Saturday, June 30, 2007

Proof of Concept²

My takeaway from Race 6 of the 32nd America's Cup match:

America's Cup 33 will probably be just as exciting as this one. No more 5-0. It's been 24 years since we've had a contest for the Cup that had this sort of back-and-forth drama, and the new format—the pre-event racing—is responsible. As Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth said after his come from behind win in Race 6, "The Acts brought all the boats together. If the defender has an advantage, they see it. They go into the LVC and the challengers get tough racing. And the unskirting shows everybody what you've got."

Watching first-time challengers such as Shosholoza perform well against bigger teams gave me a similar thought a long while back, and I wrote a story called Proof of Concept. Seeing this kind of competition in the Cup racing itself convinces me that I am looking at Proof of Concept².

Only a few All Black believers held out against the popular view that Alinghi would walk over Emirates Team New Zealand. Lots of people predicted a 5-0 shutout. After all, Alinghi won in 2003 and then dominated the Acts. But once again, in Race 6, NZL 92 got ahead and just might have stayed there. These boats are a close match, and so are the teams.

The scoreboard speaks for itself. I do not want to seem to diminish the accomplishments of the sailors of SUI 100, who look good to successfully defend the cup for Ernesto Bertarelli and his Société Nautique de Genève. I'm just making the point that this has been a real contest, and when it is over the Alinghi team will know they had a fight on their hands. No 1995 5-0, no 2000 5-0, no 2003 5-0.

And refined pre-event racing could make things even harder for Alinghi next time.

But there I am, writing in the past tense, as if Alinghi has already won, when New Zealand could still win the next three straight.

I'm not investing my Widows & Orphans Fund in that one, but it sure would make a great story. That's what made Dennis Conner's win in Australia so big. He went down there and won back what he had lost. It was a crusade. That had story. The Kiwis have story here, but the trend line of the last two races is all-Alinghi.

Off Malvarossa Beach, Valencia, June 30, 2007: Race 6

So Alinghi had the starboard entry. Here is Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen (aka Peter van Alphabet) on the bow of Alinghi, reaching toward the box . . .

And entering the box . . .

I know that dialups don't look exciting, but on board the boats, they are, baby, they are. And the Race 6 dialup was a long one, both boats trying to maintain control downspeed, with rudders losing their grip on the water, crews trying to keep a grip on the boat even if the boat has almost no grip—if the mainsail catches air, you lose the boat—and it was New Zealand forced to bail first.

Ed Baird, helming Alinghi, had the starboard-tack entry to the box, and in that dialup Baird was guarding the right-hand entry to the course. As events unfolded, with both boats bailing and hustling back downwind into the box, Alinghi held New Zealand out of the right, and Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker made a close gybe that the Alinghi team wanted called as a foul.

The umpires green-flagged it.

Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth said of the umpires later, wry on wry, "They do the best they can."

I doubt that any single photograph captures an incident, but this shot by Lyn Hines has something to say . . .

Photo by Lyn Hines

Baird was able to keep Barker controlled through the remainder of the countdown, and both boats headed out to the left with SUI 100 living comfortably to weather of NZL 92 for a long, long time. And then—

Butterworth again: "We hung in there for as long as we could, but just about two minutes short of the lay line we couldn't hold there any longer. They got a little too powerful for my liking, and we tacked away."

Advantage to New Zealand, which led at the top mark by 14 seconds, with the breeze dropping from whitecaplets at the start, maybe 10 knots, to flat, blue water at the top of the course. The breeze would be down to 7 knots at the finish.

And you want close? That first reach was close. Alinghi couldn't quite get to New Zealand's air, but there was a point at which I was watching the leading edge of NZL 92's gennaker probably as hard as the trimmers were—to see if it was going to break—until my eyeballs hurt and I realized I was overachieving.

It's been amazing to see these two boats so evenly matched: SUI 100 with more fullness forward in the hull and presumably a liking for more breeze, but the proof has been hard to come by, and NZL 92 with a finer entry and (I believe) a narrower beam, always heeling a bit more than any of its opponents and carrying more mast rake to weather. And then coming back downwind together, right together. And then the deciding moves.

New Zealand, leading in on starboard, chose to sail straight for the left-hand gate for the easiest-possible rounding with the best-possible speed.

Alinghi, trailing and also on starboard, chose to soak down for the right-hand mark, sacrifice some speed in that, sacrifice more speed by gybing, and go for separation.

And separation won it.

Add one score for the leeward gate for opening up possibilities for the boat behind in a match race.

New Zealand tacked to cover as Alinghi headed out to the right-hand side of the course on port tack, but Alinghi was getting the goods: tiny cells of better pressure that translated into more speed plus more pointing.

Butterworth again: "In these boats there is a huge difference between 7 knots and 7.5 knots, and that difference might be 5 degrees of pointing. That's what happened."

Bit by bit, Alinghi advanced to a position to come back and attack New Zealand with starboard-tack rights. Twice the Kiwis held with safe-leeward tacks, but, closing on the second weather mark, there were right shifts helping Alinghi. Barker's third attempt to plant a lee bow tack on Alinghi failed. From a position where, "We had been feeling pretty good about life," Barker said, "At one or two minutes to the layline, things turned around dramatically."

SUI 100 passed and stayed in front. Finish line delta: 28 seconds.

These kids at the Beach Club alongside the harbor, waiting for the raceboats to return, just might be Alinghi family . . .

The match now stands at 4-2 Alinghi with Race 7 scheduled to start at 1500 Sunday. If Alinghi wins, it's all over. If New Zealand wins, well, "We're still a dangerous team," Barker said. "We believe we're good enough to get ourselves back into this, but it's a big ask."

ACM would be irresponsible to not be prepping for an Alinghi win on Sunday and attendant festivities, but should New Zealand interrupt their plans, the noise from Auckland could reach all the way to the Gran Vía Márquez del Turia—Kimball

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

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Layday Bloody Layday



I figure the whole Rule 31.6 protest about being able to lower a mainsail to the deck "without the necessity of a crew member going aloft" was all about Emirates Team New Zealand seeing a man aloft on Alinghi when they dropped their sail at the request of the measurement committee and—without really expecting there was any serious skullduggery—decided to lodge a protest, because, why give Alinghi skipper Brad Butterworth an unfettered night's sleep?

And why not take a shot, just in case there's something there? And why not give the media something to write about other than that race you just lost?

There's been way to much ink on this already, and as of Thursday evening we've just been told that the jury will issue a written account of their split decision, dismissing the protest, on Friday morning. Those of you who care have access to plenty of analysis (try BOB, Tom Ehman's BMW Oracle Blog, which tells you what you need to know about the major nonevent of post-Race 4.

Images in the House of the Cup

I wrote a while back about disappearing images of Cup heroes at the House of the Cup here inside the racing venue. More recently, I noted the return of the portrait of three-time winning Cup skipper Russell Coutts, the man that the rumor mill keeps linking to Larry Ellison's next campaign, but you already know that.

After writing about the return of the Coutts pic, I found this note from Michel Hodara, AC 32 COO, among the blog comments, and I think it is important to move it up and share it here, because it tells a story that is different from the one I told.

Dear Kimball

You deserve to know the whole story about the portraits of the House of the Cup.

Few years ago, Louis Vuitton commissioned a series of those unique "polaroid" type portraits.

LV then loaned them to us—organizers of the 32nd America's Cup—to be displayed in the House of the Cup.

We commissioned as well another series with the personalities of the 32AC.

In the LV lot, there never was a picture of Paul Cayard, explaining why not displayed.

For Russell, the picture was displayed until January, when LV asked us the portrait to be featured in Paris at the America's Cup exhibition in the LV Store on Champs-Elysées.

Once this exhibition finished, LV forgot to return the portraits to the House of the Cup.

When the portrait was finally returned, it was immediately put back in place.

As you can see, no bad intentions.


Michel Hodara
JUNE 28, 2007

An Absorbing Interest

I think maybe it was one of those conspiracy things. Bob Fisher writes a book that costs so much, not every bloke can see his way clear to buying one, but the cagey Fish brings it out right before the America's Cup, and so we have Louis Vuitton's Bruno Troublé buying scads of the things to be given out as special gifts and even given as prizes to the Luna Rossa guys that lost out in the Louis Vuitton Cup to the Kiwis. I think maybe I'll hit up Fish for a loan. For the rest of you, here, below is what I wrote by way of a mini book review in the July issue of SAIL. Mini, yes, but enough to say what needs to be said:

If you're going to write yet another history of the America's Cup, you're going to have to justify it. When I took in hand An Absorbing Interest by one Bob Fisher, a sailor of accomplishment and a journalist/author known as "the Fish" in every sailing haunt and worthy watering hole on the Blue Planet, I measured the book by what it told me that I didn't already know. It measured up. I speak as someone whose personal history of the Cup covers 17 percent of the total.

At 425,000 words in two volumes, richly illustrated but to a degree ("It's meant to be read; if I had wanted a coffee-table book I'd have put legs on it"), An Absorbing Interest is aimed frankly at the absorbed. You know who you are. The value will remain long after the price is forgotten.

An Absorbing Interest: The America's Cup. A History 1851–2003
By Bob Fisher
John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

News point

Karol Jablonski, the Pole who did well as helmsman for Desafio Español, has been named skipper of United Internet Team Germany. Jablonski won the Admiral’s Cup in 1993 and the Mumm 18 World Championship in 1999. He became Match Race World Champion in 2001, currently ranks fifth place in the World Match Race Ranking, and took the Spanish team as far as the semis in America's Cup 32.

So, on Friday, we sail Race 5 and break the tie. Emirates Team Boss Grant Dalton is still making noises that the protest is not quite over, so we'll have to see if the measurement committee has any special requests to make at the end of the race—Kimball

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Even Or Not ?

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."

Well, in Race 4, Alinghi went very well against New Zealand in the light stuff.

Considering how lumpy it was, you might have thought the narrower NZL 92, with its finer entry, would be happier than the famously upmoded SUI 100 (even if it's been recently downmoded to meet its opponent partway).

If ever the Kiwi boat was going to look superior to the Swiss boat, surely this was it.

Instead, Alinghi's wire-to-wire win inspired German photographer Heike Schwab to say, "Back to normal."

And I understand.

But that's a strange thing to say, isn't it? Much less agree to. When only five minutes ago Alinghi was down one race to two and hearts were palpitating and adrenalin was pumping and a lot of really harebrained ideas were being propagated on the internet.

Not that I'm predicting an abatement of harebrained ideas on the internet.

We are reminded that, yes, Alinghi is the house bet. When Alinghi won Race One I wrote, "Who would have thought that what everybody thought would happen, would happen?"

Now we're back to what we've been successfully programmed to believe is a "normal" trend line.

Except of course under the roof of the Kiwi base, where team boss Grant Dalton would order a public spanking for such thinking.

Such explains, or so I believe, why there is a more fervent reaction among the pilgrims here when New Zealand is in front, be they Kiwi, Swiss, or agnostic.

And then there's the protest that might change everything, but probably won't change anything. Keep reading.

Do you like to race?

At the start, mystery helmsman Ed Baird and tactician Brad Butterworth got SUI 100 off the line on starboard—matching NZL 92—with speed and enough separation to live forever on their opponent's hip. Or if not exactly "forever," then beyond the port-tack layline, which in this deal is forever-enough.

It was a long drag race. Aboard NZL 92, Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson had hoped to close up on Baird at the start line or soon after and force him away.

Not to be.

Each boat had gainer-episodes, but the averages favored Alinghi, with small cells of pressure flowing through to lift the Swiss boat off New Zealand to gain and gain.

New Zealand waited patiently for the leftie that would have put them outside on the header (to maybe gain it all back), and then a shy boy walked onto the darkened Kiwi stage and announced, "Godot will surely come tomorrow."

Or, as Hutchinson put it, "The left shift did come, when we were at the layline."

From that point on there were two events in progress: There was an earnest tussle of expert sailing technicians, on one side to hold an advantage (successful) and on the other side to bust that advantage open (unsuccessful). To anyone who can read a racecourse and appreciate the game well-played, this was a fascinating exercise. It was also a reminder that sailboat racing has shortcomings as a spectator sport.

Alinghi led all the way, with 30 seconds in the bank at the finish.

Frankly, I'm running a little low on gas to talk you through all the moves. The thing is, it sounds so much like all the races that went before: Tight cover, but loose enough to go for the gainers. And when it was all over, Brad Butterworth was challenged to declare whether this all comes down to a design race, and he said, "Yes. For the last time, yes."

Okay, the protest

In the ACC Rule, section 31.6 states: "Mainsails shall be able to be lowered to the deck without the necessity of a crew member going aloft."

Part of the deal here is that the regatta committee can enforce rules by means of random checks. Something of that happened on Wednesday, and it led to a situation that the Measurement Committee declined to carry to protest. But Emirates Team New Zealand did not hesitate. News came late in the day, with little supporting material, but fortunately Paul Cayard was ready with some insight. Here's Paul describing something that I did not see:

"After the finish, there was a request by the measurement committee for both boats to drop their mainsails without sending a man aloft. Normally a halyard is attached to the sail at the end of each day's racing to lower the mainsail. But there is a class rule that requires each yacht be capable of dropping its mainsail from the deck by way of a "trip" mechanism, for safety reasons. Team New Zealand complied immediately while Alinghi actually had to send a man up the mast in order to drop the sail. This seemed absurd to all of us here. How obviously in contravention of the request of the officials. I think this one will get discussed long into the night.

"What could come of this? Disqualification of Alinghi for non-compliance? I doubt it. Re-race the race? Maybe. That is what happened with Mascalzone and Desafio earlier in the Louis Vuitton Cup. A fine? Maybe. How much would be an appropriate fine? Stand by. We may not be done with Race 4."

There is no question that Alinghi bowman Pieter van Nieuwenhuyzen went to the masthead to release the head of the sail. However, the explanation of that, by strategist Murray Jones, is this: "They elected to do a random measurement check on our boat. One was to ensure that the mainsail can release off the main halyard lock without any assistance. So with the big waves we asked whether we could put the halyard on loosely so the whole thing didn’t fall down and break battens and damage stuff when you do actually release it. We tripped it off and that was that."

If so, the protest probably falls under the category of hassling'em if you can.

For the record

I don't know when this happened, because I certainly don't check in often, but a photograph of Russell Coutts has been returned to the walls of la casa de la America's Cup. Coutts, yes. Cayard, no. If you care, the background is here.
No racing on Thursday but we're back on Friday for Race 5, or maybe Race 4.2—Kimball

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is "Oracle'd a Verb?

Something happened here today. The underdogs took a big bite out of the big dogs and the place went crazy. There were reporters running, Kiwi fans running, an ear-shattering chorus of horns, why, you'd think the America's Cup had done been won.

Instead, it's Emirates Team New Zealand up 2 races to 1 in a first-to-five.

Picture NZL 92 closing oh so slowly toward their final meeting with Alinghi on an agonizing light-air reach to the finish—if you think it's hard to watch something like that, try being on board when you need to go faster and the boat . . . just . . . won't . . . go . . . faster—and New Zealand Herald reporter Julie Ash was watching and hardly breathing and wringing her hands and shaking like a leaf.

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

For something that started out as a snore, delay-delay-delay just waiting for the light breeze to settle down enough to get a race going, this one turned into an emotional barn burner. Have we seen such a punch-out in an America's Cup race since 1983? I don't think so. Have we ever, ever seen that many lead changes? I don’t think so. By my count there were four major, critical lead changes. Lower the bar and you easily find many more. Someone said twenty lead changes, but with the boats split wide on the way to the finish, who can really say? New Zealand strategist Ray Davies chewed on the question, then joked, "I can't count that high."

I'm in the newsroom of the Press Center as I write, and there's an energy in here—people focused, writing, nervous to get it right and get it out—that was never here in the Acts, never here in the LVC, not here even on Sunday when NZL 92 evened the score. Something happened here today. Or do I repeat myself?

So we've just had the most dramatic America's Cup race in 24 years, and who does Alinghi send to the press conference?

Rodney Ardern, runner/grinder
Dean Phipps, runner/pitman

Well-spoken, superb sailing athletes whose skills go far beyond those job descriptions.

But not up to the drama of the moment.

I was not angry.

I was insulted.

Race 3, Match 32

To answer, for now, the question implied by my headline ("Is Oracle'd a Verb?), I'd say no, Alinghi is not now looking like the next version of a BMW Oracle cockpit meltdown. Race 3 was a hard one. With the leftover lump from an overnight storm angled away from the new breeze, and that breeze plagued with oddments and strange behaviors, you couldn't just reach into your tactician's or strategist's Valencia Racecourse Playbook and turn to page 37. It was a minefield out there, and I'll bet you that NZL 92 tactician Terry Hutchinson, when he says his bedtime prayers, includes a thank-you to his lucky stars.

The same Terry Hutchinson, btw, who wore his silver-frame Kores to work today.

Given the expectation that NZL 92 favors a light breeze and SUI 100 likes more, there's no question that the Kiwis were happier than the Swiss to see a race get under way. In a press release from Alinghi, strategist Juan Vila is quoted as saying of the race committee's decision to go: "From our side we didn't see the conditions improving, but that is their call and we have to go with what they decide." A release under the America's Cup Match logo quotes Alinghi team boss Ernesto Bertarelli: "I don't think the race should have happened . . . I think we raced well and we were just unlucky . . . I'm sure for those who are watching it is exciting, but you can go to Las Vegas for that. It's not what sailing should be about."

The race winners were strangely more sanguine.

For the record, the cutoff time for racing is 1700, and the flags flew just barely ahead of that. Define "barely"? The official starting time at the end of the 10-minute countdown is listed as 1710.

So: The highlights tape on this one runs 1:43:32 plus 5 minutes in the prestart box. It was a boxing match from first meeting, and at about -30 seconds, we had SUI 100 to leeward, both boats on starboard and Ed Baird squeezing NZL 92 up and up and forcing a tack when Dean Barker didn't really want to tack. Then we had Baird hitting the line with speed, going left and looking good to the tune of maybe 3 lengths, and NZL 92 late to the line and slow but on its way to the right-hand side of the course to meet the weather team's call.

Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth, rather than leave his opponents free to explore the right, tacked early to match them. Still, there was a lot of separation. And the right-shift that Kiwi weatherman "Clouds" Badham had predicted was there waiting for New Zealand. Once in, Barker tacked, and the advantage was amazing. Maybe 4 lengths? More? And to compute the gain, add the distance NZL 92 was behind at the start. First cross to New Zealand, big time. They bounced Alinghi left a couple of times, and about halfway up they entered a zone where New Zealand, well to weather and ahead on starboard, sailed in a lifted breeze while Alinghi suffered in a headed breeze. It was a big zone, and it went on for a long time. No wonder Bertarelli was sounding a bit cross. (Some Alinghi people even questioned the Kiwi claim of a weather call.)

Top mark delta: 1:31, but this was a volatile racecourse.

Now let's fast-forward down the run to something else we're not used to seeing: the Kiwi team botching a spinnaker drop. Yet another windshift forced a change in plan for the rounding, and that had the foredeck scrambling, and mid-bowman Richard Meacham slipped overboard—caught a line and hauled himself back—and in the fracas the gennaker got sucked into the clew of the jib real ugly-like, and it stayed there for two tacks. I'm trying to think. When was the last time I saw knives out on an ACC boat? Two shots by Chris Cameron/ETNZ:

So there went the big lead, but not all of the lead, and Alinghi knocked on the door all the way up the next beat. Then, coming in close to the starboard layline but well ahead of a tacking point for the rounding, Butterworth called a tack to force the game along. Hutchinson called a dial-down to shut them out of going behind, and saved it, and then there was the same sort of exchange again but Alinghi had gained and when they got to the mark had the lead. Alinghi by 15. Back from 300, maybe 400 yards down.

Not a good time aboard NZL 92.

But what to do? What to do? If you're Brad Butterworth. How do you cover in such conditions?

Hutchinson had covered from ahead on the first run, and that allowed Butterworth to make big gains. So Alinghi played it loose. Way loose. Looser than they wanted to—a 1,300 meter split?—but then nothing came their way that felt good for a gybe and they dug themselves into a hole.

The finish: New Zealand by 25 seconds.

One thing comes out clearly. Those few who once speculated that Peter "Luigi" Reggio, the professional race officer who lays the courses and makes the go, no-calls, was inevitably in the pocket of Bertarelli to favor the defender in a doubtful situation, are now free to take up some other line of speculation.

There was a lot of chatter prior to this race about how often the boat that wins Race 3 wins the event. Often. See you Wednesday for Race 4—Kimball

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Sailors Are Hot"

So says CBS anchor Katie Couric, who shared a few words and views at the induction ceremony Sunday night for the America's Cup Hall of Fame, after a day out to watch the racing.

Nothing to do with America's Cup Management here and now, the America's Cup Hall of Fame is part of the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island, the Herreshoff family being a thread that runs through more than a century of America's Cup yacht racing. Halsey Herreshoff, who has continued the tradition, sailed variously as bowman, tactician, and navigator in four successful defense efforts for the New York Yacht Club, and then the 1983 effort that failed. Here's Halsey, as photographed by Bob Greiser . . .

The Hall of Fame ceremonies go where they want, which on Sunday night was the Santiago Calatrava-designed l'Hemispheric in Valencia to induct two new members, Kiwi designer Laurie Davidson and French helmsman, entrepreneur, and bon vivant Bruno Troublé.

Russell Coutts was on hand to pay a tribute to Laurie Davidson and to remark that if he had listened to the designer every time out, "We might have gone faster."

Laurie Davidson

Here's a bit of what the Hall of Fame has to say:

Laurie Davidson played a role in the design of the New Zealand fiberglass 12-Meters that were among the top performers in 1987.
In the 1995 challenge in San Diego, Laurie was the designer of NZL [which] went on to win the Cup in five straight races over the American Cup defender.
In 2000, when Laurie was chief designer for Team New Zealand, it was asserted that designers for the other teams had used NZL 32 as their point of departure. But that year Laurie took another jump ahead and came up with what is now known as the “Davidson bow.” This is a forward overhang geometry that provides slightly greater sailing length within the rating. Again the Davidson boat won in five straight.

During the 2003 challenge, all the boats involved but one had the “Davidson bow.” The exception was the Italian Prada entry, which part way through the campaign had its bow modified to be similar to the other boats. Davidson was then chief designer for the Seattle USA challengers. The Louis Vuitton Cup was taken by the Swiss Alinghi, a yacht also resembling in important respects previous Davidson designs.
It is the feeling of the Selection Committee that Davidson was the designer chiefly responsible for taking the Cup to New Zealand in 1995 and keeping it there in 2000. Advances he made, particularly in hull shapes, have been emulated by AC designers ever since.

Here's Bobby G's shot of Laurie . . .

Bruno Troublé

Bruno, a Flying Dutchman and Soling champion, was skipper of two challenges for the America’s Cup led by Baron Marcel Bich. Bruno had been drafted from the 1976 French Olympic sailing team and did such a good job at starting he was promoted to skipper FRANCE I during the Challenger series in 1977. He then returned to skipper FRANCE III in 1980. In 1983 he participated in a challenge led by Yves Rousset-Rouard.
Bruno visited the New York Yacht Club when he was 17 while competing in a 505 World Championship in Larchmont. Standing in the model room of the Yacht Club, the atmosphere and history of the America’s Cup had such an impact on him that the Cup eventually became a significant part of his life. From sailor and lawyer, Bruno went on to create a PR agency in Paris (D’Day) and became the driving force behind the Louis Vuitton Cup for challengers.
As the America’s Cup has evolved from amateur to fully professional, Bruno has respected the traditions and found a balance between innovation, commercial involvement and the unique history of the Cup.

Here's another Bob Greiser pic, this time of Russell Coutts, Bruno, and Paul Cayard . . .

It was not an evening conducive to remembering quotes, but North Sails' Tom Whidden did remark something to the effect that, when the USA lost the America's Cup in 1983, it became the best thing that has ever happened to the competition, and "I'd do it all over again."

To the Kore

When Kaenon brought out its Kore line of sunglasses a few years back, they had an instant classic on their hands. Sure, the brand-new company had the advantage, in the sailing market, of being run by sailors, very good, well known sailors. And they had the confidence (and budget) to market through a campaign to place a Kore on every high-profile sailor they possibly could. It also mattered that people liked them a lot.

I've lost track of how many Kores I've been through. At the moment I'm down to one pair of black rims with G-12 lenses, but my favorites were the silver frames with C-28s. So when I tried to replace the last pair that went overboard (I was carelessly wearing them on the top of my head; they don't fall off when worn per-design) I was shocked (shocked, I tell you) to learn that Kaenon no longer makes the frames in silver.

This despite the fact that the most recognizable sunglass design in Valencia is the silver-frame original Kore. Not only here. In Alicante for the TP52 races, I counted six pairs in one crew.

Guys, don't wear'em. Save'em and sell'em on eBay. There's going to be money in it.

I've been thinking about this for a while now, but what got me going today was my morning Scuttlebutt with a Kaenon ad. I quote in part:

"It’s a question of style. Terry Hutchinson chooses the original, the tried and true Kore. Our original award-winning design. Straight-up performance. Brad Butterworth is going new-school with the new Hard Kore. A bit more attitude, a bit more style. An evolution that compliments the ever so clever and sophisticated Butterworth. Two different styles…one common theme."

But what do we see Team New Zealand's Terry Hutchinson actually wearing? Not the available black frames, but silver. And not just one time; all the time.

ADD NOTE: I came to the port for Race 3 and saw John (works for the other magazine) Burnham, who said, "After reading your blog this morning I felt even worse about losing my silver Kores when I broached my Shields. I didn't realize they were unreplaceable."

Steve (at Kaenon), we love you, babe, but I just don't understand what went on in that meeting where you dumped the silver frames—Kimball

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lions One, Christians One

I'm a reporter, not a partisan, but I have to admit. Things are more interesting around here when New Zealand is in front.

Race 2 was technically interesting while Alinghi was doing its Superior Boat thing for the first three legs, but the presumed predictability of it held the excitement level at about that. Things lit up when the Kiwis seized the lead just short of the second weather mark and defended to the finish.

The underdog has that much going for him in any sporting contest. But I think there's something else in play here. A while back I wrote a column asking, "Where are the characters of America's Cup 32?" and concluded that they had been submerged and tamed within the corporatized environment of big campaigns. Now it occurs to me that, besides being the underdog, Team New Zealand (Emirates Team New Zealand) is something of a collective character here in Valencia, relative to Alinghi. Coming in with so much to prove, making it this far, and attracting a noisy, cheerful fan base all the way from the other side of the globe, they've imprinted their presence. Alinghi, meanwhile, deliberately went low-key through the challenger eliminations, and it's not as though they haven't been nice to me and it's not as though they don't have a presence—America's Cup 32 is the defender's show, after all—but I couldn't describe them as, "something of a collective character."

I'd better not make too much of this. Mostly, amping up the excitement is about seeing the underdog get in a bite.

Geordie Shaver (Stars&Stripes 1995 and 2000; Oracle Racing 2003; color commentator 2007) watched the race and declared, "Lions one, Christians one."

And how dedicated is the Kiwi fan base? Well, remember these guys from Race 1?

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

They were back for Race 2, and in the Department of a Small World, I ran into one of them, Wayne, on the Number 19 bus 0n Sunday morning. And he had a problem. He had to make a decision. Wayne and his wife are on a long bus tour, which they ducked out of in order to come to Valencia. Anticipating Race 2, here is how Wayne framed his problem: If we stay after this to see more racing, we miss being with the tour through San Sebastián and Bilbao. I hear those are really beautiful places. If we go back to the tour we miss the racing, but then, we'd have to stay two days to see one race. But then, if they win today, who wouldn't want to see a race when they're tied 1-1? But then, if they lose, well, they'll need the support."

Race 2, Match 32, was noteworthy for breaking the winning streak of Brad Butterworth and other Alinghi team members who came over from Team New Zealand after winning in 1995, defending in 2000, and then winning in 2003 for Switzerland's Société Nautique de Genève. The winning streak in America's Cup races went to 16 races and ended on Sunday.

Race Two

The race was sailed in 10 knots of breeze, dropping off to 9 knots or so at the finish, with complicated variations throughout. Lots of pressure changes. Meaning, fully powered-up and short of the 11-knot mark where, in the ACC fleet, boats start to depower.

SUI 100 had the starboard entry, but NZL 92 sailed across the box clear, so the starboard side was up for grabs as both boats explored circles on the right-hand side of the box. It looked to me as if both boats were fighting for the right, but SUI 100 skipper Brad Butterworth said later that his team wanted the left.

Coming back toward the line with about one minute to go on the countdown, Dean Barker on the helm of NZL 92 got underneath his opponent and was all but in a position to drive Alinghi over the line early or otherwise force his advantage. Butterworth: "When they hooked us, I was afraid we weren't going to get it [the left]."

Instead, Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird was able to tack away for a B start while Barker got away ahead and moving faster, entering the course with an A+, both boats on starboard, New Zealand to weather, much like Race 1 except with less wind and less lump.

And then SUI 100 started doing its thing. Speed, maybe. Pointing, yes. And about three minutes into it, New Zealand was breathing gas (Kiwi strategist Ray Davies: "We were a bit surprised that we got spat out of there") and had to tack away.

Not everyone buys into the "left shift" story that was put out to explain how New Zealand lost its advantage in Race 1 from almost the same position. I figure that's not worth fussing about at this point. In Race 2 there was definitely no shift. Alinghi simply squeezed New Zealand outta there. The boat looked dangerous as a hungry monster. It had gone from behind to ahead and it was no accident, no fluke. There were lots of people ready right then and there to write the obituary for Emirates Team New Zealand.

But wait.

We had Alinghi leading by 19 seconds at the top mark, 13 seconds at the gate, and looking believable if not inevitable to hold that lead all the way to the finish. But that's why real competitors never give up.

Most of the way up the second beat, Butterworth said, "We got worried about the right, because New Zealand had made some gains there. Historically, late in the day, the right side of the course has been strong." And so, in their next meeting, Alinghi did not tack on New Zealand but instead continued to the right. The Kiwis, unhindered, continued left, banged into a leftie, and corked that up into a lead. Kiwi strategist Ray Davies called it, "The biggest leftie we'd seen in the whole day, and we got it just when we needed it."

Coming back to the right and then carrying on beyond the starboard layline, with Alinghi even further out and not overlapped, New Zealand had a smooth rounding and entry to the final leg. I'm sure they never felt safe in the final three miles to the finish, but Alinghi was never quite in a position to take back the lead, and the delta at the finish was 28 seconds.

Here's the quote from Alinghi team boss Ernesto Bertarelli about the exchange of lead: "It was all about the last cross on the second upwind leg, where we came back on the right and the wind went left. The boats were equal there, and I think we just tacked a little too early. It was really just a boat length in it. On the second run, the wind settled down and there were no other opportunities to pass. It's the first defeat for Alinghi in an America's Cup match, and we hope it will be the last."

Ray Davies, summing up the day from a Kiwi point of view, said, "It's huge for the team to come from behind. That's always a boost, and there is nothing worse than going into a day off on a loss. The only way to recover from a loss is to get back out there and redeem yourself."

No racing on Monday. Somebody goes 2-1 on Tuesday—Kimball

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Subtleties of the Breeze

Who would have thought that what everybody thought would happen, would happen?

That is, Alinghi winning Race 1 of the America's Cup match.

But I'm thinking it didn't have to happen. I think this was a weather-team race. And for almost the first time since we kicked off in April, Emirates Team New Zealand got a bum call.

New Zealand wanted the right and got it.

Alinghi believed the course was even or would favor the left--and got a strong taste of it in the prestart--and they were happy to take the left.

Being on the left determined the advantage for the leg and the weather mark rounding. But it sure was exciting for about seven minutes. In those seven minutes, with both boats going off on starboard tack, NZL 92 was nosed ahead and living to weather of SUI 100 and looking strong. And then.

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

And then a left shift dropped them into gas. They had no choice but to tack and said later they were happy to tack because they expected to strike gold on the right. They didn't.

Did SUI 100 have a touch more speed upwind in 12-13 knots of breeze and a lot of lump? Maybe. I'm not sure. Did SUI 100 have more speed downwind, which wouldn't fit the playbook? Alinghi made gains downwind, for sure, but both crews (in public, anyway) attributed that to variations in breeze and waves and catching a good one here and there. Even the 21-second gain on the second downwind leg. So I'll give them the benefit of the doubt until the evidence accumulates.

A Kiwi win in Race 1 would really have lit things up around here. Rearrange the odds and shake up the pundits and all that good stuff. And really light up the Kiwi crowds, which were doing pretty well on their own power, pre-race. This group was looking for the right place to set up . . .

And here they are, after they set up. I think you have to be Kiwi, to fully appreciate the Buzzy Bee . . .

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

But Olivia's face is plain to read . . .

Alinghi's supporters are more Swiss-sedate, with the occasional cowbell thrown in . . .

And of course, the personal touch . . .

Even people who want Alinghi to keep the Cup would rather see a hard-fought series and not the oft-predicted 5-0 shutout—a shutout that does not follow logically or inevitably from the events of Race 1. I'm telling you that I couldn't see any evidence that this result hurtles us toward a 5-0 shutout. But I have to add the disclaimer that, lately I've become accustomed to very close, dicey racing that produces lopsided points tallies. And then the sailors come back and tell us what we already knew, that the racing was closer than the slamdunk on the scoresheet.

Race 1, America's Cup 32

It was not an explosive prestart, with New Zealand's tactician (he's an American) Terry Hutchinson looking to the right and Switzerland's tactician Brad Butterworth (he's a Kiwi) looking to the left. Which probably explains why Alinghi helmsman Ed Baird (American)—entering from the left, on port—went so gently into the dialup, and out of it.

Hmmm. I'll leave that line as-is, but I doubt that, on the boat, it felt the way I wrote it. Anyway, after the breakway, Baird and Kiwi helmsman Dean Barker (amazingly, a Kiwi) boxed loosely in the right-hand side of the box, then wiggled their way upwind--Baird would have liked to lock Barker out, but it wasn't happening--and started pretty much together. The official delta was one second at the start, with NZL 92 looking to have the better speed and eking out a small, definite lead.

As we've seen all season, NZL 92 heeled more than its opponent. The Kiwi machine seems to heel more, in less wind, than any other boat here, and then to come to its lines and hold there, no matter what. Returning to the subject of that five-minute drag race to the left, and then the left shift that dropped New Zealand into gas, New Zealand's tack was followed only 20 seconds later by Alinghi. But with just that separation for leverage, and with more left-shift coming in, over the next eight minutes those little lefties made the race. Twice in subsequent meetings, Alinghi tacked to leeward of New Zealand and bounced her back to the right. Nineteen minutes into the leg, Alinghi crossed ahead and tacked on New Zealand's wind. Both teams made 15 tacks on leg one, an interesting figure because Alinghi in the final cross did not force New Zealand to tack yet again for the customary two-tack, trailing-boat penalty.

Mark 1, 13 seconds
Mark 2, 20 seconds
Mark 3, 14 seconds
Finish, 35 seconds

The breeze at the start: Gradient, 13 knots, from 75°.
Breeze at the finish: Gradient, 12 knots from 71°.

And yes, there were episodes when NZL 92 took bites out of the lead. What does that have to do with the off-direction gradient wind and extra lump, and will we see big differences if, as predicted, race 2 goes lighter in smoother water? So easy to ask. And so easy to answer. If you'll just be patient till I get back from the racecourse, one time more.

Quote Unquote (amalgamized)

Dean Barker, skipper, ETNZ:

"We had a call that we'd like to be on the right, and we were happy to get to where we thought the good stuff was going to be. We got off the line going well. But the wind went left about 10-12 degrees, and it dropped a bit. That was the key to the race. The day was all about the subtleties of the breeze. Alinghi capitalized on that. But we feel competitive, and that's the best we can ask for if we don't win the race."

Juan Vila, navigator, Alinghi:

"Our call was for the left to be favored or even, so we were happy to start to leeward. And we were in a right phase [in the prestart], so the trend was to go left next. [And boatspeed comparisons?] Pretty even, for sure, upwind. Downwind, it's harder to say."

The Day

We had fireworks for starters . . .

Chris Cameron/ETNZ

And an airshow . . .

A close start . . .

Ivo Rovira/Alinghi

And a rather good race . . .

And quite the spectator fleet. Not too long ago I read an article suggesting that it would be effective to promote the America's Cup as a green sport, because sailing is so clean. And sailing is that. But I'm not so sure about the carbon footprint of the America's Cup. I was choking on the fumes . . .

Race 2 on Sunday. The Kiwis have probably figured out that they need to win this one—Kimball

Friday, June 22, 2007

Enter at Five

Imagine 1
It's 1983 on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and the shuffleboard gets reshuffled ever so slightly. (It wouldn't have taken much, folks.)

The Aussies have finally come to the party with a faster boat, the wing-keeled Australia II, but the Americans win anyway. (That match should never have gone seven races, but John Bertrand and the thunder from down under required that many races to finish off the Dennis Conner machine.)

This time, imagine, we're lacking that spot of extra breeze out to one side of the final run in Race 7, we're re-timing a gybe and . . .

Imagine 2
It's 2007 and we're on the America's Cup racecourse on Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, where the New York Yacht Club defenders are seeking to extend their 156-year winning streak. In the 24 years since the big scare of '83, the Americans have never again been caught behind in the technology race, but challengers keep coming back because the mountain is so high.

As the clock winds down to the first race of America's Cup 2007, a group of men in straw hats raise their binoculars . . .

Imagine 3
It's 2007 and we're on the America's Cup racecourse in the Med off Valencia, Spain, and today you're going to sail Race 1 of the 32nd America's Cup match, and probably somebody has told you to go out and sail it as if it's just another boat race, but it's not that, it's not that. You are one of 34 men, 17 aboard Alinghi and 17 aboard Emirates Team New Zealand, and this is your moment. For the next five races minimum, nine races maximum, every small triumph on the racecourse is yours to keep because it won't be forgotten. It will be remembered, recorded, scrutinized. As will every tiny error or questionable call. As will any glaring deficiency. Anything you do or say has a chance of becoming part of the story that forms the spine of the history of sailing, the America's Cup. As the countdown closes on five minutes and your entry to the start box, the world seals off around you. The weather team goes silent. Your radios go overboard in a waterproof pouch to be picked up by a chase boat. Your sailmakers can only watch. Your engineers can only watch. Your sponsors can only watch and pray as 17 men get on with the business of sailing a boat race, come what may.

And so you commence doing what you've trained to do . . .

Imagine skipping the prerace press conference

I decided I couldn't, because I've hammered on some of the principals in the past for not showing up. Now I have to go, even though I expected slim pickings and was pretty much right. You can't put meat on the table unless there's been blood spilled somewhere.

But it wasn't a complete waste.

Interesting, for example, to see Alinghi tactician Brad Butterworth appearing far more relaxed than Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Terry Hutchinson. Not that I'm asking you to read a lot into that. I think that Terry runs pretty wound-up anyhow. He was geared tight during the challenger races, which came out OK for New Zealand. And interesting to go back over the Butterworth story: Age 27 at Fremantle in 1987, and crewing for Chris Dickson on the fiberglass 12-Meter that was eliminated in the final challenger round by Dennis Conner's team. Aboard with the Kiwis for the big win in 1995 and the big defense in 2000, then jumping ship to follow Russell Coutts to Alinghi, then helping to take the Cup off New Zealand in 2003 and now still with Alinghi after Coutts has famously split. Twenty years of America's Cup sailing, and 15 Cup races in a row that he's won.

Quote Unquote Brad Butterworth

On the battle-hardened experience of his Kiwi opponents . . .
I think our in-house racing has been as good as the challenger racing. The happiest day of my life was when the Louis Vuitton Cup ended, because I was sick of watching the racing on TV.

On his role as skipper, as well as tactician, in selecting Baird to drive . . .
Between Ed Baird and Peter Holmberg there's not that much. It came down to a few in-house regattas [some six weeks ago] that Ed won. He's one of, probably, five people in the world who can sail one of these boats as well as they can be sailed.

On going up against an unknown . . .
It's not as though we haven't raced those guys, and they haven't raced us. We don't need any more time.

And as for the roll call at the press conference:
Present: Dean Barker, helmsman for New Zealand.
Absent: Ed Baird, newly named, as expected, to helm Alinghi for Race 1 and presumably the match (absent from the Alinghi press conference as well as the ACM press conference; but he had been in stride at the AC Match party the night before.

Also present was Alinghi boss Ernesto Bertarelli, who faced some tough questions and partly answered some of them and danced around others.

Quote Unquote Ernesto Bertarelli

On relying heavily on non-Swiss sailors on the boat . . .
When you look at the shore team and the team overall, Swiss is the largest nationality in the team.

On the Kiwi threat to bring back nationality requirements . . .
The nationality rule does not go back so very far. It does not have a lot of history. We abolished the nationality rule to reduce cost for this Cup. The last time, the residency rule forced us to support second homes for our sailors, one in Switzerland, so that they could meet the rules. But if you win the Cup you get to decide what to do with it. That's the beauty of this game."

Which, I believe, is an answer about how teams in the past, not only Alinghi, have worked around the spirit of nationality requirements. And then, on pushing branding and commercialism . . .
The problem is, the America's Cup is not earning its living. The Cup is still a game supported by wealthy owners. For the sake of all the sailors and the people who make a living off the America's Cup, we should continue this and get to a state where the America's Cup supports itself."

On what's been the hardest part of being the defender?

One ritual of the pre-event press conference is the coin toss for first starboard entry. Terry Hutchinson called "heads" for the challenger and the toss came up heads, so New Zealand has the advantaged, starboard-tack entry for Race 1. Should the series go to nine races, they will have five starboard entries to four for Alinghi.

Weather forecasts are all over the board, but if you make two piles, the one marked "light wind, perhaps even un-raceable on Saturday" is a lot bigger.

Conventional wisdom has it that NZL 92 will continue to favor a lighter breeze, even though it has been remoded with a longer bulb to more closely match Alinghi.

Conventional wisdom has it that Alinghi's fuller hull lines will continue to favor more breeze, even though there is reason to believe that SUI 100 has been remoded to more closely match New Zealand.

Conventional wisdom has it that, when two teams go out to race, a lot of the outcome is up to them.

Oysters Away

Not everyone spent the past week practicing or resting or worrying. A fleet of 37 Oysters, 45 feet to 82 feet, competed in the Oyster Regatta Valencia. As you might expect of a gathering of large, luxurious cruising boats, most with in-mast mainsail furling, the point was to have a good time, much more than to prove cutting-edge competitive skills. But, you know, it's hard to keep the juices from flowing.

At the start of Thursday's second race, Oyster CEO and founder Richard Matthews smelled-out the goodies and port-tacked the fleet in his chartered 82-footer, Zig Zag. Given the opportunity, who could resist? (No, I don't have pics of this moment; I was on the main and it seemed best to focus on my duties should, um, developments develop). At other times I caught sight'ems such as this, a committee boat on loan from friends. Thank you, race committee . . .

These are some powerful boats . . .

While racing, the boats flew the fleet flag . . .

But, to comply with the branding requirements of America's Cup Management, they had to remove the flags before re-entering Port America's Cup. A few people even played with those big, bright balloonsails that go out front, but I'm not sure they had more fun than we did playing white-sails-only . . .

I can tell you though, they work a man to death on an Oyster 82. One race trimming main, and the thumb I was using to push the electric-winch button was done for. We're talking a need for serious massage.

And speaking of Port America's Cup, you couldn't call it empty . . .

And you couldn't call it full . . .

So I guess there really has to be a reason why the megayachts did their big regatta at Palma, and haven't exactly shown up in droves.

Now, readers here in Valencia, listen up. There may be a few of you unaware of the Night of San Juan, kicking off Saturday night after Race 1 but nothing, I assure you, nothing to do with the America's Cup. It's described to me as a night when the beach is filled with a mass of people--it's the solstice--drinking heavily and jumping over bonfires. German photographer Heike Schwab has lived near the beach for the last several years, and she says the entire neighborhood shuts down; traffic doesn't come in or go out, and the howl goes all night long. I don't think you will find me there, but having attempted to be a guide to certain other local festivals and customs, I thought you ought to know.

Now who thought that one up? Let's get drunk and jump over bonfires. It's right up there with, let's get stoned and operate power tools—Kimball

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Festival of Hindsight

So we're nine races max, five races minimum, from the point at which the events about to unfold will be possessed of an apparent inevitability—having thus been established as fact—and already I can feel the pulse of the Festival of Hindsight. On Friday, Alinghi will reveal the defending helmsman—

. . . drumroll, please . . . no, no, a really LOUD drumroll . . . I'm sorry, I can't hear you . . . oh well . . .

—for America's Cup 32. And should Alinghi lose in the absence of Russell Coutts, what a hopping festival it will be. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Of course, we well know, the script says that Alinghi wins, whether steered by Ed Baird or Peter Holmberg. But, as New Zealand team boss Grant Dalton put it to New Zealand Herald reporter Julie Ash a month ago, when she seemed to take it for granted that BMW Oracle would win through to the challenger finals: "Where's the evidence?"

I bumped into Areva's Dawn Riley yesterday afternoon, and after working our way through certain predictable this's and that's, we found it easy to agree that everybody's talkin' and nobody knows nothin'.

Thus, streetwise notions aside, my heart will be in my throat when SUI 100 and NZL 92 answer the guns on Saturday.


Horns, actually, not guns.

Such a ringing phrase from olden times, to "answer the guns." There's not much drama in saying that SUI 100 and NZL 92 will "answer the horns."

And yes, it will be SUI 100, the newer boat in the Alinghi stable. That was announced on Wednesday, to no great surprise.

But, whatever calls SUI 100 and NZL 92 to the moment, that moment will form part of the collective story of Those Who Sail. Nothing else comes close to Race 1 of an America's Cup match.

Go figure: The debunking of the America's Cup is as fundamental and predictable as the hyping of the America's Cup. Happens every time around. And the debunkers aren't wrong, on their own terms. But they are outside, looking in, to this seething, sordid, marvelous, compelling, and, ultimately, grand confection of ego, innovation, and achievement. Where else can a fat cat pay this much money for an opportunity to pratfall on a grand scale? Or enter the pages of an enduring history? Thomas Lipton (Sir Thomas) challenged five times and lost five times, and sold a lot of Lipton's Tea, and became a beloved figure in the Americas for trying and trying and left behind an epitaph:

"I canna' win."

With only the rare exception, everyone comes to this through what was first a simple fascination with wind and water and a little boat.

And that is something that, perhaps, bears repeating.

With only the rare exception, everyone comes to this through what was first a simple fascination with wind and water and a little boat.

That is why, no matter how outrageous the details of an America's Cup match might be, it is still connected right down the spine to (for example) a kid dreaming about someday getting to sail a real Opti.

Meanwhile, yes, I know there's been a great buzz lately about detachable stays and where they're to abide during racing. If you're a junkie, you've already read about it upside down and sideways on other web sites and blogs. If you're not a junkie, babe, you don't need to know. Here's a firm prediction. I'm really going out on a limb with this one, folks: The disposition of stays will not determine the outcome of America's Cup 32.

Whew. Gutsy call, eh?

Unless, perhaps, the "stays" really do have an additional purpose upwind, which actually does take us out on a limb. If you haven't been reading BOB, you're late to the party, and it's time to start. BOB is the BMW Oracle blog, written by Tom Ehman, founding chairman of the Challenge Committee, and it's been a great blog from the beginning. But lately, given Tom's insider view, it's been a must. Tom will bring you up to speed on what can be known, from this side of the fence, about Alinghi's backstays.

Pivoting to our question of the day. Why does Windows XP spell-check not accept the word "blog?" Are they, like, so totally 20th Century?

Dude! —Kimball

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Warriors in a Hostile Country

I sat down with Rolf Vrolijk in Alacant and we were there for the TP52's, but of course the talk got around to these sailboat races that start on Saturday in Valencia, the ones where somebody is going to win the America's Cup. Vrolik is the principal designer for Alinghi, with final responsibility for all design outlines and configurations. He wasn't into making predictions, but he was very clear in his thinking.

"We've done a good job at Alinghi," Vrolijk told me. He was sitting under a huge Breitling MedCup tent surrounded by an array of talent that included just about every name-brand sailor you ever heard of, save those still prepping for the one-bigger in Valencia: "This is not a prediction about the America's Cup. We have to win. We have to keep the Cup in Europe."

Strong stuff. But very much in keeping with the talk, since New Zealand won the right to challenge, on the implications of the outcome.

Meanwhile, New Zealand team boss Grant Dalton's public utterances hint that the divide is less cataclysmic than the characterization making the rounds, which goes like this: 1) The Cup says in Europe, and in the future we have lots of 'tween activities and racing, with lots of teams in the mix, and the trend line of growth continues; or 2) The Cup goes to the antipodes to be squirreled away by the Kiwis (they went five years between winning it in 1995 and defending it in 2000, then three years to the loss in 2003) with an aggressively nationalistic agenda and nationality requirements for the crews that will stunt the growth curve.

Putting it a different way: it is less than clear that the differences are that stark. Or that a Cup-in-Auckland would put a whole generation of professional sailors—the first of their breed; these guys are scientists/athletes-with-trainers; they're nothing like the paid hands who crewed on the boats a hundred years ago—out of work.

Dalton, I'm pretty sure, would rather focus on the business at hand rather than a squabble of what-ifs. But even if the differences are not so stark, of course it makes a difference where the Cup goes. If you're riding the wave of professional sailing in Europe, you know who you're pulling for. For whom you are pulling. Or, as Churchill once responded to an underling who edited a dangling participle, "This is the sort of nonsense, up with which I will not put!"

There's a part of me that envies people of singleminded opinion. That's because, on many matters, I wind up agnostic. This holy grail of yachting thing, for example. I see it both ways.

The Circuit, on a Cycle
I have no difficulty making an argument for rationalizing the game of America's Cup yacht racing. The sport would benefit from having an ultimate-end circuit. Why shouldn't it be based upon the only event that has name recognition? If, as sailors, we are going to put our game before the world, why shouldn't it be with a game that dates to the mid-1800's, the oldest prize in international competition anywhere, the battleground of Vanderbilts and Liptons and other people you may have heard of? And doesn't it make sense to have a circuit because it just makes sense to have a circuit because it just ... makes ... sense ... to have a circuit? Cut out the guesswork about next time, and let's have some racing. Yes, rounding it off with a match race bound by an antiquated Deed of Gift is awkward, but it can be done.

America's Cup, the Mountain
Sailboat racing is nonsense. It's been nonsense since the invention of mechanical power rendered it irrelevant to improving the navy, and part of the wonderfulness of it is surrendering to nonsense, and I love it to death and don't bother arguing with me unless you're making nonsense. The America's Cup is grand nonsense, and part of the strange magic is the power of the defender (a phenomenon still evolving) to drive the next event by arranging for a like-minded challenger of record. It's been a crazy, runaway freight train since 1983 and that's part of the fascination. Every time out, it's a one-off; it's history on the hoof and sometimes it's history on the mis-step. It's danged hard to explain what's going on to the unwashed, but if you regularize it, tame it, make it predictable, don't you lose something?

These long, big-budget campaigns have pushed the game pretty far into the camp of the corporatized. Even where an individual is fronting big dough, it's done through corporate mechanisms that take the edge off, and return-to-sponsors is a major issue. For the marketing types, not being able to tell a potential sponsor where and when the next brand exposure will take place is like wearing wolf traps on both ankles.

But dig the Kiwi deal, those tiny islands way out yonder that send out sailors that rock the world. Here they are, a band of warriors in a hostile country, and just as in the days of yore, the Cup is theirs, if they can take it.

TP52 Racing at Alacant

Now I know what a grand prix fleet looks like. The IOR version, years ago, was genuine but different, very different, from the sight of 23 box-rule 52-footers hitting a start line together. Nine of the boats are new this year, and the rest have been tweaked big-time. You didn't have to have a new boat to win a race at Alacant, the opening event of five on the 2007 Breitling MedCup circuit. Race wins got passed around quite liberally. But you weren't going to do well if there were any holes in your program. Period.

Diedo Yriarte/MedCup

With so many boats racing now, holding your lane off the start line is key, according to Vrolijk, whose design firm, Judel/Vrolijk, wound up with three of the top five places. If you get kicked out of your lane and start chewing on dust, you're going to keep getting kicked and kicked and kicked. The top boats sail higher and faster this year, Vrolijk said, and the facts of that are among other details that you will eventually be able to read in the pages of SAIL magazine. Going into the final day of racing, the Judel/Vrolijk-designed Bribón was leading the pack and looking strong to take the regatta. Two general recalls and a dying breeze later, the day had gone to heck, there was no racing, and the Trofeo Alicante was theirs.

Bribón is sometimes steered by the king of Spain, but pro Bouwe Bekking stepped in for this round. As the shouting died down, he said, "This morning I told the guys we should go out and enjoy it no matter what happened. It is a surprise for us to be here because we were so late with the boat. When you only have two days sailing before you come here, and some of the crew saw the boat here for the first time, you do not really expect to win."

And no, you didn't have to have a new boat to win a race, but some force appeared to favor the nubility. The final standings:

1. Bribón (José Cusi, ESP, Judel/Vrolijk 2007)
2. Valle Romano Mean Machine (Peter De Ridder, MON, Judel/Vrolijk 2007)
3. Mutua Madrilena (Vasco Vascotto, ESP, Botin & Carkeek 2007)
4. Artemis (Torbjörn Torqnvist/Russell Coutts, SWE, Judel/Vrolijk 2007)
5. Patches (Eamon Conneely, IRL, Reichel Pugh 2007)

As a flatfooted American, I was interested in the scene itself, the whole culture of grand prix sailing in Europe, with an event sponsor, a big tent, and nary a yacht club in sight . . .

But, thanks to Siemens, some very nice sightems that might be hard to get authorized, going through the committee at the good old YC . . .

Every race boat has a tender chasing it around, onloading and offloading sails and delivering snacks and water between races. Then taking away anything unconsumed because, of course, water is weight. There are two American boats on the circuit, Doug DeVos with Windquest and John Buchan with Glory. Both are longtime campaigners that need no introduction, and both had a sort of welcome-to-the-MedCup kind of regatta at Alacant. Now they've got that out of the way. Here's Windquest meeting the tender, John Bertrand at the wheel of the raceboat . . .

Alacant (in Valenciano and Catalan) becomes Alicante in Castillan Spanish, and that's how you will see it written most of the time. By using Alacant, I'm just being quirky, as alleged in certain quarters, and letting my Valencian influences rub off. When I said "so long" to Sébastien, who runs my gym, and told him I was off to Alacant, he heard me. And he liked it.

Think of Alacant as a beach resort city in the predictable manner, with lots of unfortunate, medium-rise construction everywhere you look and some wonderful architectural surprises tucked away. A tiny, pedestrians-only old town clings to the side of a mountain topped with a citadel, and of course I took a break from the racing and hiked to the top.

If you've ever been to one of these mountaintop fortresses, you probably were taken by the angles and juxtapositions of natural stone and cut stone . . .

I dig it. But I never was very good with heights, and I noticed here that, the higher I got, the lower the enveloping walls . . .

Here's the same thing with my backpack for scale. I got a bit woogy-wookie just walking up and placing the thing there . . .

Seriously . . .

And here is how the finish of the first coastal race looked from the top of the mountain . . .

A nice touch in Alacant: their tree-lined promenade beside the sea, a tiled walkway running half a mile at least, and you could get seasick looking at it if you're not careful, but it's lovely, and in the evening the locals come down with their folding chairs and take in the scene . . .

Full disclosure: This wrapup of the MedCup opener is written from Barcelona. At least I didn't miss a nailbiter finale. But having been in Spain since early April, and having seen little of Spain beyond Valencia, I decided I owed myself a walkabout in this break between selecting a challenger and the opening race of the America's Cup. Saturday, June 23: first to win five races takes the Cup. And by the way, it's been raining in sunny Spain the last two days. We're not to the Cup yet, but you can bet your best jammies that the Alinghi weather team is trying to push this system out of here by sheer will power.

You won't be seeing pics from Barcelona. This is a sailing blog. But having written so much about Valencia, I am struck by the contrast.

In Valencia the attractions are defined. The old city, the river, the Calatrava architecture at the foot of the river. The rest of Valencia can be relegated to my phrase above, "unfortunate, medium-rise construction." Barcelona, however, just goes on and on with fascinating neighborhoods and beautiful buildings. Very international. Very cosmopolitan. Hip and happening. And filled with tourists. Way too many people who look like me. So as soon as I'm Gaudi'd and Picasso'd to the brim, I'll be happy to get back home to Valencia and put my feet up in my own apartment. I do appreciate Barcelona, however, for having a higher class of street musician, on average, than Valencia.

In Valencia, you see, there's this guy with a cello (as opposed to a celloist) who's been setting up around the corner from El Calle del Editor Cabrerizo, but not far enough around the corner, and he knows about five songs, and he hits all the notes but he doesn't put any music behind the notes, and the night before I left, he was about one Over the Rainbow away from getting that dratted cello wrapped around his neck.

I'll probably leave the blog as-is for a day or two, but I'll be back with you as we close in on showtime, unless I'm in jail—Kimball