Formats and Fouls

So, the America’s Cup has begun a new era in the stewardship of Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts and BMW Oracle. And the hope for those involved in professional sailboat racing is for a brave new world of media friendly sport – in which television will play an integral part.

For the dedicated fan, the cognoscenti, this may well mean wall-to-wall television coverage, every minute of every race, regardless of its importance or relevance. But personally, I think we need to look at making the majority of the racing we put on tv a little bit more special.

There’s lots that could be done to improve the coverage – Formula 1’s model of a statistical, onboard-audio-and-camera-fest is the obvious one, but I think we need to look at something more fundamental first.

The thought comes out of the latest Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta in Sardinia. The point was raised in a recent Scuttlebutt that there was just too much of it – that two weeks racing, with the days sometimes extending from 10 in the morning to late in the evening was just too much. I wouldn’t disagree, but I think that the more important conclusion is that too little of the racing was meaningful.  

The second biggest sporting event on the planet is underway in South Africa, FIFA’s World Cup. It starts with a group stage, where the 32 teams are split into groups of four – everyone plays everyone else, before the top two in each group go forward, and the bottom two go home. It’s generally reckoned that you need to win one and draw one of those first three games to proceed to the last sixteen – at which point the competition changes to a win-or-go-home format.

The consequence is that from the sixth or seventh day of a month long, once-every-four-years competition, spectators are seeing do-or-die games. And that’s what most spectators want - sport that counts. In contrast, how long was it before some must-win action developed in La Maddelena? It was well into the second week. 

Matters weren’t helped when Bertrand Pace and his Aleph team spectacularly crashed into Azzura, and suddenly they had to do all the racing planned for four boats with just two. Combine this with a venue where there was either too much wind, or too little until a late afternoon seabreeze - and it felt like nothing much ever happened until late in the day, both metaphorically and literally.

I suspect that the problem is giving the teams, the sailors, too much say in the proceedings. Ask the participants and they will, naturally, want to guarantee themselves as much sailing - and their sponsors as much coverage - as they can get. The result is formats with endless round robins and repecharges. But spectators want completely the opposite – lots of meaningful matches, where people go home if they aren’t good enough.

The idea of not asking the sailors about the format is probably a non-starter, when the event organiser for the Louis Vuitton Trophy is the WSTA (World Sailing Team Association) - owned and run by the teams. But if the LVT was managed by Formula 1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone, I suspect we’d already be looking at a format without the full round robin. Perhaps splitting the fleet into smaller groups for round robins, or even going straight to head-to-head matches. It would cut down the amount of sailing they have to get through with a limited number of boats, and it would make each individual match much more meaningful and exciting.

The problem would be getting teams to turn up for a regatta with all the travel, salary and other costs, when they might get sent home after a couple of days. To do that, you need to be offering something of great value as a prize – and that means cash, big money...or prestige… say, the America’s Cup for instance.

So much for formats – next up is a more technical point, but one that’s worth exploring. I think it’s time to look at options for an off-the-water, video umpire. A recent test was run at the Korea Match Cup, a World Match Racing Tour event (disclosure of interest - I've been blogging for them). In this test, the on-the-water umpires raised a flag and requested a second opinion from a third umpire in the tv booth. He would then look at the replays, and give an opinion on a number of issues – mainly contact seen by the onboard cameras and perhaps missed by the on-the-water umps – and then radio his opinion back to the guys on the water. They could take it or leave it.

It’s a good start, and nice to see the Tour innovating, but for the really big events like the America’s Cup the technology exists to go much further. The latest position fixing equipment will place both ends of the boats and the marks to within millimetres, at very fast update rates. So why not use that to help decide overlaps, buoy room at mark roundings, alterations in course and so on? It’s potentially a lot more accurate than the current system which relies heavily on the umpires being in the right place all the time – and that right place can change very fast, and will only change faster when the boats get bigger and quicker as seems to be the plan.

It’s possible that off-the-water umpires using a virtual positioning system could be used for every call – but it might add even more drama to do what they’ve done in many other sports, and give the competitors the opportunity to call on the video umpire on just a couple of occasions per race. The initial penalty, or otherwise, could still be made from the on-water umpires, and then if one of the teams didn’t like the decision, they could use one of two or three challenges.

The difference between sailing and the other sports I’ve cited is that the game continues while the video umpire deliberates. But it often takes a while for on-the-water umpires to respond to a protest flag, and the sailors are quite capable of sailing on while the decision is made. Any penalty is rarely dealt with by the sailors before the next mark or the finish. One additional rule would help deal with this - disallowing references to the video umpire from any point after the two lengths circle of the final mark.

It might work, it might not, but I think it’s definitely worth trying...

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Mark Chisnell ©

Pass Me Another Superlative

Finals are so often a disappointment. I’ve sat through more than my fair share of dreary America’s Cups, but I’ve also sat through a bunch of dreary soccer World Cup Finals, Test Matches and Rugby World Cups. But every now and again, a couple of teams come along and produce a classic. Sometimes it’s for all the wrong reasons – the stronger team who flunk it. Liverpool’s recovery from 3-0 down against a superior AC Milan side in the 2005 European Champions League Final springs to mind.

So it’s even rarer when two teams come together who are so closely matched, so composed in the execution of their craft, that together they put down a marker in the history books, through their sheer and absolute bloody-minded refusal to roll over and die.

It’s even rarer in an event which only deigns to come round every three or four years at best.

We saw something very special in the last eleven days, but it’s finally over. The thirty second America’s Cup is done, and the celebrations and commiserations have begun. A 5-2 win for Alinghi - the Cup stays in Europe, and Ernesto Bertarelli’s team will defend again. But I would imagine that whichever side they’re on, they’re going to hit it pretty hard tonight. They’ve made history, departed the field of dreams, and now it’s left for others to write the record.

When the adrenaline has ebbed and the pulse finally calmed, will this be seen as the greatest ever America’s Cup match?

The context of the 1983 Cup - the ending of the longest winning streak in history, the recovery by an Australian team that found itself 3-1 down in the fastest boat, the manner of the pass in that penultimate run - it all takes some beating. As a page in the history of the Cup, it will never be matched. But for sheer wire-to-wire, edge of the seat, unable to relax action in every single race, this Match leaves it for dust.

So how else could you finish this most extraordinary contest than with a final race delta of a single second, the closest margin ever in a Cup race after the lead has changed hands on every single leg, with the final pass a couple of metres short of the finish?

Sometimes, it’s just the way it was meant to be.

It started with Dean Barker and ETNZ again avoiding the dial-up, ducking to leeward of Ed Baird as Alinghi turned into the wind. Baird got his boat back onto port pretty quickly, but Barker got the tack in fast enough to get right on the Swiss boat’s tail.

So they headed for the committee boat, ETNZ close enough to stop the Swiss from gybing, but not in a position to force them to windward. With lots of time on the clock, Baird sailed as deep into the box as he dared and then tacked round to starboard. The Kiwis tacked with them, and immediately started looking to get to leeward for the hook, so they could push Alinghi back towards the line early.

Ed Baird wriggled as hard as he could, tacking to port for a while, luffing and stalling, burning time off the clock, but Dean Barker had all the cards. And in the end the Kiwis chose to start tight to leeward, controlling the final approach, with their boat jammed up under the Swiss. And it looked as though Alinghi would have to tack away off the line.

But what happened next, established why the America’s Cup is still ultimately a design race. Alinghi held… and held… and held. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson said afterwards that they started in a maximum right hand shift, and it must have seemed like they waited for ever for enough left-shift to finally get rid of the Swiss – but a tiny boat speed edge goes a long way in this game.

Finally, the Kiwis forced the Swiss away, and we had the two boats on port headed for the layline. Alinghi were really patient, slowly gaining a handful of metres, knowing they couldn’t go back before they had enough to force the Kiwis to tack leebow, but they couldn’t leave it too late or they’d get trapped on the layline. Then, as they have done a few times in this event, Alinghi hit another gear. On this occasion it was when they started tacking. At the third cross, the Kiwis decided they couldn’t live with the losses and held on starboard. Alinghi tacked up on their hip, just behind and to windward.

When the Kiwis finally did come back to port, Alinghi were close enough that they could slingshot themselves into the cross with a speed build, then luff up as the Kiwis tacked leebow. Once again, the Swiss had found themselves enough of a lane to hold their position to windward – but could they force the Kiwis all the way over the layline?

It was desperately close – Barker and his trimmers doing their utmost to get up to Alinghi and force them away. When Alinghi finally tacked they were barely laying, with the Kiwis tacking to windward, and almost bow to bow. Now it was Alinghi’s turn to be aggressive, they luffed the Kiwis hard, almost head to wind, then bore away and accelerated. The leeward boat controls this game, because they can choose when to accelerate. The first time the Swiss crept ahead, and the second time Alinghi waited until the Kiwi boat lost a tiny bit of grip with the foils as they slowed. Alinghi bore away and Dean Barker and co. took another boat length to get their boat moving – Alinghi rounded seven seconds in front.

But the Kiwis were plenty close enough to attack on the run. And they were close enough to worry Brad Butterworth into the early gybe, away from the stronger right hand side of the course and the starboard advantage. To make matters worse for the Swiss, they were having problems with their gybing – the source of which hasn’t been revealed. At the next cross, Alinghi couldn’t get their gybe in ahead of ETNZ, and ended up crossing in front of the Kiwis.

Immediately, Terry Hutchinson saw his opportunity and gybed to go with the Swiss. They were now both on port, heading for the layline with the Kiwis in the perfect position to jump the Alinghi on the gybe to the gate. Butterworth knew he was in trouble, and the Swiss finally got a gybe off almost simultaneously – but in a fantastic bit of sailing on the New Zealand boat, they managed to gybe back and got right on Alinghi’s air. From there they rode the waves and pressure down, and got themselves in front of Alinghi and we had another pass.

Once again, Terry Hutchinson and his Kiwi strategists had the choice of sides at the gate, and just like race six, they took the left-hand mark (looking upwind). Hutchinson saying afterwards that they chose it for a little bias (it was closer, there was a left hand shift) and the clean rounding (they were approaching on starboard and it was a simple leeward drop). Alinghi helmsman, Ed Baird said afterwards that they were happy to take whatever the Kiwis gave them – the bias or the starboard advantage. It was just unfortunate for Terry Hutchinson that he had to make a choice. Another day, another five minutes, and he could have got both. But that’s yacht racing, even at this level.

So then we got an almost complete replay of the first beat. Alinghi waited their moment, came across on a shift, the Kiwis had to tack leebow and the tacking duel started. Again the Kiwis had to bail out to stem the losses and both boats settled on starboard. But Terry Hutchinson wasn’t going to repeat any more of the first beat. This time he waited until the end before he tacked back at the Swiss.

The Kiwis overstood to ensure that they could still lay the mark on port once they'd gone behind the Swiss. And they bore away hard to do the duck - they want to get behind the Swiss, luff up and round the mark, while the Swiss are still tacking.

But although the Swiss are right of way boat, the rules allow them to make it hard for the Kiwis to go behind them. So the Swiss immediately bore away at them, and we had the two boats reaching at each other. Now ETNZ had to bear away further to keep avoiding the collision as they got closer – and we're into the dial-down, which Brad Butterworth has been prepping his crew on for the last five minutes.

The Swiss on starboard had to be careful, there's a point beyond which they can't keep bearing away, because the Kiwis can no longer avoid the collision, and they can't go below a true wind angle of 90. But if the Swiss got it right, they can force the Kiwis to go so far to leeward to get behind them, that the Alinghi can get the tack in before the Kiwis can luff up and round the mark...

So, at the wheel of ETNZ, Dean Barker knew that if he went too far to leeward he’s toast. He had to do the minimum bear away to get behind the Swiss, and for a few moments that was a moving target as the Swiss bore away at him… But if he didn’t bear away enough to keep clear of the Swiss once they started holding their course (assuming the Swiss start holding their course early enough not to be judged by the umpires to have made it impossible for the Kiwis to keep clear) then Barker hasn’t avoided a right of way boat.

And that, in the view of the umpires, was what happened. As they closed the Kiwis were not getting in front of the Swiss, and Barker did a second big bear away, but it was judged by the umpires to be too late. It also left the Kiwis with such a huge luff to get back to the mark that the Swiss were able to tack and round in front.

It all happened fast, and the umpires were trying to make the judgement from their boats rather than overhead - it’s tough. But having seen the aerial shots in replay, and they only showed the last few seconds rather than the whole thing, it did look like the penalty was fair. But this will be chewed over for a long while…

So, the Swiss led round with a twelve second advantage, and a penalty to the good. Game over, right? Wrong. Unbelievably, there’s one more twist to this plot. If you were John McClane and this was a Die Hard movie, then you’d have already watched the baddie die four times, and frankly, when he gets back up for the fifth it’s starting to get a little unrealistic…

Unsurprisingly, the Swiss settled quicker into the run, and the 12 seconds turned into four boat lengths by the time the Kiwis gybed away. Alinghi seemed to have sorted out their handling problems, and were keeping themselves jammed between the man and the mark. Then the Kiwis split again and this time Brad Butterworth either didn’t or couldn’t go with them. When Alinghi went, it was with their air behind the Kiwis and a little separation had opened…

What all the commentators and anyone with access to the Met buoys could see by now, was that the wind had dropped to 8 knots and gone 30 or more degrees to the left at the finish line. Both boats are on starboard, and they’re about to get hit by the mother of all headers.

It was the Kiwis that spotted it first, their headsail was up on deck immediately, and they bore away, hoisted the jib and dropped the spinnaker. The change was smooth, and they were now to windward of the Swiss, in the new breeze and headed straight at the line.

Things were not going so well for the Swiss. Brad Butterworth said at the press conference, ‘I was a bit in denial that the breeze wasn’t going to hold, but Warwick Fleury did a good job of coaxing us to get the jib up on deck and get things going.’ It was just in time. The spinnaker pole broke off the mast as the breeze came on the bow and the pole went forward to the headstay and loaded up. For a while it was organized chaos on the Swiss boat. And all the time the Kiwis are reaching straight at the finish. Can they possibly build a big enough lead to get the penalty complete?

The gain-line clicked up… one length, two lengths… still the Swiss haven’t sorted out the mess… three lengths, almost four by the time the Kiwis swung their bow into the wind to shed the penalty…

No one can breathe.

But the Swiss were finally rumbling. And it was not a normal penalty, done by swinging around the leeward mark. The Kiwis had to luff, tack through the wind, and then tack back to get to the finish line. It’s horribly slow. And if you wanted to be absolutely brutal, you’d say that the Kiwis started it too early. But the finishing line has been moved, they don't have it 'pinged' in the computer, and they don't have a transit, so quite how they could have called it any better, I don't know...

The final seconds were just about unwatchable. The Kiwis got the penalty cleared and their bow back down and pointed at the finish - but they’re a full length short of the line. And it takes them forever to get the 24 tons of lead moving again… and Alinghi are now at full speed, blasting in to leeward…

History will record that the bow of Alinghi crossed the line a single second before that of Emirates TNZ. When he was asked what was going through his mind at that point, Brad Butterworth replied, ‘Put up the blue flag.’ It seemed to take an eternity for the race committee to decide. An almost surreal silence fell on the watching spectator fleet. And then… there it was. It was over.

It’s been a ride for everyone, but the sailors have really been through the mill. At the press conference the Alinghi afterguard took it in turns to tell us it was the biggest and the best. Ernesto Bertarelli commented, ‘This is definitely bigger and better than last time. It has been much, much harder than I ever thought it would be…’ He went on, ‘I want to thank and mention the whole team. It's been a real lesson in life. One of the hardest things I've ever done and today is probably, beside the birth of my kids, the best day of my life.’

Even Brad Butterworth thought this was his favourite win, and when asked if he was sure, stuck to it. And why not? There was plenty of history being made, along with Murray Jones, Warwick Fleury, Simon Daubney and Dean Phipps, Butterworth had just won his fourth America’s Cup.

Juan Vila became the first Spanish citizen to win, and did it on his home waters.

Simon Daubney told us that the key to the win had been the in-house racing. He then managed to name all 17 of the guys on the Alinghi B-boat. ‘We get to do the interviews, but the thing I’m proudest of, is those guys.’ Another class act.

And, perhaps inevitably, Brad Butterworth was asked once again, if he still thought the America’s Cup was a design game. And once again, he said yes. He pointed to the line-up off the start when the Swiss boat had held for what seemed an unfeasibly long time to windward of the Kiwis, and told us that you can’t sail in that close proximity to another yacht without an edge. Terry Hutchinson seemed to concur when he told us that in these last races, they just didn’t quite seem to have enough…

But I can tell you after watching this, that while you’re still going to have to turn up with the fastest boat to win the thirty third America’s Cup, you’d better be ready to race the friggin’ paint off it…

And finally, Bertarelli revealed just what he thought they were racing for – right or wrong, he believed that if ETNZ had won, his team would have been shut out of the competition by the Kiwis changing the nationality rules. Alinghi, for Ernesto Bertarelli, had been racing for their very existence for the last 11 days.

But Alinghi have won, and once again they get to make the rules – Bertarelli would not be drawn on the Protocol. The documents were signed with Desafio Espanol - as everyone expected – right as the boats finished. But we’ll have to wait till Thursday to find out what’s in them.

And the Kiwis? They weren't at (not invited, apparently) the final press conference, but several of them had been interviewed prior to that – Grant Dalton looked utterly gutted as he said, ‘Our guys have done an amazing job and right now the guys aren't feeling that sharp - it's been a long four years. I'm of course enormously proud of them but Alinghi did a better job than us. We enjoyed the Louis Vuitton Cup but knew it was a just a step along the rung to the ultimate prize of the America's Cup. We didn't come here to take part. We just came here to win it and we haven't done that. So now we have to re-group and see what the future holds.’

You gotta feel for them. But while history is traditionally written by the victors, hell will freeze over before anyone forgets the contribution these guys made to the greatest America's Cup match ever.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Desperate Daze

If they’re even remotely human, the Kiwis will surely be reeling tonight. Alinghi took their second straight come-from-behind win to go 4-2 up, just one race short of a successful defence. In the Louis Vuitton semis and finals, passes were about as common as rocking horse pooh, and now we can barely get through a race without one, or even a handful.

This sixth race was no less extraordinary than any of those that went before it. The balance of power shifting so fast and so unpredictably, it was like watching Formula 1 cars trying to race on gravel roads.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to neatly sum it all up – but this race, this series, will not be put into boxes. Neither team can produce a significant, consistent edge. The Kiwis aren’t a flawless racing machine, and Alinghi aren’t a rocket-ship. But while I'd still rather be in SUI100 if you gave me a choice, and it’s the Kiwis mental strength and tight racing technique that has kept them in the game, it’s been the errors that have made this such an absorbing contest.

Alinghi clean the Kiwis out on the way to the layline. The Kiwis clean Alinghi out on the way to the layline. Barker wins one start, Baird wins the next. Alinghi’s boat handling looks a bit rough, the Kiwis rip a chute…

You see my problem.

This America’s Cup doesn’t belong in a world with a three minute attention span, that prefers one sentence of ‘spin’ to political policy, the elevator pitch rather than the script. In this world, there is only one way to tell this story…

Alinghi have won four and ETNZ have won two.

And I don’t blame you if you leave it there. But if you’ll stay with me for a few minutes, I have a tale that will be retold as long as there are yachts and yacht races…

It was Ed Baird’s moment to step up to the call of history. After taking a hiding at the hands of Dean Barker yesterday, fate had handed him the starboard tack advantage in light air. He got ETNZ into the dial up, and he held Barker there, pinned into the left-hand side of the box, both boats gently luffing on starboard tack as they drifted towards the pin. The clock ticked down, and the screw ratcheted onto Barker’s shoulders. Trapped. At 3-2 down in the America’s Cup. Can you imagine the suffocating pressure? This is the kind of moment that has £25 million strikers putting the ball over the bar in World Cup penalty shoot-outs.

But at one minute 40 seconds, a chink opened and Barker leapt on it, gybing away, turning back towards the committee boat. Alinghi tacked round, both boats on port, heading for the committee boat, Alinghi from above the line, the Kiwis below it. The next bit is open to interpretation – but here’s how I saw it…

At the press conference afterwards, Dean Barker said the Kiwis wanted the left, while Brad Butterworth told us that Alinghi wanted the right. So Dean Barker’s problem was to get far enough to the right of the start box to be able to gybe and come out still laying the pin on starboard, and without so much ‘time to burn’ that Alinghi could gybe on their tail and force them either over the line or to tack away to the right.

And so it came to pass that Alinghi found the Kiwis reaching up from under them, crossing their bow with Barker going from a safe leeward/ahead position, to a very unsafe windward/ahead position. It was an invitation to Ed Baird to turn the wheel down sharply and bear away, and all of a sudden, the Kiwis found themselves struggling to get their gybe in across Alinghi’s bow.

Barker went for it, as he has in the past (against the Spanish, I think, when he did cop a penalty…) and this time he got away with it. But it looked as dodgy as a forty five cent piece, and Brad Butterworth clearly wasn’t happy on the water. If Alinghi had lost, I suspect he’d have been fuming at the press conference. As it was, he just said, ‘We all get things wrong - some of them more obvious than others. But they’ve got a tough job. They are doing their best.’

But when the shouting was done and the flags flown, we had both boats with the side they wanted, on starboard and heading back to the line. The Kiwis worked hard to close the gauge to Alinghi to get tight to leeward in the final approach. But it was an even start, and it looked like we’d have another drag race to the layline – this one a mirror image of yesterday, on starboard not port, and with the Kiwis to leeward not windward. Just like race four then, the observant amongst you will be saying…

So we know how tight these are, how little it takes to push it one way or the other when the boats are so closely matched. Adam Beashel said afterwards that their expectation afterwards was for a right shift off the line, and they’d been hoping to force Alinghi away during that, so the Swiss had to sail the header. That part didn’t work out – although the Kiwis worked really hard at scalloping up to Alinghi and closing the leverage down.

But the ETNZ weather team had told them to expect a left hand shift next. It arrived when they were about two thirds of the way out to the layline – the Kiwis hit the hyperspace button, put it into high mode and the separation came tumbling down. Alinghi held their lane to within about two minutes of the layline – close but no cigar. Brad Butterworth called for the tack, and about a minute later the Kiwis followed.

At this point, the Swiss were still in pretty good shape, all they needed was one decent right hand shift to take back to the Kiwis, and they could bounce them out past the layline. There were a couple of times when, on Live Sailing, it looked like the Swiss might have enough as the Kiwis hit a soft spot. But it didn’t look like that from Alinghi, and as they closed on the mark the Kiwis hit better pressure and a left hand shift and started to lift off the Swiss. Butterworth finally had to tack to stem the bleeding on the gain line, and the Kiwis crossed two lengths in front, held the left, saved themselves a tack and were 14 seconds in front at the mark.

But it was going to be a tough run to hold a lead. Initially, Terry Hutchinson went for the tight cover, and Alinghi made a little gain. And when Alinghi next gybed away to the left, Hutchinson took his cojones in both hands, backed what Adam Beashel and Ray Davies were telling him, and carried on… For a couple of minutes it looked like the Kiwis had got it wrong, then the Swiss hit a light patch and had to gybe, and at the next cross the Kiwis were further ahead. And they were in a position where they could take whichever side of the gate and the beat that they wanted. Their choice would settle the race, could settle the Cup. The left or the right… the left or the right… whichever they took, the Swiss would take the other one.

Dean Barker said afterwards that they thought the beat was pretty even, and they reckoned the advantages of the easier drop going to the left hand mark would outweigh any bias to the right hand gate mark. Maybe. Whatever, the Swiss rounded 11 seconds behind, which was a good comeback from where they had been two thirds of the way down the run. And those extra metres were about to be crucial. The Swiss headed out to the right on port, and the Kiwis tacked to cover them.

We had another drag race, with the gainline shifting back and forth with every burp and bubble in the breeze. It was all about whether Alinghi could find the moment to tack and go across to them. And it was getting softer, the wind slipping down to eight knots – we’d already seen two passes in these conditions with leebow tacks that wouldn’t stick. First the advantage went to the Swiss and the Kiwi lead almost evaporated. Then the Kiwis got their two or three length advantage back… But not for long, the pendulum reached the top of its swing and started to slide towards Alinghi…

Butterworth said afterwards they got their nose into a little more breeze first. ‘The angles of those boats are quite big in that 7-8 knot breeze, if you get 7.5 knots you might be 5 degrees higher than the other guy. It’s huge. If you have just a little bit more pressure in that wind range it makes a huge difference and that is what happened.’ Or as Dean Barker put it, ‘A little bit of pressure and a little bit of shift goes a long way in those conditions.’

Finally, Butterworth reckoned it looked as good as it was going to get and Alinghi tacked. To me, it didn’t look like the Kiwis could cross even if they wanted to - they tacked leebow. Butterworth came back at them again, and Terry Hutchinson accepted the invite. Another cross. Same result. But Alinghi were hitting better breeze on the right, and Butterworth went back at them really short the third time. With the breeze coming in from Alinghi’s side, the Kiwis had to get over to them. But as the Kiwis tacked it was clear that Alinghi were well bow forward. And in less time than it’s taken for me to type this, the Swiss were past. ETNZ couldn’t get close enough to make the leebow stick, worse, they had to tack downspeed, and Alinghi were able to hold their lane on starboard all the way to the top mark.

That doesn’t tell you anything about how close the Kiwis got on the last leg. They were ‘inside’ gybing (pulling the clew around aft of the luff of the sail), whereas the Swiss were still ‘outside’ gybing (letting the clew float round ahead of the luff). Adam Beashel, ETNZ windspotter was asked about it afterwards, ‘I think there is a little difference in the boat’s cross-overs – we have developed it this way in the last three years of our sailing, and are happy going inside with our gybes in that wind range. Hopefully we will stay inside a little bit higher than what we expected today, and it is what is showing with our slightly better gybes. If conditions get softer later on it could get more interesting.’

Slicker gybes and a lane of wind got the Kiwis to within a length of the Swiss. But closing the gap and getting around are two different things. The Kiwis took one final gybe out to the layline to try and get some separation; hit a hole in the breeze and that was it. Game over, match point. The final delta was 28 seconds.

Brad Butterworth was asked how much of their passing move was luck, ‘I think there is always an element of luck. Unless you have a crystal ball which tells you or you can see the wind buoys you just don’t know. The gate kind of leaves you with what you’ve got - we were going to go opposite to them, so were happy to go round that left mark looking down. We came round with quite a left breeze – and predominantly the right seems to win out. It’s been a tough environment to sail the races, and you have seen big lead changes that are all wind orientated - from the shifts and pressure.’

Dean Barker was putting as brave a face on it as he could, ‘We are as positive as we can be. It’s hard losing races, we are 3 from 6 round the top mark, and we are 2-4 down so they have done a better job at converting their percentages. I think while there is a chance we are still a very dangerous team. I have complete confidence in the guys and our entire team and I do firmly believe we can get ourselves back into it. It’s a big ask as they are a very strong team, while there is a chance we will be right there. We will sail exactly the same as we have. We are not sailing badly, it is just that the key moment hasn’t gone our way – we still have 100% belief we can come back and have a good race tomorrow.’

I don't think there's a man, woman, child or dog that's watched this series that wouldn't agree with him.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Dream the Undreamable, Think the Unthinkable…

The Kiwis have been dreaming the undreamable dream (at least according to the word on pundit street) for a while now, and today the unthinkable happened. Twice. Emirates Team New Zealand held Alinghi all the way to the starboard tack layline to take the lead at the top mark. And then threw it away as they let a broken spinnaker turn into a big casino, going through two replacements before they got one up and set.

And after all that, the delta for Alinghi’s race four win was still only 19 seconds.

So, it’s 3-2 - but let’s rewind a bit, because there was a lot of good stuff the Kiwis can take away from today’s race, and it began with Dean Barker’s pre-start. ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said at the press conference that they reckoned it was a pretty even race track, and they wanted to take it to Alinghi in the pre-start to try and get a little advantage off the line, and they certainly did that.

The Kiwis had the advantage of the starboard entry, but I think it was Ed Baird that gave them the opportunity to use it when he got ahead of Dean Barker in the turn into the dial-up. Alinghi had gone through head to wind and onto starboard tack before Barker was barely above a beam reach. There was an inviting berth to leeward of the Swiss yacht and Barker jumped into it.

And once they were to leeward, the Kiwis had control. Alinghi were quite slow to respond, but eventually they got going on port, and headed for the spectator fleet. A couple of hundred people got their biggest buzz of the day as both boats ducked and dived. Ray Davies reckoned, ‘Opportunities can change quite quickly once you get in among the spectator boats so once we got in with the cats, Deano decided not to engage much more and from that point led back on a comfortable lead, did a secure job of making it tough for Alinghi.’

Alinghi chased ETNZ towards the line, but without enough ‘time to burn’ left for the push to be effective. And as they hardened up for the final approach, the Kiwis were tight to leeward and half a length advanced. At this point, Alinghi’s only option was to tack, and there was a moment when it appeared that a sharp luff from Barker might have forced Baird to tack to port before he could lay the committee boat. That would have left the Swiss tacking twice and still having to accelerate, and might have been a complete shut-out.

But it didn’t happen, the Swiss held on, tacked and started on port at the committee boat, the Kiwis at full speed on starboard with a length advantage. Terry Hutchinson on tactics in NZL92 spent some of their lead in the covering tack, but as both boats settled on port, ETNZ was still half a length clear.

The gain line swung back and forth, and at its best Alinghi worked their way into a half length advantage. But Alinghi navigator, Juan Vila told the press conference there was never quite enough for them to be able to live with a Kiwi leebow tack, and so they hung on…. And, perhaps, like most of those watching, they expected it to get better as the Swiss boat did its thing. In the final stages, we saw Alinghi hit the hyperspace button for the high mode, and they closed the lateral separation down a lot. But it wasn’t enough, and a little left-hand shift let the Kiwis live to the layline – as Ray Davies said afterwards, they were very encouraged by their speed.

There wasn’t any doubt about who was going around the top mark first at that point, but Alinghi did a great job of keeping the gap to just 12 seconds. Both boats set chutes, and as Alinghi came surging down inside ETNZ, closing the lead to just a couple of lengths, it looked like we were all set for another classic.

Then came the unthinkable. ETNZ head honcho, Grant Dalton told the press conference that there was a tear the size of a twenty cent piece (probably doesn’t matter which currency) just above the tack patch, the high load area of the sail. It almost certainly got there in the hoist, perhaps a snag, or just abrading on the non-slip on the deck. They were on to it quickly and Jeremy Lomas was out on the pole end getting ready for the peel when the spinnaker blew. Dalton reckoned they bounced on a wave at just the wrong moment, another ten seconds and it would never have happened. By such slender threads…. literally, in this case.

Then came the error. With Alinghi all over them, the Kiwi crew rushed to get the new sail up and set, before they’d cleared the damaged one. The two got wrapped, and as Dalton said, ‘Chaos ensued, there were people and sails everywhere…’ Eventually the torn sail was dropped, the original replacement was jettisoned for the chase boat to pick up, and finally the second replacement filled, after being hoisted with a twist in it.

It was an agonizing couple of minutes. And Alinghi, who had gybed away into clear air to make the pass, gybed back eight lengths in front, with both boats on the layline for the gate. It’ll be a long night in the sail loft for Dick Parker and his team at ETNZ. The Kiwis weren’t done though, and the rest of the race showed just how tough these guys are.

The delta at the gate was 26 seconds, and with Alinghi taking the right-hand mark (looking upwind), the Kiwis took the left, and got a split going. Alinghi held the right ruthlessly, refusing to be drawn into a high tempo tacking duel. Taking the shifts back to them, ETNZ closed the gap to just a couple of lengths at one point. But the best pressure and shift was on the right-hand side at the top of the course, and Alinghi were onto it. They extended on the final approach, with the Kiwis forced to overstand a little to keep their air clear. And the gap was back up to 24 seconds.

The Kiwis hoisted a spinnaker (or S-sail) rather than an asymmetric (A-sail) for the final run, the Swiss with the asymmetric. Both Alinghi trimmer, Simon Daubney and Ray Davies (who implied that the Kiwis still had a choice) reckoned it was right on the cross over between the A and S sail. Daubney explained that you could work the waves a little better with the S-sail, and Davies told the press that it was probably the better sail at the top of the run, with the A-sail having the advantage as the breeze dropped a touch towards the bottom.

Understandably, Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth refused to be drawn into the close gybing duel – the A-sail is the harder to maneuver. And at one point the Kiwis again closed it up to within a couple of lengths. But it wasn’t to be, and as the breeze faded and the A-sail came good, the Swiss pushed ahead to win by 19 seconds.

So, what now? Is this going to finish the Kiwis off? I very much doubt it. If there’s a team in this competition that’s worked at not letting stuff like this unsettle them, it’s Team New Zealand. As Grant Dalton said, ‘How you react to something like that is the key to how you go forward as a team. It is like a fork in the road or a defining moment. You can make it the defining moment but it’s important that we don’t do that, but just see it as a loss in the best of five, and move forward.’

He then got the biggest laugh when he was asked how they got their focus back so fast. He started the answer, went off on a tangent, then had to ask what the question had been… to be told - how do you get the focus back…

What the Kiwis can take away from this was their pace upwind. Dalton was asked if they were worried about their speed in a breeze going into this race, and he replied that even if they were, they couldn’t afford to think about it. And now they certainly aren’t. But there was a question mark raised over Alinghi’s sail choice, the main looked a little edgy on the first beat. When it was queried, Simon Daubney was non-committal - he wanted to see the footage of both boats before he made a call.

The Swiss made all the right noises about still expecting a tight race over twelve knots, Daubney saying that rule changes had been made with the intention of tightening up the differences between the boats, and that after so many iterations of the design cycle, the differences were always going to be tiny.

Another thing everyone agreed on was that it will come down to the sailing from here on. As Daubney said, ‘Grant (Dalton) has said their team is making mistakes, but it’s not all going smoothly on our boat as well. The pressure is on here. It is a very close contest between very close teams and two very equal boats and one little mistake or slip-up is incredibly costly and you don’t want to be the guy that makes that mistake.’

In this game, you have to convert when you’re in possession. The Kiwis failed to do that today and it could cost them dear. But no one, not Tiger, not Michael Jordan, not anyone, repeats even the most routine of actions without occasional failure. That’s what makes sport so compelling. We can only wait to see where the next error will come from, and whether or not it’s critical.

With all that drama going on the water, the previous shore-bound shenanigans got a little forgotten. Perhaps that’s why the jury left it till late to publish their opinion on the ETNZ protest – a bit like the way Governments wait till something dramatic dominates the headlines, and then issue some bad news as quietly as possible….

If you’re into that sort of thing, you can find the opinion here. I’d like to do something on it, but you know… I’m toast… So I gues the Jury's strategy worked then.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

It's Still 2-2...

The Emirates TNZ protest against Alinghi has been dismissed by a majority verdict of the Jury. The reasons are still to be given.

Backstory: The New Zealand protest came about after the measurement committee requested at the end of race four, via Peter Reggio’s race committee, that both boats demonstrate that they could comply with ACC rule 31.6…

31.6: Mainsails shall be able to be lowered to the deck without the necessity of a crew member going aloft.

The main is normally hoisted on a spinnaker halyard, then put on the mainsail lock. Normally, the bowman would go up to the top and reattach the halyard, before the lock is released, so the main can be lowered under control. The boats were being asked to do it without reattaching the spinnaker halyard, and - which is the point - prove that the halyard lock can be fired off from the deck, without any assistance from the man at the top of the rig.

It's essentially a safety rule, if they get caught in really bad conditions and it's dangerous to put a man up the rig, they need to know that they can still get the mainsail down.

The Kiwi mainsail came down just fine, but Alinghi sent a man aloft… It was all captured by the increasingly impressive tv directors, and you can see some still shots from those fine people at right here.

At the post-race press conference, Murray Jones (who runs the rig department at Alinghi as well as being the wind spotter) told the assembled that Alinghi had asked the measurer doing the check if they could put the halyard on. The idea being that when the lock was fired off, the sail didn't fall down the mast too quickly and potentially break battens or do some damage. The measurement committee apparently said ok, and they didn’t protest Alinghi having seen the whole operation.

Then, despite Dean Barker expressing complete confidence in the measurement committee at the same press conference, the Kiwis slapped a protest in just after 7pm Wednesday night.

But the result of race four stands, and it's still 2-2.

In other news, United Internet Team Germany have announced that Karol Jablonski, previously Desafío Español’s helmsman, has defected to join them for the next edition of the America’s Cup.

Presumably they’ve decided that Jablonski, who’s Polish but a long-term German resident, will get through whatever nationality conditions the new defender might impose...

They’ve also had sail number 101 issued for their second boat of this Cup cycle, the construction of which was announced just after they departed the competition.

And the British Challenge, TEAMORIGIN, have announced that they will be challenging through the Royal Thames Yacht Club - the first club ever to challenge back in 1870, after the initial race in 1851.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

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...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Couldn’t be Pulp Fiction…

You know that scene in Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta plunges the adrenaline needle straight into the chest of the overdosing Uma Thurman? She sits bolt upright, with her eyes boggling? Well… that’s how it was watching Emirates Team New Zealand beat Alinghi by 25 seconds to take a 2-1 series lead yesterday.

For nearly two hours.

It was right up there with the final race in 1983, and if you pitched it in a script, they’d laugh at you, too out there, dude - it just doesn’t happen like that in real life…

Well, it did.

But it so nearly didn’t. The warning signal went at the last possible moment before the 17.00 shut off, after we’d waited all afternoon for the breeze to settle. Ironically, the biggest shift then came through a few minutes into the first beat. It was ETNZ that called it and nailed it. ETNZ wind spotter, Adam Beashel, said afterwards that the weather team had made the call right at the last minute prior to the entry, and we heard strategist Ray Davies restating it late in the pre-start – must-have right.

By then we’d already had Alinghi entering from port and looking like they were going to cross, ETNZ gybing to defend the right, then gybing back when they thought they could get to Alinghi to force a dial-up, and then Alinghi crossing anyway… We should have guessed then, that this might be memorable.

Eventually, Alinghi led back towards the line – once again defending the left. They really do love that starting move. But this time Ed Baird at the wheel of Alinghi did a great job, much more aggressive, getting really tight to leeward of ETNZ, so the Kiwis had to tack for the committee boat short of the layline and downspeed. Immediately Alinghi accelerated and started on starboard, jumping out to a 3-4 length lead.

It lasted maybe three minutes – by the time Alinghi had tacked to port to go with ETNZ, the right-hand windshift was on the Kiwis, and when Dean Barker tacked NZL92 soon afterwards to set up the first cross, the Kiwis were 4-5 lengths clear. From there, it just got worse for Brad Butterworth and Alinghi. The Kiwis defended the right, and that was where all the breeze and shift was coming from – the Kiwis lifted off Alinghi and the lead grew like Topsy. By the time they rounded the windward mark, the gap was 1 minute 23 seconds.

Impossible to come back from? You’d have thought so…

But it was the kind of day when nothing was impossible, and Alinghi were a long way from giving up. They worked the run hard, forcing Terry Hutchinson to make difficult choices between covering and sailing his own race. Perhaps predictably, Hutchinson chose to cover, but it came at a high cost - by the gate the lead was down to 200m, and we were about to see something else new.

The Kiwis screwed up a rounding.

Yup, as I said, you wouldn’t put it in a novel… To be fair, the wind twisted them round it’s little finger like a femme fatale with a leery mark, forcing two late changes of decision about which side, and finally leaving them dead upwind of the mark they had to take in one of the biggest right hand shifts of the day. Things weren’t made any better when Richard Meacham slipped off the bow… but he caught a rope and hauled himself back on board. Then the gennaker got hauled into the headsail winch as they tried to get the sails in around the mark and the knives were out…

If that wasn’t bad enough, Alinghi came round the same mark a minute behind and promptly got a massive 25 degree left-hand shift. It cut the Kiwi’s lead faster than they could cut the spinnaker out of the winch. By the time they tacked to get up to the lane of left-hand breeze that Alingi were in, they were only a couple of lengths ahead. ETNZ tacked to cover, and Alinghi tacked away…

At this point, you’d normally expect Terry Hutchinson, ETNZ’s tactician, to go back with the opponent pretty close. He didn’t, whether that was because they wanted to back the right, or just because they needed to settle the boat down, I’m not sure. Whatever… the result was that at the next cross, Alinghi were right with them. The Swiss dialed-down as ETNZ tried to tack leebow – a role reversal replay of the passing move in race two… And for a long while Alinghi held on in the windward position, but not quite to the layline.

So, the Swiss tack away, ETNZ follow. Wild shifts come through, the gain line is swinging like a seventies keys party, with both boats on starboard, just below the layline. Finally, Alinghi tack back at ETNZ, there’s another massive dial-down, but the Kiwis defend the right, as both boats tack away. There’s one cross left, and it’s going to be right on the wind ward mark…

Alinghi take it.

The Swiss go round 15 seconds in front. It’s the most incredible come back, from what at one point was a 400m deficit. But this race isn’t finished with anyone yet. The Kiwis gybe away, and Butterworth, defending the kind of lead that will disappear in just two extra gybes (and having seen how covering had worked for Hutchinson on the first run), elects not to cover. At the next cross, he’s proved right. No change. Alinghi, on starboard, pass in front of the port gybe ETNZ.

At this point, Alinghi weren’t that far from laying the finish, and they were already on a header. They couldn’t find a good moment to gybe. So they let the Kiwis go behind them and get to leeward. From here, a further left hand shift – the kind that’s already brought Alinghi back into the race on the previous beat - will advantage the Kiwis. And late in the day, when the sea breeze dies, the wind can keep going to the left, Ray Davies reminds the New Zealand afterguard…

Afterwards, Alinghi runner-man, Rodney Arden said that he thought they did the right thing. There just wasn’t a good moment to gybe back towards the Kiwis to cover them. But… but… Alinghi let over a kilometer of separation or leverage open, and at that distance you don’t need much of a wind shift for the lead to change hands.

The boats ended up on opposite laylines, and by the time they came back together, the lead, as represented by the gainline had, according to Ray Davies, changed about a dozen times. But at the final cross, it was the Kiwis that were three lengths clear.

Nail-biting, mind-boggling drama – whatever happens from here, this one will not be forgotten for a long while.

What does it all mean? In the bigger picture, the way this race played out doesn’t tell us anything much about what might happen next. Both boats didn’t so much as make mistakes, as get stitched up trying to do the right thing in impossible conditions. It just happened to be Alinghi holding the parcel when the music stopped. And Dean Phipps, Alinghi pitman, made it pretty clear at the press conference that he thought they shouldn’t have been racing in that stuff – they could have tossed a coin.

I think you can be pretty confident that Brad Butterworth will have been bending race officer Peter Reggio’s ear to that effect this evening.

But… again, the buts… This is new territory for the Swiss team. They’ve never been behind in the Cup before. Until yesterday, they’d never lost a race in six outings. Now they’re 2-1 down in what’s proving to be the most dramatic series we’ve seen since 1983. Or did I already say that…?

Will it unsettle the Swiss? Or will it just fire them up with a sense of bitter injustice? I don’t know, I don’t think anyone knows how this might play out from here. It’s a new movie.

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Hat's Off...

It was a hell of a day in the America’s Cup, however you score it…

Before we go any further, a little history was made today - Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney, Warwick Fleury, Murray Jones and Dean Phipps finished their consecutive, sixteen race, America’s Cup winning streak. That’s a record no one is going to break anytime soon, and we should take a moment to pause to consider the achievement of five men who, along with Russell Coutts, have dominated the America’s Cup in the modern era…

photo: Ingrid Abery

… all right, more importantly for this match, the Kiwis ended their six race losing streak, and ensured that the Cup will not go to a sweep for the fourth time on the trot. The importance of their 28 second win, drawing the match level at 1-1, can’t be over-stressed. As ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said at the press conference - the only thing you can do about a loss is go back out there and try to turn it round. And you can’t do that on a lay-day. Now, both teams have a day to study what they know so far, with the scorecard back where it was.

What do we think they know? In the lighter air and flatter water (compared to yesterday) the boats looked very even. Certainly downwind, there was nothing in it. Upwind, if I had to make a choice, I would still rather be in Alinghi - but in the lighter wind range (and the jury's still out on yesterday) the Kiwis are in the game. And once they’re in the game, all that hard-edged Louis Vuitton racing means Alinghi can’t take anything for granted.

The Swiss aren’t sailing flawlessly, and as Luna Rossa found, that’s all that ETNZ need to get a result on the board. So do we have a slightly quicker boat that’s not sailed quite as well as the slightly slower boat? Well… maybe… at the moment… That happened in a rather memorable series in 1983, so I’m happy to admit that I might be wishing it into being so…

But what could have been caution from Alinghi yesterday, did start to look like a lack of match fitness today. Until the second beat, their speed appeared to get the Swiss boat out of trouble, but today there was one slightly dodgy move too many, and with the Kiwis able to keep the pressure on right from the moment they switched sides in the pre-start, they eventually got the lead.

It was a day when Dean Barker at the wheel of ETNZ had everything to do – and the disadvantage of the port tack entry. But they’ve obviously been working on the timing, because they pulled the ‘Oracle’ move – sailed deep away from the pin with a bit of bias and plenty of speed and crossed Alinghi’s bow. At the press conference, Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth commented that ETNZ only just made the cross, he didn’t think it was an Alinghi error, just the way it was… But looking at it again on Live Sailing, ETNZ have their bow down and going deep a full length before Alinghi.

Either way, once he had the right, Barker was able to take a more aggressive stance. After a couple of circles, we had a repeat of yesterday’s start when Barker was first to turn back to the line, and Alinghi decided to turn inside them again and take the left. The difference for this race was that Barker then got himself in a position to get the hook on Ed Baird, at the wheel of Alinghi. And Barker started to push hard, really hard. He forced Alinghi to tack away towards the committee boat. Jimmy Spithill, in the Sky studio, commented afterwards that he thought there was an opportunity for Barker to make a really quick tack to get onto Alinghi’s tail and go for the complete shut-out…

But he didn’t, and Alinghi immediately tacked back to get the left-hand side, and ETNZ didn’t contest it, preferring the right. As in the first race, the crews wanted different things, confirming as much at the press conference. But Alinghi’s quick tack got them too close, with too little time left, and they started well down the line. ETNZ were right on the committee boat at the gun, maybe half a length further forward and with plenty of separation to live.

What happened next was exactly what happened to Luna Rossa after their comprehensive pre-start roughing up of the Kiwis in race three of the LV Final. The ETNZ lead off the line evaporated with bewildering speed, Alinghi just smoked up underneath them, and the Kiwis were forced to tack off. It was a bad moment for Barker and company, and Ray Davies admitted as much at the press conference. Pressure (breeze) or performance? Probably a bit of both…

But so far, so much a replay of yesterday. And the script didn’t change for a long while. Alinghi sailed a great beat, forced ETNZ to pay their dues for being behind – two extra tacks – and went round the top mark 19 seconds in front. It was now that things changed, and all of a sudden instead of a dull remake of the original, we had a brand new movie (less Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life, and more Mad Max II).

Alinghi gybed to starboard, and headed away from the right hand side of the course (looking upwind). Brad Butterworth admitted at the press conference that he was not happy about the spectator wash in that top corner, and he used the tv microphone to make his comments felt to the wider world. So they took a shift away from the wash, and made a slight gain. But Alinghi had handed the Kiwis a split, and made them the pro-active boat, choosing when to go back at the Swiss. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson, made it work and at the next cross the Kiwis were a touch closer.

Now ETNZ got their first real break – Alinghi found themselves on a header, with the layline coming up like Niagra falls for a man in a barrel. So when Alinghi did finally have to gybe, it was an open invitation for the Kiwis to come across and smack one on the air of the Swiss boat. And you can’t give people like Terry Hutchinson that kind of opportunity. Alinghi wriggled into clear air, but it cost them another half length.

They then compounded the loss by electing to go across and round the left-hand mark (as they did yesterday). It saved a gybe and a tougher rounding, but it was slightly further away. The net result was that the Kiwis closed the game up to 13 seconds, and got another split going away from the mark. By the time Alinghi had tacked to cover the gain line was showing the lead down to just a couple of lengths - a gap that ETNZ maintained to the first cross, by taking a little right-hand shift across to Alinghi.

The Swiss carried on to take the right, and pretty much everyone watching (that I heard voice an opinion), thought they did the right thing – getting late in the afternoon in Valencia, the right usually pays. But it was an unstable kind of day, and it didn’t alter the fact that for the second day in a row, Alinghi had taken a loss to go to the left hand mark, then immediately changed their minds and swopped back to take the right. But the real difference was that today, once they’d got the right, the Kiwis found the leftie from hell to come back on. Ray Davies said that it was the biggest shift they saw, and they got it just when they needed it.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen that either, remember the Kiwis passing Luna Rossa in race four of the Louis Vuitton Final? And Brad Butterworth made the same error as Torben Grael did on that occasion – he tacked leebow, but not close enough to ETNZ to make it stick - and the Swiss had to watch as the Kiwis wound up inside them on the lift.

Now all the Kiwis had to do was to hold their lane to the layline… It was still a big ask, and despite Alinghi finding the high gear and closing the lateral separation, the Kiwis just made it. And once NZL 92 was on starboard, bow forward and on the layline, it was all over. Alinghi eventually dropped in behind them, and rounded the top mark 15 seconds behind. It was a lead the Kiwis defended to the finish, and converted into a 28 second win to make it 1-1.

So what next? I don’t think that Alinghi will be fazed by this. I sailed with Butterworth on an IMS boat (the late, great, Pasquale Landolfi’s Brava) back when he was just an America’s Cup winner, rather than a triple America’s Cup winner. And I remember him having the most shocking day imaginable in Palma Bay, if there was a header out there, we were on it, unless we were going downwind… (although, as I was to discover last year, it’s possible to have worse days in Palma). But the point is - that evening, you’d never have known it, water off a duck’s back.

But today should convince the Alinghi guys that the boat isn't going to do all the work. Butterworth was asked at the press conference if he still thought the Cup was a design contest, and he replied, ‘Yes.’ And I’m still with him - but Alinghi will have to race it tighter than they have been...

And whatever, Brad’s still got all the best lines - when asked if the heart was beating a little faster in the pre-start, he replied, ‘the pacemaker’s on.’

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Softly, softly…

The America’s Cup began as you might have expected – cautiously. Or was it nervously?

It's the moment, isn't it, the start of the first race of an America's Cup. Both boats come off the line and everyone holds their breath... it's... it's... it's... holy cow. It's the Kiwis!

And then it wasn't.

Alinghi really tiptoed round the course, but nevertheless they opened their account with a solid 35 second win. But it had all started so brightly for Dean Barker and ETNZ. They had the controlling right-hand side of the entry, and after bailing out of the dial-up first, came straight back at Alinghi, throwing a quick gybe in and getting the Emirates boat to leeward.

ETNZ invite Alinghi to dance. photo Outside Images

Aboard Alinghi, Ed Baird’s response was to put his boat into the wind to gain as much separation as possible from ETNZ – it looked like a refusal to engage in a close quarters battle. The bigger the windward/leeward distance between the pair, the easier it would be for Baird to evade Barker if he came looking for trouble from that leeward berth.

Barker seemed to accept this, and so when Alinghi turned downwind, ETNZ also bore away and led downwind into the box, with Alinghi chasing them in a more conventional set-up. But when Barker turned back to the line, it was Ed Baird that had the choice – he chose the left, turning inside ETNZ and setting up to leeward of the Kiwis. Alinghi’s navigator, Juan Vila explained at the press conference that their initial call was for an oscillating breeze, but changed it late to wanting the left. In the end, that was the race winner. Barker didn’t contest it on the water, and he confirmed at the press conference that the Kiwis call was for the right.

From there, Ed Baird did a good job of keeping tight to leeward of ETNZ – both boats coasting towards the committee boat for a long while. But the Kiwis had done an equally good job of their positioning prior to the gybe, and there was never much chance of a shut-out at the boat. When they both turned down to accelerate for the line, it was the Kiwis that did it a little better, and although Alinghi were close to them, ETNZ were far enough forward to be able to live. So we had a clean start, and with the two boats wanting different sides, no pre-start fireworks on day one. The massive spectator fleet having to be content with the real ones as they left the dock.

Initially, it was the Kiwis on the right hand side that looked good – they lifted off Alinghi and held their lane, easing out to almost a length lead. And it appeared that once again that Roger Badham and the Emirates weather team had woven their magic. But then it started to cave on them - Dean Barker said that the breeze headed them 12-15 degrees, and that was too much. They started to fall into Alinghi and tacked away. Barker saying they were happy to do so, feeling the right would come good again.

It didn’t.

And that was the race. It’s all it takes at this level. Alinghi went a little further, tacked to port to windward of the Kiwis, and slowly edged into a one length lead as the breeze continued to go left. ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson had to call for a tack to avoid getting trapped into the right hand corner, and Alinghi won the first cross.

Interesting hardware for Alinghi windspotter, Murray Jones. The backpack appears to drive a heads-up display that gives him all the boat's data while he's up the rig. photo Ingrid Abery.

From there the Swiss boat stretched a little, making the Kiwis look so-so at what had previously been a strength – tacking. But ETNZ weren’t going away, and Hutchinson called some moves that would have looked slick on the Studio 54 dance floor, keeping the deficit down to 13 seconds at the top mark.

The first run started out with Alinghi making a little gain away from the mark, then the Kiwis came back at them, and then, almost out of nowhere, Alinghi turned two lengths on the gain line into five and a 20 second lead at the gate.

How did they do it? The answers were cagey at the press conference. The short chop was unusual, because this was a gradient easterly wind rather than a true sea breeze, it had been blowing long enough to get a seaway running. And Adam Beashel, the ETNZ wind spotter, reckoned that the shifts were harder to read and bigger – 15 degrees rather than 6 degrees – than with the conventional sea breeze. It meant that if you could get a wave, some pressure and a shift all at once, there were some big gains to be made.

And Alinghi did, several times, both on the first run, and the second, when they converted a 14 second lead at the top mark into a 35 second lead at the finish. Does it mean that Alinghi are quicker downwind… neither Barker nor Alinghi navigator, Juan Vila would be drawn on that at the press conference. And fair enough, it wasn’t good downwind testing conditions, as they say in the debriefs. But the fact that it happened twice is going to get everyone talking, particularly when the downwind legs were previously NZL 92’s forte. But then, they’ve changed the bulb to a more upwind orientated one, so…

But wait… the observant amongst you will have noticed that I missed a bit – the bit where the Kiwis made all of their gains, 20 seconds behind at the gate, closing to a 14 second lead by the top mark. What was interesting here was that Alinghi initially took the left. They chose to round the left-hand gate mark – which was also a much easier drop for them – but then took the right at the first cross. So did they change their minds? Or was the left-hand mark taken because it was the more conservative manoeuver?

Or to rephrase it, was this the confidence of a team that knows it has the quicker boat and doesn’t have to push it on the corners, much as they hadn’t pushed it at the start? Or was it a team that haven’t raced for a while and looked a little nervous? A lot’s riding on the answer…

Either way, Alinghi held onto the right after that, despite the Kiwis initially closing the gap from the left after the Swiss swopped sides. But the right came good for Alinghi tactician, Brad Butterworth and co. eventually, and they never looked threatened once they started tacking and got ETNZ out towards the layline.

Alinghi may well have had the higher anxiety levels going into today (with the exception of the completely un-phase-able Butterworth, anyway). Given the time they’ve been away from this ‘real’ racing it would have been a surprise to see them go toe-to-toe with the battle-hardened Kiwi team. But whatever advantage the Kiwis had from that, it’s long gone... Alinghi’s boat handling got almost visibly slicker as the race went on, and now they have a win on the board. And what do we know about one win on the board? ETNZ can’t afford to let it become two…

What else can I tell ya… Kimball Livingston (of Sail Magazine and the entertaining Got Live blog, and no, no one else knows why it’s called that either) led a round of applause at the press conference for Dean Barker for showing up – you may gather that the press corps is pretty sick of the skippers ducking it. And fair due to Barker, turning up after the first race, after a loss… And he got a good laugh - asked about the differences between being 1-0 down today, and 1-0 down in 2003, he commented that it was nice to finish the first race. Class act, Deano.

And finally… there were about 800 boats out there, and 70,000 people are reckoned to have gone through the port by the time it shuts tonight, which is a new daily record, and about what you’d get at a top Premier League football match.

Oh, and the All Blacks beat the Springboks 26- 21 in South Africa… it’s not all bad, Kiwis…

And yes, I know I haven't quite got the hang of the photo layout thingy, but I've been wrestling with it for hours and I'm starving and frankly, it'll have to do...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Nearly there...

Not even 24 hours now to what must be the most watched and hyped moment in yacht racing (justifiably, in my view) - the first start, the first cross and the first beat in the first race of the America’s Cup.

There were a couple of pieces of outstanding business on Friday morning before it can all finally get underway. Alinghi announced the much spun, trailed and leaked news that Ed Baird will steer Alinghi. When Brad Butterworth was asked at Friday’s press conference what his relationship was like with Baird (given the lateness of the announcement and the long-standing combo on the back of ETNZ), Brad replied that it was a private matter…

Hey, a laugh at an America’s Cup press conference, that’s a start.

Previously, on America’s Cup News… the final piece of warm-up theatre had been got out of the way - Terry Hutchinson called heads and won the toss for ETNZ, choosing the starboard entry. So the America’s Cup will start with Emirates TNZ in yellow.

The no-shows of the previous opening press conferences didn’t happen - Dean Barker accompanied Hutchinson, and Ernesto Bertarelli was also there for Alinghi. As the clock ticks down, Butterworth commented that Alinghi will go out sailing Friday, and do a few drills, while ETNZ will keep doing what they’ve done before every other phase of this regatta (whatever that was), in an effort to convince themselves that this one is no more important than the last.

It was interesting that Dean Barker didn’t answer the question he was posed about what most concerned him over the next few days (any suggestions?) – I guess those kind of thoughts aren’t in the Jon Ackland psych play-book. But I suspect that what a team needs most at this stage is boatspeed - but calm, confident leadership would help and Butterworth exuded that by the lorry load. But why shouldn’t he, he’s done 15 America’s Cup races in the last twelve years, and won all of them.

But if you want to know why the Kiwis might be a little tight, then you can check out the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand and just count the number of stories posted in the past couple of days. Although I'm sure they're not supposed to be reading all this stuff, the fact that it's there has to be filtering through.

Alinghi appear to have lost the battle of the backstays, with the new Measurement Committee interpretation again preventing them from taking the topmast backstays forward upwind (it reduces windage) – at this stage there’s no news on whether Alinghi will appeal the ruling again.

So, that's about the size of it, the official ACM forecast for the first race is for a light northerly gradient to become an easterly sea breeze by mid-afternoon, and blow at 12-16 knots. As the man said in Sam Peckinpah's immortal The Wild Bunch - Let's go to work...

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Two Days and Counting...

It’s getting closer and the fog is lifting...

Slowly, all those open questions are being answered. Not the least of which is that the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions have finally been issued, settling those background disputes and setting up the rules of the game.

Things that have stayed the same as the Louis Vuitton Finals - all the racing will be on the Northern race area, and there will be no absolute wind limits. But the Race Committee will try to only run racing when the approximate average true wind speed is between seven and 23 knots, measured on the met buoys, which are six metres off the water.

The start is planned for 15.00 local time – but no warning signal will be given later than 17.00 (that’s new, the cut-off was later for the LV). The race course will be 12.6 nautical miles, which is 3.2 mile legs, the longest we saw in the Louis Vuitton Final, with a time limit of 40 minutes for each leg. That’ll need a VMG of 4.8 knots and means they’ll have to be going through the water at more than seven knots.

The major background controversy was apparently over boat substitution, and the rule now states that the teams are allowed to change their race boat, but only if the original has been damaged sufficiently seriously that it can’t be fixed in time for the next race. The Measurement Committee and Jury will be the judges of this - if the Jury thinks the damage is intentional, it may not allow the substitution, and will consider a further penalty. This is a more restrictive rule than that used in the LV, when a boat could be substituted for any reason at the cost of one win. The rule on boat mods is also more limiting than the LV - after 14.50 on Friday, the teams will only be allowed to make one alteration to their boat that requires a new measurement certificate. Any change they make has to be completed and remeasured by 08:00 on the day of the next scheduled race.

One outstanding issue that does seem to be rumbling on is Alinghi’s planned use of their backstays. Briefly, the rule was changed with the intention of making it impossible to pull the backstays forward to the mast while racing. This idea was introduced by Team New Zealand in 2000 to eliminate the backstay windage, reckoned to be worth around three quarters of a boatlength a beat.

The idea was adopted by pretty much everyone for 2003. At which point someone decided that it was unnecessarily risky to have the entire fleet of these boats racing upwind with no topmast backstay attached, and in June 2005 the rule was changed. That didn’t stop teams taking the backstays forward before the start in light air and leaving them there for the entire race, so long as they informed the measurers (remember Mascalzone fell foul of that rule and ended up resailing Desafio).

But now, Alinghi think they have found a method of circumventing the rule as it’s currently written, and after the initial Measurement Committee decision was overturned by the Jury, the matter is back with Ken McAlpine and his mates for another go – if you want more, the BOB is all over this one…

Meanwhile… Alinghi have finally announced that they will use SUI100, the new boat. It was launched in March this year, hasn’t yet raced officially, and the consensus amongst the pundits seems to be that it hasn’t raced against any of the other teams in the unofficial warm-ups either.

So Emirates TNZ will face a largely unknown package. They will have been watching the Swiss practice, but they can’t be sure if the new boat prefers to sail high and slow, or low and fast, if it’s weaker upwind or down, in a breeze or the light. And nor do they yet know which of the different styles – Baird or Holmberg – they will face in the starting box. It’s been a long time waiting to find out who will steer Alinghi. It’s due to be announced Friday, and we’ll also get the coin toss for starboard entry for the first start. And then all that’s left are some sailboat races…

Who’s going to win them? I’m going for Alinghi, for one simple reason – the America’s Cup is a boatspeed race. Alinghi have had a technical advantage, they’ve been quicker than the rest of the Cup fleet, for the last five years. The last time they all raced, in Act 13, there was no sign that this had been diminished. And it’s highly unlikely that two and a half months of Louis Vuitton racing will have closed the gap.

There’s a whole bunch of other stuff in the mix: Alinghi have torn some sails in training and looked a bit ragged round the practice track; there have been persistent rumours about discontent within the team; and they’ve left it really late to announce a helmsman, when recent Cup history tells us that the thing is usually won by a long-standing afterguard combo.

Then there’s the talk that the Swiss have built their boats for the stronger sea breeze expected at this time of year – of which, there is currently little sign - while NZL 92 appeared quickest in 8-10 knots against the yardstick of the challenger fleet. And the Kiwis sailed their boat beautifully in the Louis Vuitton Final, and have done some good work on their sail development during the racing. But I doubt that Emirates TNZ have had any real opportunity to move the basic package of hull, foils and rig forward since they left NZ in the Spring.

All that time, Alinghi have been grinding through the options, testing and rejecting, getting that little bit quicker. And in the end, I think it'll come down to speed, because it always has in the past. It would be a rash man that would bet against five years of Alinghi dominance, and 156 years of history…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Displacement Activity...

There’s less than a week before the action restarts in Valencia, and I’m thinking this is a good chance to get some work done on the novel. I’ve got this problem, you see…

A few months back I turned the prologue into chapter one, because a couple of people were asking me questions about my last book that didn’t make any sense. When I quizzed them to try and find out why, it emerged that they hadn’t - and never did - read the prologue.

So, the prologue became chapter one. Then I realized that I’ve now started the book with a scene that doesn’t include either of the two main characters, which is one of those Creative Writing 101 no-no’s… But actually, when I think about it some more, former-prologue-now-chapter-one works really well as chapter three – structurally, this is a great solution. Unfortunately, the scene is now two months later in time, and that means that my 1936 pheasant shooting party, is going to have to become a fox hunt. Damn…

I’m sat here, getting my head round this rewrite, when I think… I might just have a quick check around the blogs and see what’s what in the Cup… And it turns out that there are a couple of things I should bring you attention to…

The first is a great piece on the BOB about a Reuters story doing the rounds of the papers – Tom Ehman is an old Cup-hand and his take on Hamish Ross’s interview is well worth reading if the Cup’s future is something that keeps you awake at night. Or even if it doesn’t.

Then there’s a bit of a scuffle going on in the background over the Notice of Race – are all over this one… see Cup Boss Could Force Feuding Teams to Race and Cup Rivals' Dispute Over Rules Deepens

And finally, there are some nice images of the bows of the Cup contenders from those clever chaps at

While the Cup’s future is the hot topic, here's a thought on a fix for all those 5-0, 5-1 matches we keep seeing (anyone remember the last time the Cup match wasn’t something-to-zip? Yup - 1992).

The ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies, made the comment during the Louis Vuitton final that the same sailors come back from desperate positions on the match race tour all the time. But, although Ray thought that there was no reason why Luna Rossa shouldn’t do the same, it turns out that they didn’t, and history prevailed once again…

What’s the difference between being 1-0 down in the final of a Match Race Tour event and the America’s Cup? Chances are you didn’t have to follow the other guy around for ninety minutes, and then go home and sleep on it, dwelling on your apparent inferiority, before you got the chance to do something about it. On the Tour, the gun for the next race is going before you’ve barely had time to process the fact of the defeat.

So why don’t we do the Cup this way - make each day a best of three short races, one lap races – maybe a two mile beat and run. The importance of the start and first cross will be much reduced, as the trailing boat will almost certainly round close enough to attack on the run - and since it’s just down to the finish, they have every chance of turning it round. And even if they don’t, the gun is going for the next one before they’ve even got used to the idea of losing… The first to win two races, wins the day and gets a point – first to five points wins the match.

Apart from giving the guys that lose the first race a much better chance of digging themselves out of the hole, wouldn’t that be more fun to watch? There would be a lot more of the good stuff (pre-starts, first crosses and finishes), and with the importance of both the start and boat speed reduced, given the unpredictable nature of yacht racing it would surely be impossible to win 5-0…

But more importantly, now that I’ve said all that, Sod’s Law should dictate that we get a 5-4 Cup match…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Downtime Blogging...

It’s the downtime between the Louis Vuitton Cup and the America’s Cup...

As usual there’s as much or more speculation about what the America's Cup community can expect from each team in the way of a future event, as there is about who will win. And apparent differences in opinion between the two finalists on that former topic continue to generate more heat than light.

There’s an excellent article by Christopher Clarey at the International Herald Tribune which quotes Alinghi’s head honcho, Ernesto Bertarelli, as being miffed by Grant Dalton’s reported desire to reinstate the nationality rule, should Emirates TNZ win the Cup. In an earlier Tim Jeffery Telegraph article, Dalton had said that, were TNZ to succeed in beating Alinghi for the America's Cup, he would reverse the relaxation to the nationality rules made by the Swiss. ‘A fundamental corner-stone to a win environment would be to take the Cup back to a contest between nations,’ adding, ‘this would ‘play to Kiwi strengths.’

Bertarelli responded to that by saying, ‘If he was to win, that basically would put three-quarters of the people around this harbor out of work. And more surprisingly so, they are probably friends of his, since a lot of teams have Kiwis in their ranks.’ If Bertarelli is annoyed at this, it's because he supplied the loan that rescued Team New Zealand after the 2003 debacle. Now the Kiwi team are proposing a rule change that would shut out Alinghi - as it is currently constituted - from the next competition. You can see how Bertarelli might view Dalton's comments as a little ungrateful...

But Dalton - when asked by the IHT about nationality - was more conciliatory than the earlier quote suggests. ‘We will look at nationality, but we haven't made a final decision, compared to what everybody thinks we have,’ he said. Reckoning that there were understandable differences in their perspectives, ‘You can probably assume we don't share exactly the same view on that just based on where we come from,’ added Dalton – Bertarelli is a Swiss national who was born in Italy.

My two cents worth is that it’s a backward step to return to the nationality rules we’ve seen previously in the Cup, as they make it harder for teams to compete, while adding little to the flavour of the competition. The two-year residency rule used in 2003 just played into the hands of the big teams. They will always be able to find a way round the problem, as Alinghi did in Auckland, by having the budget to hire people on full contracts for the whole period and ship them and their families around the world. It just raises the cost of entry into the competition, and makes it harder for start-up teams to come and do what Shosholoza have done at this event.

But if you go all the way with the nationality card and require citizenship, you’ll shut down half the teams around the port because they just don’t have people that can do all the tasks required in a modern Cup team. Never mind making it impossible for any new country to get started in the way that China and South Africa have this time. Yes, this would play to Kiwi strengths - as they have the personnel to staff two top Cup teams, but very few other countries can manage even one. A strict nationality rule would doubtless make it easier for the Kiwis to defend in Auckland, but it would be nice to see self-interest trumped by a desire to continue to grow the event.

We’ve had ten weeks of intense racing, and guess what? No drugs scandals, no corruption of referees, no ticketing scams, no violent fans, no violent competitors… wouldn’t it be nice if we could continue to grow and export that to as many people as possible? If there’s a desire to see greater nationalism in the America’s Cup (and personally, living in this crowded little corner of the planet, where it’s caused a whole world of trouble over the years, I don’t…), then perhaps a softer rule would do it, such as 30 or 40% of the racing crew to be citizens of the same nationality as the challenging yacht club. Most countries could front up with that condition, while still hiring from abroad for the specialist technical roles. But going back to the 2003 rules is just going back to the bad old days…

America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Start - Tick. First Cross - Tick. Race....

It's just not happening for Luna Rossa...

On Sunday, in race three, Luna Rossa won the start, but not the first cross. Today, in race four, they won the start and the first cross, but not the race. The Italians just can’t get a result on the board, and with today’s 52 second defeat putting them 4-0 down, a come-back would require a unique achievement in Louis Vuitton and America’s Cup racing.

And once again, it started so well for Luna Rossa – with the pin end entry in the light air it looked like they would be in trouble in the dial-up. But with a perfect, on-time entry, deep angle into the box and a little bit of line bias their way, they got across in front of ETNZ to take the right hand side of the pre-start box. Luna Rossa’s weather call was for the right, and Luna Rossa’s helmsman, Jimmy Spithill made sure they got it.

The Kiwis didn’t put up too much resistance, and ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies said afterwards that they had no strong feeling about the start, reckoning that the left can pay in that north-easterly. And they were confident that there was more left shift to come after the gun – both relative to their wind direction at that moment, and from what they’d seen on the met buoys before they entered. And come it did, but not in time to win them the first cross.

Luna Rossa wanted the right big time, they pushed ETNZ down towards the pin where the Kiwis started on starboard, while Luna Rossa tacked away to start on port at the committee boat. And immediately it looked like Luna Rossa had the better of it. They tacked to go with the Kiwis after the boats had separated by about a kilometre, and a long starboard followed. When ETNZ tacked to set up the first cross, the Italians were four lengths in front. As Luna Rossa tactician, Torben Grael told the press conference, it was a great weather call for the first shift, and a great start.

But this first cross was decision time again for Luna Rossa, and they chose to keep the right, tacking on ETNZ and forcing them back to the left. Again a split opened, Luna Rossa taking a little port tack lift out to the right, before hitting the header and tacking back - all good, solid stuff. But the Kiwis had found something better, they were deep in stronger left-hand breeze, and as the second cross came up it was obvious that ETNZ had halved the deficit.

It was the next call that sealed Luna Rossa’s fate - realising that they were now losing on the header, they tacked ahead and to leeward of ETNZ, instead of going all the way across and tacking on them. The move sacrificed a controlling position, in order to avoid making further losses by getting off the bad shift, and getting back in phase. But the problem was that Luna Rossa hadn’t gone far enough to get into the breeze line that was giving ETNZ her gains. And as both boats sailed out towards the starboard tack layline, the metres just kept going to ETNZ – sailing higher and faster to windward of Luna Rossa.

Afterwards, Torben Grael told the press conference that they knew they were on the header as they came into that second cross, and they believed they should protect the right-hand side – so what they did made sense. But in pure match racing terms, getting across the Kiwi’s bow to consolidate the lead was the call – it would also have protected the right. While the right hand wind shift did come back in the end, it was too late and not enough. So both boats sailed way over the starboard tack layline, with Luna Rossa forced to follow ETNZ back to the windward mark, rounding 20 seconds behind.

The story downwind was the same as it had been in the 8-9 knot breeze of race three – the Kiwis just trickled away. I don’t think it’s a huge speed difference, a couple of lengths or so down the run, but it’s enough to make it really hard for Luna Rossa to attack. The Italian cause wasn’t helped by the course being heavily biased to one gybe, giving little opportunity to get leverage and play shifts and puffs. Torben Grael said afterwards that the run was sailed with 18 minutes on port gybe, and just 3 on starboard – and that really doesn’t give the trailing boat a look in.

It got worse for the Italians at the leeward gate, where the right hand shift also means the right-hand mark is further upwind, handing the leading boat another advantage. Torben Grael’s rock or a hard place choice was to go around in the Kiwi’s wake and get slammed, or take another loss trying to get a split going by rounding the left-hand mark. Luna Rossa took the left-hand mark and an extra gybe to get there – and it all stacked up, by the time they were through the gate, the Italians were a formidable 54 seconds behind. ETNZ's tactician, Terry Hutchinson gave them nothing on the next beat, but ETNZ didn’t gain much either, the deficit 60 seconds at the top mark. And Luna Rossa brought a little breeze down with them on the final run to close the gap to 52 seconds at the finish.

Where now for Luna Rossa? They admitted that they don’t tack as well in this lighter breeze (we’ve watched the Kiwis control tacking duels right back through the round robins) and that Luna Rossa is not faster… Luna Rossa's mainsheet trimmer, Jonathan McKee thought a change to the boat overnight was possible, depending on the forecast, although he pointed out that if it was obvious what to do, they’d have done it by now. Jonathan, who’s a straight talking guy, just felt that the Kiwis have outsailed them. The Italians have another chance to reverse that tomorrow – and for the sake of the series, the neutrals will be hoping that they take it. Personally, I suspect it will need the breeze to get up over 10-11 knots…

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Mojo Risin'

Emirates TNZ are on a roll...

Dean Barker and his Kiwi team took the second of the weekend’s two Louis Vuitton Final races to go 3-0 up. If you're back on the blog after a weekend away from the computer, you can check out Saturday's race here...

Sunday's delta of one minute and 38 seconds sounds bad for Luna Rossa and it was – they led off the line by more than a boat length. The mojo is with the Kiwis now, and the Italian team will need something special if they’re to turn this around.

And it had all started so beautifully for them, with Jimmy Spithill and Luna Rossa extracting every ounce of advantage from their starboard tack entry. It was a phenomenal exhibition of boat handling in the dial-up - these machines with their skinny foils will stall quicker than a learner drive on a hill start. The two boats ghosted to a halt, head to wind in the light 8-9 knot sea breeze, and then backed down the same tracks they had gone up.

In that wind strength the pressure is always on the port entry boat as the clock ticks down, and Luna Rossa showed no sign of opening the door even a crack for ETNZ and Dean Barker to escape. So, with just a minute and fifteen seconds on the clock, ETNZ finally sheeted in on port, with Luna Rossa to leeward, heading for the committee boat to try and wipe off the Italians.
Barker responded to a gentle luff from Luna Rossa with 40 seconds left on the clock, and Jimmy Spithill took the opportunity to bear away and leave them. Luna Rossa accelerated into a gybe and started at full speed, mid-line on starboard. At the press conference, Luna Rossa’s Ben Durham said that they were happy to get down the other end of the line to take an eight degree bias advantage, along with the full speed build.

Dean Barker managed to bear away hard and get down inside the committee boat, and with ten seconds to go ETNZ tacked round to start at the boat. Luna Rossa had given the Kiwis an opportunity to get their weather call, which was to start ‘wide right’ – meaning on the right of the opponent with enough separation to follow them out to the left hand side of the course. But it came at a price - ETNZ must have been a knot or two slower than the Italians at the gun, with the foils still struggling to get attached flow. And soon after the start, Luna Rossa was a full boat length in front.

On either of the previous two days, this would surely have been enough for the Italians to take the lead and an almost certain win. But it wasn’t to be – the reversal came with a brutal speed that must have rocked the Italian Challenge. The gain line immediately started to click in the Kiwi’s favour. The tracks showed the story – the New Zealand boat was sailing higher and they lifted off Luna Rossa and went from a length behind to a length in front in about four minutes. Ray Davies, the ETNZ strategist, said they had both more wind and a right hand shift. Before the start, they had thought that the right hand side was a little stronger, especially at the top of the course, but it turned out to be a lot better. ‘Sometimes,’ he told the press conference, ‘it’s better to be lucky than to be good…’

It will be little consolation to the Italian team. Luna Rossa’s tactician, Torben Grael, hung on to that starboard tack off the line for a long while, hoping that the left shift would come back. And a couple of times it looked like it might, but when they finally had to tack and set up the first cross, ETNZ was a couple of lengths clear. Worse, the game was already almost to the port tack layline and Grael’s opposite number, Terry Hutchinson, showed no mercy in punishing the Italians for their positioning – ETNZ led round the first mark by 40 seconds.

And that was it, perhaps we should draw a veil over the rest, to spare sensitive Italian fans the gory spectacle… but in reality the final delta made it look worse than it was. Luna Rossa dropped no time on the second beat, and all but 15 seconds of the rest came on the final run, when they sailed themselves into a hole in an increasingly desperate search for the leverage that might get them back into it.

But still... It was a lighter breeze today, and there was always an opinion that the Kiwis had the better hull shape for under ten knots, particularly downwind. There’s not much Luna Rossa can do to change that. They had switched to their light air mainsail. The Kiwis made the change yesterday, and Magnus Holmberg told the television audience that Luna Rossa had indicated to him that they should perhaps have matched that call – but it didn’t seem to help in race three. At no point did Luna Rossa look quicker. But that could just as easily have been because once again, Terry Hutchinson hogged all the pressure and the best shifts for ETNZ and left Torben Grael with nada.

What is incontrovertible is that the Italian team are now 3-0 down, and deep in the hole. And they’ll know that it could so easily have been different - if they’d used the advantage in the pre-start to take the right, or perhaps tacked straight at a downspeed ETNZ off the line. But neither Davies nor Durham thought Luna Rossa could ever have crossed and got the right - maybe the Italians, even with the extra tacks, would have got a solid leebow at the first cross. They might have both ended up on port headed to the right and who knows...

But those are exactly the avenues of thought that they have to avoid. If only… helps them not one whit. They have to keep believing it’s possible. And they have to regroup on Monday’s reserve day. Max Sirena, Luna Rossa’s mid-bowman, told the press conference that the afterguard were meeting to decide just what was the best use of the day's respite.

So what is it? A day of beating up on their second boat in pre-start practice? Or maybe a change to the boat – but if you haven’t found it in four years, you aren’t likely to find it in 24 hours. Maybe they just need a day on the beach to try and erase the nightmare that has engulfed them. Ray Davies pointed out at the press conference that these big leads are often overturned on the match race circuit. But, for whatever reason, it doesn’t happen much in these boats.

As Francesco de Angelis reiterated in the post-race interview, they can only keep doing the right things and taking it one race at a time. But it’s a long road from here to the America’s Cup for Italy…

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Al Dente

Like the pasta, it was a tough day out there for the Italians in the second race of the Louis Vuitton Final.

Emirates TNZ won the first cross again, but this time they extended at every mark to win by 40 seconds and go 2-0 up in the series. It’s not the defeat so much as the manner of it – unlike yesterday, when we saw two boats separated by the merest whisper, today the Kiwis looked much more in control.

ETNZ grabbed the race right from the get-go – no difference over the weather calls today, both boats looked like, and stated afterwards, that they wanted the right hand side. So while things started in a similar fashion to yesterday, it played out differently. ETNZ was the starboard entry boat and they bailed out of the dial-up pretty early and led into a circle, which Luna Rossa ignored to take the game deep into the pre-start box. It was the Italian’s turn to gybe back to the line first, and give ETNZ the choice of whether to turn inside them or go beyond them.

And here’s where the game changed, instead of a quick gybe and luff up towards the line as ETNZ did yesterday, Luna Rossa gybed and then continued downwind on starboard. As they did so, they got further downwind of the starboard tack layline for the committee boat. That appeared to give ETNZ the opportunity to tack round onto starboard, and take the right. Perhaps there was some confusion about where the layline was on Luna Rossa, or maybe they were actually considering taking the left at that point – because that’s almost how it looked – or perhaps I’m missing something… Either way, we now had the same set-up as yesterday, with Luna Rossa on the left, separated by some distance to leeward – but now they made it clear that they did want the right.

As they did yesterday, the Italians tacked to port, towards ETNZ, to close the separation up – but this time they did it more aggressively and the Kiwis responded in kind. Dean Barker bore away on starboard to point at Luna Rossa, and Jimmy Spithill ended up almost sailing away from the line to avoid ETNZ. The Kiwis made a show of waving flags, but I don’t think they expected the penalty and they didn’t get it – the move had already achieved its goal.

Although Luna Rossa had got to the right, they had to go a long way round to get it – they now had to luff up and tack back, and ended up trailing ETNZ towards the line without enough time on the clock to really push the Kiwis hard. The Italians had a go at getting the hook, but the Kiwis did a great job in the final approach and started right on Luna Rossa’s leebow – the Italians started slow and had to tack away off the line. So by the time ETNZ had settled and tacked to go with them, the Kiwis had about a length lead.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it got worse, as – ironically, given that both teams wanted the right so badly - the Kiwis eased out another length on a little puff that came from the left. So when Luna Rossa finally had to tack to avoid getting trapped in the right hand corner, ETNZ won the first cross by two lengths and had a comfortable lead. They never looked back. The Italians threw tacks at them upwind and gybes at them downwind, but ETNZ never really looked threatened – in contrast to yesterday.

So what was the difference? ETNZ strategist, Ray Davies confirmed at the press conference that the Kiwis had a different mainsail up today, because there was less wind at the start. Given that yesterday the breeze dropped quite a bit during the race, and ended up lighter than today, the Kiwis were presumably struggling with an under-range mainsail on yesterday’s second beat. I think that Luna Rossa had the same sail up both days - that might be a bit of the difference. There were also a lot more spectator boats out, perhaps the biggest fleet so far, and the water was more chopped up – opinion has been that the Italian boat might struggle a bit in a seaway.

But I don’t think we should take anything away from the tactical job that they did aboard the ETNZ. Terry Hutchinson sailed it a little looser today – the bigger gap up the first beat gave him that opportunity and he took it. He did a great job of getting in phase with the breeze and giving Torben Grael and Luna Rossa the choice between a rock and a hard place – follow ETNZ, or take a split on a bad shift with nothing to hope for except Italian luck changing. It didn’t, and it’s left Luna Rossa in a hole and looking for the way out.

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Only a Rizla in it...

The fag paper metaphor is back in a desperately close first race...

It’s arguable that the first race of the Louis Vuitton Final was decided before Luna Rossa and Emirates TNZ even entered the pre-start box – if you assume that from the moment the weather calls were made, both crews would execute the rest of the race almost perfectly. I was always told that if we assume anything in sailboat racing it will make an ass out of u and me, but that’s pretty much the way it played out. There were no pre-start fireworks – ETNZ wanted the right, and Luna Rossa were happy with the left. But it was the right that came good at the first cross, and ETNZ kept a narrow advantage to win by eight seconds.

So, those weather calls… Luna Rossa’s navigator, Michele Ivaldi did the initial post-race interview and said that their call was not a ‘must-have’ right – which is the name for a race track when you absolutely, gotta have the right-hand side to win. In fact, they thought there might be a little more pressure to the left.

In contrast, Ray Davies is ETNZ’s race boat contact point for Roger Badham’s weather team, and when he was interviewed afterwards he said that they felt that neither side was particularly favoured, but that on such an even track it would be a long way round for a boat on the left trying to pass a starboard tacker.

And so a conventional dial-up was broken up by Luna Rossa, leading away downwind into the pre-start box, with the Kiwis ignoring a circle from the Italians and continuing downwind. So it was ETNZ that made the gybe onto starboard and back towards the line first. And I think the timing of this Kiwi gybe was perfect (calculated by navigator Kevin Hall), because when the Italians chose to gybe in front of them, Luna Rossa knew there was too much ‘time to burn’ (the spare time they have left to the start gun, over and above the time it’ll take to sail at full speed back to the line) for them to comfortably lead back to the line and hold the right. And if they went past the Kiwis, there wasn’t enough ‘time to burn’ to push the Kiwis back to the line and over early.

So when Luna Rossa started their gybe in front of Emirates TNZ, and the Kiwis turned up sharply to take the right, the Italians – bearing in mind that their weather call was a neutral, best-start – had to sail a little further downwind to make the hook impossible, before making their gybe to starboard and setting up to leeward of ETNZ. With both boats happy with their sides, that was pretty much the deal. Luna Rossa closed it up to get tight-to-leeward, but not close enough (and perhaps it should have been) to get the Kiwis to tack immediately after the start before they’d fully accelerated. And that meant a completely even start.

When ETNZ did tack to port, Luna Rossa followed them and what we then saw was an extraordinarily even display of boat speed. In the end it was a little right hand shift that made the difference, and when ETNZ took it out of the right hand corner, Luna Rossa couldn’t quite make the leebow stick and that was the race. Another right hand puff took ETNZ away another length just before the first windward mark and it was enough to make their downwind lead defensible.

But the Kiwis had to defend hard all the way round, despite the wind continuing to go right. It could have gone either way even on the penultimate gybe. Luna Rossa tried to pick a perfect layline from over a mile out, which put pressure on ETNZ to either go with them – and risk getting rolled – or carry on and gybe with their air clear behind the Italians. ETNZ believed there was a little bit more race track in front of them (Kevin Hall again), calmly sailed on and gybed with air clear behind. The Kiwis laid the line beautifully, with just a final defensive gybe, to finish at the advantaged committee boat end of the line.

It was a day of great subtlety, with all the big and little things being done almost perfectly on both boats. But it was Michele Ivaldi that pointed out in his post race interview what Luna Rossa will take away from today - they finished just eight seconds behind the Kiwis, after being on the wrong side of a wind shift from 105 to 140 degrees through the race. That tells you there is nothing between the boats – if we hadn’t already worked that out, watching them sail upwind and down at identical speeds, with flawless crew work…

Don’t give up your seat, there’s plenty more to come in this series.

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Any Given (Fri)Day

It would be churlish not to join in the punditry for the Louis Vuitton Final...

But let me tell you right now - I think it’s too close to call. That’s not to say that either Luna Rossa or Emirates Team New Zealand won’t go down 5-1 or 5-2, because a tiny edge in this game can be converted into a sweep, but at this point in time I think you’d be foolish to try and predict which team. As ETNZ tactician, Terry Hutchinson said repeatedly at Thursday morning’s opening press conference - it will come down to who does the most things right and the least things wrong on any given day…

Now, I’ve got to admit that to prepare for this blog, I haven’t watched every start that Barker and Spithill have done since they were kids – which is what ETNZ's head man, Grant Dalton told Murray Deaker’s New Zealand radio audience that Ben Ainslie had been up to for a report on Jimmy Spithill. I think you can safely assume that Philippe Presti and Charlie McKee at Luna Rossa have put together something very similar on Dean Barker. This is Presti, ‘As the training helmsman I have to put myself in Dean Barker’s skin. We did the same for Dickson and it worked really well.’

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to make do with the conclusions that I can draw from the last two round robin races.

In Round Robin 1, ETNZ had the tricky port entry in light air, and took a penalty in a long dial-up. But a penalty right or wrong is not the point here, so much as ETNZ appear a little less consistent in the pre-start than Luna Rossa. It’s very rare that you see the Italians in big trouble in the pre-start box – whereas you do see ETNZ convert a small disadvantage into a big one, by trying too hard to get the upper hand back.

This is something that the Kiwis need to watch, and a whole bunch of people from ETNZ have been telling us so – starting with helmsman, Dean Barker, ‘I know I still have to improve my pre-starts. I have had some really good ones but also others were more average, and we are going to work on being more consistent.’ Dalton said something similar to Murray Deaker, and Terry Hutchinson reinforced it again in Thursday morning’s ACM press conference when he said that they had been out practicing pre-starts - while Luna Rossa seemed to be focused on tacking and gybing…

But I digress… the next pressure point is the weather call – which side of the line and the first beat do you want? Both teams appeared to have an excellent record in the semis (you can never be sure as we don’t hear the call). Roger ‘Clouds’ Badham is leading the way at Emirates TNZ, and Hamish Wilcox is his opposite number at Luna Rossa - but nobody’s perfect, as this first round robin race demonstrated, so to continue that tale…

ETNZ did well to escape out of that long dial-up, albeit with one penalty (remember what happened to Oracle in the semi-final with a light air, port entry against Luna Rossa). And Luna Rossa appeared happy to let ETNZ take the left-hand side of the start line, but the Kiwis did a better job of the final approach to get a good start tight to leeward. From there, they forced Luna Rossa to tack away. The early gains were to the left, and ETNZ managed to win the first cross. Luna Rossa picked a side and got it, but executed the actual start poorly and lost the advantage when it turned out to be the wrong choice. And these were all things they did brilliantly in the semi-final against Oracle.

But what happened next? ETNZ had the pick of the sides for the rest of the beat, took the right hand side and a massive split opened. Then Terry Hutchinson had to watch Luna Rossa come back and take the lead at the first mark, after some great close quarters work on the final approach by Jimmy Spithill. It was a lead that Luna Rossa only relinquished on the final run, after another big-ish split, with Luna Rossa still winning after ETNZ completed the penalty. And this is famously, keep-it-tight-Terry, remember. Beware of pundits making generalisations...

All right, maybe the penalty meant he had to look for the big gain. But how did ETNZ beat Oracle to top the leader-board for the round robins? It was a massive split on the first beat of the last race. Both Terry Hutchinson and his Luna Rossa opposite number, Torben Grael, are prepared to sail the race as they see it. And I’m still backing my previous theory that a willingness to take a split indicates that they think they’re sailing an even or better team, rather than one they’ve got an edge over. I point to how tight Luna Rossa kept it with Oracle after they went 3-1 up and rest my case…

In Round Robin 2, the entry sides were swopped, but there was a bit more breeze, so things were easier for Luna Rossa and we ended up with a similar final approach to the line. Luna Rossa again had the right hand side, although on this occasion it was clearer that ETNZ wanted the left. The Kiwis got tight to leeward, and the Italians had to tack away immediately giving ETNZ a lead of half a length or so.

From there it appeared that things swung back to the Italians on the right, and when Luna Rossa tacked to starboard to force the first cross, the boats were almost bow to bow. But ETNZ had a tiny edge and managed to tack leebow, forcing the Italians away. That’s how it proceeded up that beat over more than thirty tacks, with ETNZ slowly extending to a 17 second lead by the first mark, and then pulling out to a 36s win by the finish. It all happened in that tacking duel on the first beat – perhaps that’s why Terry Hutchinson thinks the Italians are out there practicing their maneuvers. It’s the sum of all the tiny things executed well, that will make the difference on any given day.

What else can I tell you? Grant Dalton said in his NZ radio interview, and Hutchinson confirmed it on Thursday morning, that they will be using NZL 92, and the boat hasn’t been changed. Andy Horton of Luna Rossa confirmed that they would be using ITA 94, but not that there hadn’t been any changes – Dalton believes the Italians have been tweaking wing angles at least.

Speed differences are the hardest thing to call from the outside, as you can’t be sure about differences in the breeze on the boats. But if there’s a consensus it’s that NZL 92 is the better boat in under… say 12 knots, and ITA 94 quicker over that break point. Luna Rossa looked moded for upwind in the semi-finals, but if Dalts is right about the wing angles, that could now have changed. Personally, I think the differences will be tiny across the range, and it will come down to how well the teams convert, when and if they have an edge. Just like basketball, you have to score on every possession…

Dalton certainly gave the impression that they believed this was going to come down to the people, not the boats – resilience to the pressure was the key. So who’s really up for this? Both teams have come back from some real bad days – ETNZ’s first round loss to Mascalzone, and Luna Rossa’s double loss to Shosholoza and Oracle in the same round – so I don’t think we’ll see anyone folding and packing any mental tents. This one will be fought to the end.

Over the past four years, ETNZ have the psychological advantage, they’ve been top challenger dog for a long time. And while that ought to give them an edge, it also gives them more to lose. While Luna Rossa are the boat on a charge, with a big rush of form and confidence just when it matters. Then again, so far, the Kiwis have always found the little extra when they needed it to get their noses in front… you see the problem.

In the wrap-up interview at the end of the semi’s, Hutchinson joked, ‘I haven't slept in about six weeks.’ The Emirates TNZ website says that they’ve had three days off since then. But remember that the Italians have had three more days to prepare, and Luna Rossa up-the-rig-man, Andy Horton, told the Thursday press conference that they’ve taken four or five days off. This is certainly a lesson learned – if I remember rightly, after winning an exhausting Louis Vuitton final against Paul Cayard and co. in 2000, Prada (as they were then) worked straight through to the America’s Cup itself, and got hammered 5-0.

And finally... The stats say that these teams are 2-2 in the last four races, with the yellow or starboard entry boat always winning. At today’s press conference, Andy Horton won the coin toss for Luna Rossa and chose the yellow end.

And really finally... you might have heard that ETNZ sailed Alinghi on Wednesday. Terry Hutchinson told the press conference that NZL 92 had a maintenance day and they wanted to race - so they were using NZL 84. And as we have no idea which boat or kit Alinghi were using, I wouldn’t read too much into Alinghi's reported speed advantage, although it is a depressingly familiar tune. Dalton told NZ radio that they reckon they got the better of the starts, and perhaps that's just the fillip the Kiwis needed…

Tomorrow, the talk stops when the flag drops, and we'll find out.

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©

Man on Fire

Luna Rossa go through to the final of the Louis Vuitton Cup...

Day 6 of the Louis Vuitton semi-final opened with Luna Rossa and ETNZ needing just one more win to go through to the final - that fact alone would have surprised plenty of people 7 days ago. Then chuck in the real humdinger – by the end of Race 6, Luna Rossa were on their merry way, having dispatched Oracle 5 -1 with a 33 second fifth race win. And it was ETNZ having to come back Tuesday - like naughty schoolboys for extra work - to try again to put Desafio down, after the Spanish frustrated ETNZ with a 15 second win.

For Oracle, it may have been a different helmsman, as Sten Mohr replaced Chris Dickson, but it was the same result. Luna Rossa wanted the left-hand side of the first beat, and once again that was what they got off the line. Jimmy Spithill chased Sten Mohr for as long as he could, to make his life difficult, then peeled away to start at full speed on the pin on starboard, while Oracle had to luff around the committee boat to start on port. Inevitably, Luna Rossa tacked to cover and the pair of them headed upwind. It was soon clear why Luna Rossa wanted the left – stronger breeze or shift on that side lifted Luna Rossa’s bow higher than Oracle’s, and the Italians sailed out to a four length lead. And that really was the end of the contest. Torben Grael kept it pretty tight all the way round, and Oracle looked beaten.

The race was a microcosm of the whole series – the right weather call for the beat, followed by perfect execution of the strategy in the pre-start, allowing Luna Rossa to take control at the first cross. From there they only looked back once. It could so nearly have been 5-0. Oracle just weren’t good enough in the pre-start box, or in calling the first shift, and it killed them.

So I’m sure there will be a lot of talk about Chris Dickson stepping off the Oracle boat – was he pushed or did he jump - but in a sense, it’s already history. A more interesting question is - where does the team go from here? Will Larry stay with it, after a second disappointment? It might be worth it - Prada had a great first challenge, followed it up with a no-expense-spared and disappointing second, but came back wiser and stronger for their third effort... and look at them now. But we’ll have to wait and see as the dust settles.

Perhaps it might be the last time one of the big teams tries to combine the roles of CEO, helmsman and skipper. In the modern era many successful campaigns have been run with a sailor as main man - but not with a sailing role that demands too much of them. For instance, Peter Blake in the 1995 and 2000 version of Team New Zealand, and both Luna Rossa and Emirates Team New Zealand in this Cup.

Francesco de Angelis started the new model Luna Rossa by trying to run the team and sail as helmsman, but seems to have quickly recognized the limitations it placed on his ability to do both jobs. He got Philippe Presti in to steer the B boat, and now sails in the afterguard as skipper, while tending the backstay tension which is critical to trim and speed. So he’s sailing right through the campaign, in daily contact with the business end of the team, testing and training - which is essential - but not in such a pivotal role that he can’t miss a day or three to keep the machinery oiled elsewhere. Similarly for Grant Dalton at ETNZ, sailing onboard the race boat as floater, and running the campaign.

But ETNZ aren’t having things all their own way, and I suspect that sentiment will be shifting to Luna Rossa as favourites for the final. Barker and co made heavy weather of executing what may or may not have been the same game plan as Luna Rossa - or maybe Desafio offered greater resistance. With 26 seconds to go to the start gun, ETNZ were jammed to leeward of the Spanish about two thirds of the way up the line from the pin, having also looked like they wanted the left. Desafio had to tack for the boat, and I thought we were going to get another split tack start, with ETNZ bearing away to accelerate and start at the pin.

But no, gentle reader… instead, Barker tacked with Desafio, and found himself wallowing in bad air and waves, while the Spanish accelerated away. Both boats started on port with Desafio tucked up under ETNZ’s leebow, the Spanish going faster and with a half length lead. ETNZ tacked away for clear air and the pair held opposite tacks for a separation of 800m before ETNZ finally tacked to go with them. The Spanish picked their moment to come across on starboard and were a length or so in front and able to control the beat from there. A chunk of that advantage at the first cross will have come from the half length the Spanish had off the line, and the extra tack done by ETNZ – it’s a tight game out there.

A twisted Spanish spinnaker on the last gybe on the first run nearly let the Kiwis back into it, but not quite. And then ETNZ’s own first gybe on the final run let them down when they might have had a chance to roll Desafio. It gave John Cutler and co. just enough breathing room to sail deep for the finish, and showing no speed disadvantage in that mode the Spanish brought it home in front – and the celebrating was a lot wilder than on Luna Rossa, who had just won their semi 5-1…

So the Spanish live to fight another day, taking it to seven races, while Oracle are beaten in six. John Cutler will be pretty happy about that. He was with Oracle in Auckland, and got bumped off tactics when Dickson came back onto the boat during the Round Robins. He subsequently left the team, and now he’s got this young Spanish outfit further up the game than the mighty two-time challenger with the biggest budget. Revenge, I suspect, is sweet, and a dish best served cold. So too, for the OneWorld Challenge guys aboard Luna Rossa – not least Jimmy Spithill, who evened the score card after Oracle dumped OWC out of the competition in 2003. Spithill is a man on fire, Luna Rossa hitting a new level of performance at just the right moment.

I can’t wait to see the final.

Louis Vuitton and America's Cup Live Race Commentary at:

Mark Chisnell ©


Battered and dazed, Oracle hit the canvas, but is it for the final count?

It was the most extraordinary pre-start we’ve yet seen in this Louis Vuitton. Oracle took two penalties, getting a red flag with the second – which meant it had to be done immediately. They started a hundred metres behind, with the second penalty still to unwind. The boys in white wriggled and worked, but Luna Rossa never looked like they were going to let them get back into it. The finish delta was 1m 57s, and the Italian boat is now within a single win of the Louis Vuitton Final.

In the other match, Jablonski and Desafio pushed Emirates TNZ up towards the committee boat and the Kiwis had to start with a downspeed tack – but it made no difference. ETNZ wanted the right for good reason - it had the better breeze and they were soon back into a controlling position. At the first cross, Desafio were a length behind. There’s been no coming back from there against the Kiwis, but the final delta tells a desperate story for Spain – 1m 49s.

So, that incredible start… The ironic thing is that it was the port tack entry that cost Oracle so dear. The port tack boat is always disadvantaged, particularly in light air when the boats can hold so long in the dial-up. Oracle have worked really hard on super-fast, right-on-the-pin entries that have often succeeded in overturning this disadvantage by allowing them to cross ahead of the boat entering on starboard – avoiding the dial-up and getting control of the right-hand side of the pre-start box - click here for more on this one.

But you need a little shift, or the other boat to be a little late, to get away with it… and today, Oracle got nada. They had to spin up into the wind to avoid Luna Rossa on starboard, and we had a dial-up. Now, as the clock ticks down, the pressure comes on to the left-hand boat, Oracle, to make a move. Otherwise, they both sit there until they’re out of time, the right-hand boat can turn onto port and accelerate first, and will just sail into the lead. So Dickson made his move, he fell onto starboard and sheeted in. But Jimmy Spithill and Luna Rossa matched the acceleration, and Dickson was instantly in trouble. He’s got Luna Rossa’s bow to leeward, he’s windward boat, he has to keep clear and he’s going over the line…

Dickson did what Dean Barker did in race 3 (in a similar situation at the committee boat end). Oracle tried to sail over Luna Rossa’s bow and gybe round in front of them to get back behind the line. It had the same result – penalty to Oracle. It was what happened next that made it different. Luna Rossa were locked in with Oracle, forced to gybe with them to avoid the collision, and both boats ended up on port tack, parallel to each other, with Dickson maybe ten feet to leeward. Luna Rossa are stuck there through no fault of their own, there’s no avoiding action they can take, and so when Dickson bore away and shoved his stern into Luna Rossa near the shrouds, the umpires had no choice – second penalty and a red flag for Oracle.

While there was no real way back into it for Oracle, they didn’t do themselves any favours at the leeward gate. They made an incredibly late call to switch from the right-hand buoy to the left, sailing almost the entire width of the gate in extra distance. It turned a 125m deficit on the gain line just prior to the gate (about five lengths or maybe 30s) into a 48s split by the time they had rounded the mark. Oracle seem to have a real dislike of following the leader round the same gate mark. Yesterday they got a massive split out of it which might have got them back into the race. Perhaps they were looking for the same today, the silver bullet they so desperately needed. But this time Luna Rossa tacked onto starboard with them and shut down the leverage almost immediately. The Italians continued to extend from there, and by the time Oracle had completed the second penalty turn just before the finish, it was a massive delta.

I doubt you’ll find too many people around the Port America’s Cup who think there’s a way back for Oracle from here. Their world has turned on its head so quickly. Six days ago they were still the pundit’s favourites. There were a couple of little blips – the headfoil failure against China Team, and then the loss against ETNZ in the final race of the Round Robin. But to most people these things seemed anomalies, and the buzz coming out of the team seemed to indicate that they agreed. Now, in an incredibly short space of time – compared to the years these guys have been working at it – they find themselves 4-1 down and fighting for their lives. Getting their heads round that must be the hardest part.

And if 3-1 to the bad is too early to change a team around – given that it very rarely works and you’re only a couple of races down - then 4-1 is too late. Luna Rossa have an unstoppable momentum. And the same can be said for the Kiwis – it will take something extraordinary from Oracle or Desafio to pull it back, or just to keep it going past tomorrow. But this is yacht racing, and extraordinary things are built into the game…

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Mark Chisnell ©