 4 races to 2 and needs just one more win to defend the Cup, but I doubt that Mr's Bertaralli, Butterworth, and Baird, sitting at the back of Alinghi, would want to resail those last two races that they won. Win them again they might, or might not. What more can you ask of a sporting contest?

And I reckon somebody out there is gagging right now because I sound like a cheerleader, so here, let me lend you a fork for that. The America's Cup has been debunked generation after generation, but you can't rationalize it away any more than you can rationalize it.

Can I find things to criticize here? Sheesh. Of course I can. But that's not the story.

And I'm not alone. Mark Chisnell has been doing a bangup job of analyzing the racecourse action in America's Cup 32, and when I sent him a note of appreciation, he answered simply: "It's not often something comes along where you just want to do it justice, rather than seeing it hyped."

The first great revolution in Cup racing was 1983, of course, when Aussie II broke the 132-year winning streak of the USA. Suddenly it was a new day (and the New York Yacht Club was set free to develop the vigorous racing program it now operates out of its Newport station). One difference between 1983 and 2007 is critical, however: 1983 was a one-off, with Ben Lexcen's "winged keel" providing a significant advantage to an off-the-wall challenger. That's not replicable. What we're seeing here will happen again. Alinghi design coordinator Grant Simmer, who was the navigator for Australia II in '83, said today, "Watching the Acts, you could see the teams growing together, learning and feeding off each other. That was always going to lead us to a match that was very close. This is now a contest of meters, meters to position you for a strong lee bow, meters where you can just get across the other boat. It’s so close; every meter you gain is significant.”"

When you hear me say that the close racing we're seeing here will happen again, you can count me among those who believe that, even if New Zealand rallies to win the next three races and the Cup, they will retain many of the features developed under the reign of Ernesto Bertarelli. (Do I know that for a fact? No.) Do I expect the Kiwis to win? I don't "expect." Aussie II came from down, won three races straight, and took the Cup, but KA6 was the fastest 12-Meter built to that point and remained competitive against later generations. That series should never have gone to a full count. In America's Cup 32, these two teams have pretty much tied in the technology race, and that's good enough to get them to the sailing race, and the last time I checked, Alinghi had the momentum.

One thing I'm confident of, however, is that Desafío Español will be the Challenger of Record if Alinghi wins. That's been well-rumored around here, but the proof of the pudding is at BOB, where Tom Ehman has pics of the Spanish principal players spending the day aboard Vava, Bertarelli's motoryacht, ready to hand in a challenge the moment Alinghi wins a fifth race.

They'll be back on Tuesday, guaranteed.

And that's cool by me. I want to come back to Valencia. Dang. I should have bought real estate. And it will be fun to see the local spirit amped up again. The chant goes, Desafio Olé Desafio Olé Desafio Olé . . .

For those who just came in: The America's Cup is a challenge competition, and for a long time there were no pressures associated with that. The New York Yacht Club held the trophy from 1851 to 1983, and every few years some Brit or Canadian would send a boat to race. Not until multiple challenges began appearing in the 1970s was a Challenger of Record needed, and not until an unfriendly challenge fell in the lap of the San Diego Yacht Club in 1987 did Cup winners feel any pressure to plan ahead. Since then, however, it's been the custom that anyone on the verge of winning the Cup will hold talks with potential challengers, looking for the best fit of outlook and goals. As soon as there is a deciding race, the challenger hands over a written document, thus assuring a "friendly" challenge between like-minded players.

Today: Peter "Luigi" Reggio, running the race committee, blew it off at about 1610, 50 minutes ahead of deadline, with a 30-degree difference in wind direction between the bottom and top of the course. At that moment. At any other moment, the difference between oddments of breeze was whatever, so yes, it was time to blow it off.

Monday is a scheduled layday, and Tuesday looks race-able, according to the experts. From there on, we sail or try to sail every day until we have a winner.

On a note of less enthusiasm: Bruno Trouble has given an interview to the Associated Press that takes public what's been known for a while, that Louis Vuitton does not like the direction taken by Bertarelli (he prefers to distance himself publicly, but America's Cup Management does not jig far from Bertarelli's tree) in commercializing the event. As a luxury goods maker, Louis Vuitton developed a strong presence on the America's Cup scene, first with the Louis Vuitton Cup for the challenger series and then with what is, this time, The America's Cup Match by Louis Vuitton. The high-end associations have worked for the company, but we've been hearing for a while that Vuitton might not be back if the Cup says with Alinghi. Bruno didn't go quite that far, but he made it clear that he has an easier time finding common ground with the Kiwis, who come from tradition . . .

What We've Come To

Okay, so there's not much public in the USA for sailing or the America's Cup, but dig this. Sports Illustrated online ( has not one single line about the America's Cup. But you know who does?


Yep. This link to Aljazeera should take you to their Race 6 story, updated at 11:19 Mecca time.

They're taking their news from service sources, but folks, Aljazeera is reporting the America's Cup—Kimball