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