Best of Five

Alinghi squared the series at 2-2 in the fourth race of the America’s Cup, with the kind of shut-out performance that they had hinted at in race one. While the delta was actually five seconds smaller - at 30 seconds – this was an all round stronger race from the Swiss.

As ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson said at the press conference, the Kiwis kept putting the boat in the right place to keep the pressure on and to take advantage of any mistakes by Alinghi… and they got nothing but crumbs. Alinghi sailed a tight, confident race in seriously tricky conditions – eight knots of shifting, puffy breeze stumbling over sloppy water. It was a classic match race, with all that that entails – one boat following the other around for ninety minutes…

So, no beta blockers required today.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t have plenty to interest the aficionados. It started with Alinghi finally wanting the right – phew, Alinghi’s propensity for starting tight to leeward was getting ridiculous. Even if I have to admit my theory is now looking pretty shaky, but hey, that’s what theories are for in the scientific method, right? You put ‘em out there and they get shot down…

What stayed the same was that both boats still wanted something different. And with Barker on the left and to leeward, and Baird on the right and to windward, it all came down to the final wrap-up and acceleration into the line. And this time it was Baird and Alinghi that were right on the money - both crews reckoning at the press conference that Alinghi were helped by a little right-hand shift and puff.

That shift lifted Alinghi into a position where they could hold their ‘lane’ to windward of ETNZ, and it became a drag race – could ETNZ get rid of Alinghi before the layline? In two races we’ve seen Alinghi blow NZL92 outta there in a handful of minutes. The Kiwis couldn’t do the same - a 15-20 degree left-hand shift almost got them there right at the top of the course. But it came just too late, and the New Zealanders had to follow Alinghi in to the top mark with a 20 second deficit.

And that was pretty much the race. The Kiwis wriggled hard, with an ‘Indian’ set at both top marks. This is where you set-up for a normal bearaway hoist, faking the other guy into thinking you’re following him, and then gybe right on the mark, pull the chute up and sort out the mess…. I jest - it’s a bit slicker than that, but it does usually cost some distance, compared to the conventional hoist. But Alinghi were showing no signs of letting any serious leverage open today, and matched both the Indian’s with a quick gybe of their own.

The boat handling had mixed messages. When the Kiwis were throwing gybes at Alingi like Joe Calzaghe punch combos, Brad Butterworth’s tight cover was allowing ETNZ to close the gap pretty quickly. Butterworth resorted to a loose cover, and that worked better for Alinghi. But it was the Kiwis who had the one real shocker, with a twisted spinnaker during a gybe on the first run. The conditions made any kind of smooth boat-handling hard – but still, it’s nice to know those guys are mortal.

And the tangle that the Kiwis got into at yesterday’s gate befell Alinghi today. They had gybed in from a long way out, and weren’t expecting to lay it. But the puffs kept letting them down. Finally, they decided they weren’t going to make it, and were about to gybe to the other mark, when they got another puff and header and found themselves - in Brad Butterworth’s words - ‘pointing at it.’

And then the puff dried up like a puddle in the Sahara, and they were left high and dry. Too close to gybe to the other mark, Alinghi ended up pointing almost dead downwind at the right hand buoy, with the spinnaker flapping, while ETNZ came pouring in to the left hand mark. It just goes to show that however good you are, the wind can make you look pretty average.

Both teams were claiming at the press conference that there was still nothing in it between the boats. And in this light air, that’s probably about right - certainly downwind. Alinghi like to sail a little faster and higher, while the Kiwis prefer to go deep and a touch slower, but the net effect is damn similar. But upwind, I’d still rather be in Alinghi if you gave me the choice.

And now we have another layday, ahead of a three race, long weekend session that will be pivotal. Rest will be the priority for the crews - and I’m with them there. Terry Hutchinson reckoned they’d have a short, sharp debrief, then get everyone out of there and… ‘go and wrestle with three kids’.

And finally… Respect to Dean Barker. Once again he showed up at the press conference, this time with tactician Terry Hutchinson, after the Kiwis took a loss. He doesn’t bother when they’re winning.


ETNZ have filed a protest over race four. It will be heard at 14.00 on 28/6/07. Presumably it's about the fact that Alinghi appeared to have trouble complying with the measurers request to drop the main without a man at the mast head. More tomorrow...

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Mark Chisnell ©