The Smeeton's and the Horn

The trip to Alicante for the start of the Volvo Ocean Race turned out to a little busier than I hoped, what with my triple role as official author, website race commentator and some-time Data Centre worker. As a consequence, I didn't manage to extract much in the way of sailing stories from the book interviewees, but hopefully I tee-ed up a couple of people to get some good ones down the track.

So I'm going to have to fall back on one I prepared earlier, while I was doing a bit of background reading for the upcoming race this past summer. I didn’t want to just read all the other official accounts, so I did a bit of digging on and came up with (amongst others) Miles Smeeton’s book about an early attempt to round Cape Horn in a small cruising boat. And this is one of those tales that's almost been lost - but shouldn't be...

Conor O’Brien’s Saoirse had already been first - the 42 foot ketch departed from Melbourne and successfully rounded the Cape as part of a solo circumnavigation, and O'Brien's book, Across Three Oceans, records his 1923 achievement. It was 35 years before another yacht would clear customs in Melbourne with Montevideo in mind. The Tzu Hang was owned by Beryl and Miles Smeeton. They were the kind of redoubtable British adventurers that belong in Boy’s Own annuals.

Nevil Shute wrote the foreword to Miles Smeeton’s account of their voyage to Cape Horn, Once is Enough. Shute picks out a telling story - when asked if they had had any trouble crossing the Atlantic, Miles allowed for a three day period in bad weather when the damnedest thing had been keeping their eleven year old daughter, Clio, at her lessons. Tsk, tsk, children, really - no discipline these days…

Even before she met Miles, Beryl had done her share of adventuring, travelling on four continents, as likely on foot or horseback as in the comfort of a railway carriage – think rainforests with a pith helmet and an umbrella and you’ll get the spirit if not the letter of Miss Beryl Boxer’s endeavours. Once they had teamed up, they attempted Tirich Mir - a 25,263’ peak in the Hindu Kush - with a young Sherpa called Tenzing Norgay, who went on to greater things.

They didn’t get to the top, but it was the highest altitude achieved by a woman at the time. Miles was a career Army officer, and it was after his service in the Second World War that they took up sailing, beginning with that voyage back across the Atlantic in which Clio had tried to play hooky. They had just bought the Tzu Hang in England - a 46’ ketch, originally built in Hong Kong from teak and copper fastenings - and were sailing her home to Canada. Four years later, in 1955, they sold the farm in British Columbia that had been their home since the war, and took off in the boat. Like so many people before and since, they set off across the Pacific. Unlike many others, on reaching Australia they turned back east, sailed down into the high latitudes and attempted to round Cape Horn.

It all started well enough, Miles Smeeton’s descriptions of life on board are idyllic to anyone familiar with the privations of a modern racing boat. They had the fire stoked up like a country pub on a winter weekend, with the cat curled up in front of it. Beryl Smeeton had taken to knitting jumpers, and her breakfasts of porridge, bacon and eggs, toast and home-made marmalade all washed down with tea, would have shamed most British bed and breakfast hotels. The bunks were real beds, oatmeal cakes were baked, pudding was cooked at any excuse and the England versus Ireland rugby match was on the radio - blissful really, until the 12th February, 1959.

The Tzu Hang was a very slow boat to Cape Horn by today’s standards, where even the mono-hull racers of the Volvo can reel off one 500+ mile day after another – fast enough to almost pick and choose the weather. The Smeeton’s were hoping for an average of little more than a hundred miles a day. At that speed, they were the proverbial fish in a pork barrel - whatever weather came along rolled right over the top of them. And two days before Valentine’s Day, things had been deteriorating for a while.

They had got down to a reefed mainsail and mizzen only, with 60 fathoms of three inch hawser trailing out the back to slow her down and help keep her stern to the breaking waves. The swell was bigger than they had ever seen before – Miles Smeeton described a seascape that was as different from a normal rough ocean as a winter landscape is to a summer one. There was white foam and spume everywhere, showered like confetti by the breaking crests of the huge waves, it lay over the ocean like Christmas snow. And for the first time since the Tasman Sea, the albatrosses had disappeared – this, it turned out, was ominous.

Miles was in his bunk reading when it happened, his wife on deck at the helm. He described what she saw in Once is Enough; ‘Close behind her a great wall of water was towering above her, so wide that she couldn’t see its flanks, so high and so steep that she knew Tzu Hang could not ride over it. It didn’t seem to be breaking as the other waves had broken, but water was cascading down its front, like a waterfall.’

After that, Beryl Smeeton remembered thinking that she could do nothing else with the helm, then the sensation of falling and no more, until she found herself floating alone, in the Southern Ocean, with just the broken tether of her lifeline for company. It was only when she was lifted by the following wave that she saw the boat just thirty yards away, both masts gone and very low in the water - which was unsurprising, when you consider that the deckhouse had been ripped off.

It’s arguable whether Miles Smeeton and their crew mate, John Guzzwell, were any better off down below. They were hurled around the cabin along with everything that wasn’t tied down and quite a bit of what had been. Until the vanishing deck house had allowed the cold black sea to pour in, as the Tzu Hang was rolled over and under that huge wave. They both surfaced into waist deep water, awash with cushions, mattresses and books - and one seriously unhappy cat. Miles made it on deck in time to see his wife swim to the remains of the mizzen mast, from where she pulled herself to the boat on the still attached rigging, and was hauled back on board by the men.

It seemed that they had only saved Beryl for a few minutes – both men felt the Tzu Hang would sink at any moment. Their home was full of water, and there was a two square metre hole where the deckhouse had been. Both masts were gone, as were the rudder, dinghies and the cabin skylights. The rigging, guardrails and stanchions were a mass of twisted metal. There was no liferaft, and no hope of rescue. The men just stood and stared in despair, but Beryl went for the buckets.

She galvanized them all, and their energy was rewarded with luck. John Guzzwell quickly found nails, a hammer and wood in the chaos below. He worked like a demon to make the Tzu Hang watertight again, before another wave took her down for good. Meanwhile, Miles and Beryl bailed, and bailed, and bailed. It took twelve hours to get the water down to the level of the floor boards – had there been any floorboards left. Then, exhausted, they managed to heat some soup, and slept.

The storm abated the following day, and they were fortunate that the sturdy teak hull had not sprung a leak. Slowly, the chaos was cleared - amongst the casualties was the stuffed blue bear they carried as a lucky mascot. Headless, he was thrown overboard, judged to have been no help at all. The boat had been pitch-poled, somersaulted end-over-end. The evidence was a tin of make-up that had slid down a bulkhead as the boat sat on its nose, then slipped into a gap between the deckhead and the bulkhead that had opened with the force of the masts hitting the water. As the masts had sheered off at the deck, the load had disappeared and the make-up tin had become trapped. And there it stayed, proof of their experience.

They built a jury rig and a steering oar, although mostly the Tzu Hang sailed herself, with just changes to the trim of the sails to keep her going in a straight line. Enough navigational equipment had survived for them to take position fixes, along with a pilot book for South America and twenty three unbroken eggs. It took almost a week for the cat to dry off and recover her good humour.

They made a landfall near the Chilean naval yard in Talcahuano, and with a great deal of effort and patience the Tzu Hang was rebuilt. Then the Smeeton’s – alone this time – went back to the south, intending to run into the Chilean Channels and round the tip of South America through the Magellan Strait. There was also a sense that they had some unfinished business down south, and Miles allowed for the possibility of another crack at the Horn if the opportunity appeared. So they sailed west, offshore, to clear the southerly wind and northerly current that tore up the coast of Chile. And they found another storm. This time, they let Tzu Hang lie a-hull – that is, all the sails down and the tiller lashed to keep her bow up into the wind. It was a technique that they had used many times previously, but not in the Southern Ocean.

After ten hours of riding out the worst of the storm, the boat was hit by another monster wave and rolled – this time on its beam ends, tumbling through a full circle with both the Smeeton’s down below. Despite the stove breaking free and being thrown around the cabin, neither of them was badly hurt in the carnage. And so, a year after their first crushing defeat by the Southern Ocean, they found themselves in remarkably similar circumstances – a little further north, but a lot closer to the coast.

The radio, chronometer and barometer were all gone, and so they had much less in the way of navigation aids. Otherwise, the damage was not as bad, the new deckhouse – built by John Guzzwell in Chile - was cracked and crushed, but still in place, and a stump remained of the mizzen, along with the rudder. Their new dinghy, which they had never even used, was gone, but at least the cat seemed a little less disgusted than the first time. They built another jury rig, and once again turned back to the north. This time they were insured, and used the favourable wind and current to reach Valparaiso, from where the Tzu Hang was shipped back to England to be repaired.

When it was all done, Miles Smeeton described the encounters with the rogue waves in his book, and then put himself at odds with received wisdom when he concluded that there are some waves that a yacht is simply not going to survive – ‘whatever she does’. These days, such an opinion is mainstream, but prior to the Tzu Hang’s experiences, yachtsmen had believed that a well-sailed, well-founded yacht was safe in any deep water sea. They were wrong. There are rogue waves out there that don’t seem to belong to any ocean or storm, monstrous waves created by some unknown collusion of the elements. By that story will have to wait for another day…

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Mark Chisnell ©

Over It…

A fair bit of water has flowed past the becalmed America’s Cup since my last post, a few weeks back. Alinghi's skipper Brad Butterworth had a go at Team New Zealand's Grant Dalton, but Dalts refused to bite.

Alinghi’s head honcho, Ernesto Bertarelli, went to Valencia looking to cut a deal for the venue of the 2009 America’s Cup match, even though Justice Cahn of the New York State Supreme Court (in whose hands the matter rests) has still to decide the date.

BMW Oracle announced officially what we’ve all known for a long time - that they are building a boat for the Deed of Gift match. And Alinghi followed up with an announcement that it’s going to take fifteen months to build their boat for a race that Justice Cahn may well schedule for this October. Perhaps they started ten months ago, and perhaps they didn't...

There was another predictable legal volte-face from Alinghi, when they returned to the courts in their efforts to stave off the Deed of Gift race until they have a boat ready for it – Noah should be so lucky as to have had recourse to the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division.

Fortunately, the inestimable Cory Friedman was there to make sense of it all in Part 21 and Part 22 of his Scuttlebutt oeuvre. Or not, depending on how you good you are at following tediously complex legal cases. I think his conclusion was that it's about to start raining on Alinghi's parade, and they need a little more Old Testament sense of urgency when it comes to boat building.

To all of which, my response was… yeah, well, yada, yada, whatever…

So it’s been hard to summon the enthusiasm to write something that might be worth reading. But eventually, guilt and/or a misguided protestant work ethic kicked in and I sat down to have a quick scout around the usual suspects on the interweb, to see if there was anything I'd missed. But when I turned up at the ever reliable Mariantic, I found this…

Mariantic is taking a break. Thanks for your support. More later.

I thought… maybe I’m not the only one with Cup fatigue.

And then I thought… what a great idea.

Enough already.

I have no fear for the future of the Cup. George Schuyler’s Deed of Gift and the desires that it inspires have always proven to be bigger than the shabby behaviour (and there’s a long, long history of it) that those very same desires can provoke. It’s the nature of the thing - the peaks of Fremantle’s liquid Himalayas were followed by the troughs in the swells of San Diego's 1988 mismatch - boom and bust, recession and bubble…

The Cup will get back on the water and put this shambles behind it, and that’ll be a good time to start taking an interest again. But I don’t need to follow every memo, motion, argument, appeal, order, stay, toll and cross-motion in the meantime, not least because Cory Friedman is doing a vastly superior job of it.

But also because I can see a whole lot more golf in that particular hole - given the attitude of the protagonists - and frankly, I’d rather write about sail boat racing, or travel, or just about anything other than two or three (four, five?) more years of arcane legal procedures in a New York court, accompanied by Alice in Wonderland press releases and briefly interrupted by three days of (albeit spectacular) but very one sided yacht racing.

So this blog will be back with a new brief, just as soon as I’ve figured it out. And if nothing inspires before then, the Volvo Ocean Race is coming up at the end of the northern summer, and that is going to be worth watching.

In the meantime, so long, and thanks for all the fish.

Mark Chisnell ©

Taking it Seriously...

After Friday's post I got another Kiwi tip-off about an interesting interview with Michel Hodara, the CEO of America's Cup Management (ACM), on BYM News. And he says ACM are taking the GGYC court challenge seriously. This is what Hodara had to say about the court action:

'Yes, Golden Gate omitted a very important date from the Media Backgrounder that was issued a few days ago and has created a wrong impression of what happened on August 22nd. The date it failed to mention, under the heading "2007 Timeline" was August 17.

'Although the GGYC filed suit in the Supreme Court for the State of New York, on July 20, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) was not served with the papers until August 17. The response to those papers was scheduled to be answered by mid-September and SNG was working on responding by then. However, just 5 days later, GGYC went into court and asked for the time scale to be accelerated. They want it accelerated for the original suit and they also want to know from SNG the racing rules and the location for the multihull challenge they claim for.

'All that happened in court, on August 22, was that the court set a date for hearing whether there is reason to accelerate things. SNG has to reply by September 5 and the hearing will be on September 10. This was not a victory for GGYC, as the impression has been given. Nothing was decided, the court has not taken any position whatsoever, it has just set a date for a hearing and nobody knows what will happen on the date. The court may agree to the request to accelerate, or it may not.'

So, that sets me straight about whether or not ACM are up for this...

I'd urge you to read the whole interview as this is a more thoughtful and temperate response to the current circumstances than the statement ACM put out in response to the court order - which is a pity. In my very first blog on the new Protocol for the 33rd Cup I was willing to give ACM the benefit of the doubt over what appeared to be a very one-sided document. Since then, public opinion seems to have largely hardened against ACM, and backed the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC)/Oracle challenge to the Protocol. Not least because ACM have refused to recognise that people have legitimate concerns with the document, or even explain their reasons for the controversial clauses - perhaps Mr Hodara should be given the stage more often. Now, if he could just come up with a conciliatory tone and a willingness to negotiate, we might be getting somewhere.

Just one point about the rest of the interview - Hodara talks about the verticality of football as being an aspiration for the America's Cup. Meaning that there are people interested in football from all stratas of society. But football's verticality exists because every single one of the six billion or so punters on this planet has the opportunity to kick a football/tennis ball/tin can around a pitch/street/beach and knows what it means and what it takes to good, bad or indifferent at it.

The same cannot be said of sailing - and that truth will not be changed by bringing mainstream sponsors into the America's Cup, it will be changed by giving kids everywhere and in all walks of life a chance to experience sailing. And I don't see too many people in the Cup doing much about fixing that...

Mark Chisnell ©


Nothing much doing on the America’s Cup front this week. I guess it’s August and holiday time, but even in the Southern winter the New Zealand Herald hasn’t managed to come up with a story since the 7th August. There is a big article about Team Origin in the Times Online, but as it doesn’t even mention the current issues over the Protocol, I think we can safely ignore it. So has everyone just gone on holiday, or have Oracle and Alinghi traded their public dispute for backstage negotiating in smoke-free (these days) rooms? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

One piece of news was a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Jochen Schuemann had left Alinghi and was now shopping for a new team. It remains to be seen whether United Internet Team Germany (UITG) will achieve their ambition of hiring him. UITG skipper, Karol Jablonski has told German Yacht magazine that they’ve made Schuemann an offer. But perhaps Schuemann will try to put together his own German challenge? Just like buses, nothing for ages and then two come along at once…

Elsewhere, it turned out that the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) did the right thing in postponing the start of the Fastnet Race. It got pretty ugly out there and of the three hundred entries, 271 made the delayed start but only 51 finished. It was a record breaking year for Mike Slade’s new ICAP Leopard, the thirty metre canting keel maxi completed the course in an elapsed time of 44 hours and 18 minutes, which beat Ross Field’s former record by 8 hours 50 minutes.

By all accounts, ICAP Leopard had a bit on, they lost a genoa out of the foil off Portland Bill, and then halfway to the Rock they hit a shark, which got itself stuck on the rudder and was only freed by a man going overboard. So much for those Sun tabloid stories about killer sharks off the coast of Cornwall, should have been the other way around...

George David’s 90-foot Rambler, a non-canting keel maxi skippered by Ken Read, was only 45 minutes behind Leopard. It was a great effort by Read and company, they are using the boat as a training ride for the Volvo Ocean Race entry, Puma. But they had to settle for second overall, about two and a half hours behind Fastnet winner, Ger O'Rourke's Cookson 50, Chieftain.

The Fastnet was also doubling as official prologue to the non-stop double-handed Barcelona World Race – and the IMOCA 60s were led home by race favourites Vincent Riou (Vendee Globe winner in 2004) and Seb Josse (ABN AMRO2 skipper). The pair set a new 60 record, beating the time set by Catherine Chabaud on Whirlpool in 1999 by just over three hours. Alex Thompson and Andrew Cape on Hugo Boss, and Jeremie Beyou and Signey Gavignet on Delta Dore, were also inside the old record.

There were plenty of retirements amongst the 60s as well, including Guillermo Altadill and Jonathan McKee. They bailed out just over three hours after the start, with keel electronics problems aboard Estrella Damm. They returned to Cowes, fixed it and have since departed for Barcelona to do the qualifying miles for the main event.

And finally, the other big regatta going on at the moment is the Pre-Olympic event in Qingdao. I tried to pull up the latest results, but the website is rubbish. Last time it successfully loaded, the Brits were gold in four classes; Bryony Shaw in the RS:X, Paul Goodison in the Laser, Sarahs Ayton and Webb and Pippa Wilson in the Yngling – and, of course, Ben Ainslie with a ten point lead in the Finn. Wouldn’t that just wind you up something chronic? You’ve just spent the last year busting your balls in the boat, only for Ben to step back in after 12 months America’s Cupping and sail to a brace of bullets and seconds?

Mark Chisnell ©

Back at the Desk…

So nil points for my efforts at multi-tasking, I can sail or blog, but apparently not both…

There have been a couple of America’s Cup headlines in the past ten days, most notably the graceful retirement of Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli and his Luna Rossa team from the field of battle. After three Cup campaigns - which included winning the Louis Vuitton in 2000, making the semi-final in 2003 and the final in 2007 - Bertelli has decided he’s had enough. He stated simply that, ‘Participation in the next America's Cup was carefully analyzed, and while significant human and financial resources are already available, it was decided that, after three campaigns, a cycle had come to an end.’

Not particularly surprising, given the uncertainty levels surrounding the Cup – rather like world stock markets. Up or down? You pays your money and you makes your choice…

The times they are a changing - with Louis Vuitton and Prada gone, dominant brands from the last decade or two of the Cup, the next event is going to be different, however it plays out. The Swedish Victory Challenge seems equally underwhelmed by the current stand-off. They have sided with Vincenzo Onorato’s proposals (mentioned in the last blog - Russell Coutts subsequently commented that Oracle would withdraw their court action if Onorato's suggestions were followed). While Victory's Bert Willborg said, ‘We applaud Vincenzo Onorato’s initiative. Not only do we applaud his initiative, but we whole heartedly endorse what he has said in his statement.’

So in the blue corner, we have Victory and Mascalzone lined up loosely with Oracle in an effort to change the Alinghi Protocol. And in the red corner we have Desafio Espanol, Team Shosholoza, Team Origin and Team New Zealand lined up with Alinghi, having entered under the aforementioned, disputed Protocol. Leaning towards the red corner are United Internet Team Germany, who reconfirmed their intention to be there in 2009 - or whenever it might be – although they don’t appear to have gone so far as actually entering. They are also making noises about trying to hire Alinghi’s Olympic gold-medalist Jochen Schuemann. But there wasn’t any word on the fate of the Version 5 yacht that they’ve started to build…


ACM/Alinghi have already crushed any notion of taking Vincenzo Onorato’s proposals seriously, ‘We have no intention of going back (on decisions that have been taken),’ Michel Hodara (the chief operating officer of ACM) told AFP.


I can find one slim sign of hope… the much-trailed injunction that the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) and Oracle were supposed to be filing with the New York State Supreme Court (to prevent Alinghi from continuing to organize the 33rd America’s Cup while the GGYC court challenge was undecided) appears to be on hold. Is this a sign that there is finally some negotiating going on in the background?

Keeping Up…

If you’re struggling to keep up with the moves to date, those nice Scuttlebutt people have posted a PDF that you can download with a schedule of events so far, and an analysis of the way the legal moves might play out. It seems like a pretty solid review to me – the central point being that if it goes to court, it will come down to whether or not the Challenger of Record, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV), is a yacht club under the Deed of Gift. There're also some thoughts on how the teams might react strategically (along with some dodgy history and semantics), from another anonymous contributor to an earlier blog. Come on dudes, I stick my name on it...

And Finally…

Then there was the Valencia Sailing blog sponsored rumour that Dean Barker was talking to Russell Coutts, Oracle’s CEO, about a job on the wheel with the US team. Given Barker and Coutts long association, stretching back through their time at TNZ, it’s not hard to see that Russell might talk to Dean about it. But the Kiwis stomped on the idea quicker than a fox going for the throat in a chicken coop. Although, since Jimmy Spithill was out of a job as of a week ago (when Luna Rossa pulled the plug), I guess we don’t have to look too far to see where Oracle might go for helming talent if they can’t get Barker…

Fastnet Race

The Fastnet started a day late this morning, and as I type this, it’s still forecast to be blowing dogs off chains in the Irish Sea come Tuesday/Wednesday. It seemed like a sound call to me, keeping the bulk of the fleet and the smaller boats the safe side of Land’s End until the forecast has a chance to harden into reality, or not…

As for the Open 60s, racing in the official Prologue for the Barcelona World Race, they’ve got a bit on. But according to the race tracker on the official website, Jonathan McKee and Guillermo Altadill in Estrella Damm had turned back just after clearing the Solent. I guess the reason why will become apparent in due course, but added to the dismasting of Pindar during Cowes Week’s Round the Island race, it doesn’t bode well for this new generation of 60s…

Mark Chisnell ©

A Quiet Week...

It’s all quiet on the legal front in the America’s Cup this week. As I understand it, Société Nautique de Genève (SNG) and Alinghi have 30 days to respond to the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s filing with the New York State Supreme Court. So we’re on hold for a bit in the court war…

Meanwhile, there are rumours of more teams signing up for Alinghi’s next Cup, a couple of stories going around this morning include one out of the fevered pro-sail-fest that is the Copa del Ray in Palma. Both the Valencia Sailing blog and Marian Martin in BYM News are reporting that a second Spanish challenge is forming.

The BYM News story has more details, saying that the mover and shaker is Pedro Perello, who is currently racing the TP52 Siemens with Paul Cayard. Unsurprisingly, Cayard is slated as skipper, with Juan K being mentioned as designer. So that’ll be the third or the fourth team that the Argentinian will be working for in this Cup cycle…? I guess it’s all pretty speculative at this stage, but the campaign has a putative budget of 100 million Euros.

There’s also a story about an Australian Challenge – the Aussies have missed the previous two Cups, their last entry being the horribly underfunded affair that launched Jimmy Spithill and his mates on to the scene in Auckland in 2000. The story has it that there will be an announcement in September, which is the 24th anniversary of Australia II’s victory in Newport.

Elsewhere, Rex Gilfillan has once again given me the heads up, this time on a statement from Vincenzo Onorato of Mascalzone Latino, outlining a sensible path forward - although I fear that it's already gone too far for any kind of conciliatory negotiating type stuff.

The New Zealand Herald certainly think so, they have published a piece saying that Oracle are already designing that 90 foot catamaran. All that work that Russell's done on those 70 footers for the World Sailing League is coming in useful anyway...

Anonymous asked in a comment:

‘Excuse my ignorance, but will teams be allowed to tune up with each other? In that case will we see the likes of Oracle funding two separate entries (under different names) so that they can spend time two boat tuning?’

The short answer is no - the only time anyone will be allowed to line up against another Cup boat is in official racing organized by ACM. But with everyone in Valencia and sailing around on the same piece of water, I don't know quite how this is going to be policed. Maybe ACM will organize some Valencian ‘line-up marshalls’ who’ll buzz around and ping anyone who gets too close to another boat for too long…

So I’m off to Cowes Week for my annual regatta on an arm of the sea, and if I get out of the beer tent and back to the computer in time, I might even bring you some news of the Solent’s annual sail frenzy. But don't count on it. And yes, I know, I still haven’t sorted out the links - one day this blog will look like everyone else's, but not just yet...

Mark Chisnell ©

Snuffed Out

It’s almost as though they’re doing it deliberately. Oracle and the Golden Gate Yacht Club, that is… I barely manage to get a blog up before they move another chess piece and change the dynamics of the game again. This is the third week on the trot that it’s happened, or maybe they just have their lawyers working on this stuff the same day that I post.

Anyway, barely had I typed the words… If there is a glimmer of light, it’s that the newly set-up Arbitration Panel will start to consider the case of Oracle’s second Challenge and court action… than the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC) come up with a letter from their lawyers to the head of the aforementioned Arbitration Panel, Professor Henry Peter.

It’s not, shall we say, written in the language of someone who intends to arbitrate anything anytime soon. In fact, it claims that the processes set up for the arbitration in Alinghi’s Protocol, ‘violate the most basic principles of justice and independence common to all legitimate adjudicatory bodies and are an affront to the most basic sensibilities common to all law abiding people.’

Right. So see you all in court, then.

The basis of the GGYC’s view seems to be (and I’m no lawyer, you really should follow the link and make your own mind up) that Alinghi’s control of the Arbitration Panel means it’s nothing more than a ‘Kangaroo Court’ (GGYC’s words, not mine), that the referral of the case artificially sets Challenger of Record, Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV), against Alinghi, when they’re actually on the same side (rather than GGYC against the pair of them) and that the only court that has jurisdiction in this matter is the New York State Supreme Court.

Oh boy.

The only good thing I can say about it all is that at least these things are being rattled out with sufficient pace that the whole thing might be over soon and we can get back to the sailing.

My thanks to Rex Gilfillan for the heads up on the GGYC’s letter - in my latest learning-to-blog-lesson I’ve managed to change the Comments button so anyone can post (and not just those with Google passwords) – but if you want to send me some news, gossip or opinion directly, then click here. And now I’m going to go away and try and figure out how to put up a list of links. I may be some time...

Mark Chisnell ©

Pass Me That Blank Sheet of Paper…

I have to say, I’m kind of gobsmacked…

But not by the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s (GGYC) court action. Barely were the electronic dipoles set on last Friday’s blog when the GGYC, who represent Larry Ellison’s Oracle team, filed with the Supreme Court of the State of New York in support of their Challenge to Alinghi for a 33rd America’s Cup Match. GGYC are claiming that the current Challenger of Record, the Club Náutico Español de Vela (CNEV) don’t qualify as a yacht club under the Deed of Gift. They want the court to invalidate CNEV’s challenge, and insist that it’s replaced with GGYC’s own challenge to Alinghi (the topic of a previous blog).

Nor was I surprised by Monday’s announcement that TEAMORIGIN, representing the British Royal Thames Yacht Club, had chucked their hat in the ring and become the third challenger. It’s in Alinghi’s interests to line up as many challengers as possible on their side – and they’ve persuaded the Brits to join the Spanish and South Africa’s Team Shosholoza in challenging under the disputed Protocol. The Société Nautique de Genève (SNG), which Alinghi represent (or is the other way round?), followed this up with a press release to the effect that Larry Ellison was damaging the event and should give it up…

Equally unsurprisingly, Oracle responded swiftly, giving a press conference on Tuesday, where Larry Ellison reiterated his issues with Alinghi’s present Protocol and insisted that he didn’t want his catamaran challenger to end up on the water - but that it was the only lever he had to force Alinghi to come up with a fair set of rules for the game.

Ellison told the gathered fourth estate, ‘We had a meeting of all of the challengers at 2 p.m. today about these issues, the litigation and the associated uncertainties surrounding the litigation and I think we got a pretty broad agreement among the challengers. The outcome we'd like is to negotiate a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. No one wants to see this go to court. Our goal is to have a reasonable protocol with Alinghi. But you must understand—if you haven't read the protocol, you must read the protocol. The protocol says that if Alinghi doesn't like a challenger they may throw that challenger out of the Cup for any reason at their sole discretion. We think that's both unreasonable and unfair.’

I wasn’t even taken aback when Ellison also announced that he’d be sticking with the CEO and Skipper model for his Oracle team, but that this time it would be Russell Coutts instead of Chris Dickson in the role. That one’s been trailed for a while now, but the return of Jonathan E makes you wonder if it wasn’t the Protocol clause that allows ACM to exclude any challenger they don’t like, that set the whole GGYC Challenge and court action running. Did Ellison think that Bertarelli might seek to exclude an Oracle team that included Russell Coutts? Or maybe I’ve been working too hard on the thriller plotlines recently…

Nor was I fazed when Alinghi announced their party for the following day. And they were able to make some announcements that might settle some Challenger unease, not least of which was the entirely unsurprising news that their Cup will be held in Valencia in 2009. So at least the players on either side of the court room agree on that much - Ellison had said on Tuesday that if his court action succeeded and he won the Cup in 2008 in a catamaran, then the following summer he would run a conventional Cup in Valencia.

I suppose that’s something firm on which Cup teams can plan…

But I think that’s about as far as the agreement goes - Bertarelli had some choice words for Ellison at his press conference, describing the GGYC court action as ‘bullshit’. And Brad Butterworth followed this up with an email to the sailing newsletter Scuttlebutt … ‘Oracle struggled to come 5th in the last Regatta and my advice to Larry is to get Garrard’s phone number and order a replica of the Cup and be done with it.’ These don’t sound like the words of a man who’s going to be joining his old homie Coutts at Oracle any time soon.

So, we have Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts lining up – whether it be on the water or in a courtroom – against Ernesto Bertarelli and Brad Butterworth. Who ever would have thought? If there is a glimmer of light, it’s that the newly set-up Arbitration Panel will start to consider the case of Oracle’s second Challenge and court action. Perhaps they can negotiate their way through the murk, but hey, it could be worse, we could be cycle fans…

Meanwhile, Alinghi and ACM want to hold a couple of preliminary Acts next year, one in Valencia in July, and the second somewhere in Europe in the autumn – both to be raced in the current IACC V5 boats. The design rule for the new boats, along with the event rules, will now all be published by October 31st – which is a serious improvement over the end-of-the-year-if-we’re-ready that’s in the Protocol.

They also announced that Team New Zealand have become the fourth team to challenge through the CNEV Protocol. Dalton had already said that the current situation wasn’t holding them up, as they were focused on re-signing the team… ‘To a man our guys want to come back.’ That’ll include Ray Davies presumably, as the Mean Machine campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race was suspended. The team announced they don’t have the funding to continue, which frees up skipper Ray Davies to go again with Team New Zealand.

I found the speed with which TNZ plumped for Alinghi’s version of the Cup's future, rather than Oracle’s, a little unexpected, after the apparently acrimonious nature of the final days of the last Cup match. But there's an excellent interview with Dean Barker on Sail-World which explains the Kiwi's thinking - it seems it was Alinghi's offer to include the designers of the entered teams in the process of developing the new rule that swung it. It's also clear that TNZ are more willing to give Alinghi the benefit of the doubt over the new Protocol, as we discussed in a previous blog.

So... what really rocked my world was the news that ACM and Alinghi have decided that the teams will only be allowed to sail one of the new Cup boats at a time, and they will not be permitted to race each other except within an ACM event. Bertarelli pointed out that one of the biggest costs is testing, and the boat limitations will, ‘Reduce the amount of time wasting money going around the track without a competitive aim.’

This is why he wants Alinghi to sail in the challenger series up to the semi-finals, so they have some opportunity to sail against other boats. This is a dramatic change not only to the way we race for the Cup (leading to an F1 style travelling series where the final America's Cup match is simply the 'play-off' stage between the top two teams in a league?), but also to the way Cup teams go about their preparation.

Stop and think about it for a moment and you realize what a massive impact this is going to have on the way Cup teams do business (assuming we actually compete under these conditions). Sailing with Cup teams used to mean two boat testing and in-house practice racing - that’s what you did, day in and day out.

No more.

The planners within Cup teams will be starting again, you can chuck out everything from the Org chart to the schedule and start with several fresh pieces of paper. This is going to call for a complete rethink of how you approach the problem. Bertarelli wants to cut the costs, but I suspect the big teams will just be sitting around trying to work out where to shift the emphasis to try to make up what they’ve lost - and probably spending even more money.

For instance - how will twenty guys learn to race together? They can go out and practice the moves on their own on one of these boats until they’re blue in the race, but it isn’t the same as racing together under pressure. Anyone for a new class of 90 Maxi’s?

And how will the boat’s performance be gauged and improved when it can only sail on its own? Will the strategy be to just pour the money that would previously have been used for sails, salaries and maintenance costs during testing, into computer design code, and tank and wind tunnel testing? That way you’re betting on the boat just coming out of the box as fast as possible, you build as late as possible and the race crew just jump on right before the regatta starts. Needless to say, this is good news for designers and programmers, not such good news for the sailors, sailmakers and shore crews. If the last America’s Cup wasn’t as much of a design race as previously, the next one sure as hell will be.

Another strategy might be to build the boat earlier and design a heavily upgraded instrument system that might actually be able to measure the difference between one headsail and another. In the past, this instrument project always looked prohibitively expensive, compared to two boat testing, because of all the other benefits you get from having the sailors out on the water training together every day. But now it looks like it might be the only way that you’re going to be able to determine the yacht’s performance from one day to the next.

Or perhaps the teams with the cash will do both. And build a couple of one design 90 footers for race training while they’re at it…

Mark Chisnell ©

It Goes Around and Comes Around

The world turns in cycles – twenty years ago we had just seen the most amazing America’s Cup of the modern era in Fremantle. There was a 12 Metre World Championship underway in Port Cervo, Sardinia, and three British teams were forming to Challenge Dennis Conner’s Stars and Stripes syndicate – whenever Dennis finally got around to figuring out when and where he might hold it. I still have my Hawaii for America’s Cup t-shirt…

We all know what happened next.

And just as World War II followed World War I twenty years on, the Cup community seems to be repeating the mistakes of history. At least the consequences of this one are down the funny end of the tragi-comedy scale, rather than off-the-scale catastrophe. The difference for the Cup this time around is that a hell of a lot more money has been invested to get us to this point. There is more at stake.

So what are the latest plot twists?

If you want to see just how big the coach and horses could be, should Alinghi chose to drive them through their Protocol for the 33rd America’s Cup, then there is an excellent story by Richard Gladwell at Sail-World.

While Disgusted, Valencia (otherwise known as the Valencia Sailing blogspot) reported on Wednesday that Club Náutico Español de Vela’s Deed of Gift required regatta-on-an-arm-of-the-sea (which is one of the Golden Gate Yacht Club's challenges to the legitimacy of the Spanish Club as Challenger of Record) might turn out to be a children’s Oppie training weekend…

And Louis Vuitton have finally, and to the surprise of precisely no one, given up sponsorship of the Challenger Series. Emirates TNZ can keep the cup, apparently…

Then there’s a rumour, apparently out of the UK, that BYM News are running that Club Náutico Español de Vela will withdraw as Challenger of Record. Hmmm....

Another story coming out of the Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, has eight America’s Cup teams joining for a formal request for the current Protocol to be dissolved, ahead of negotiations for a replacement.

But Team Shosholoza have challenged the Swiss under Alinghi’s Protocol for the 33rd Cup. I suspect that this is not something that will endear them to the other Challenger teams, as the Challengers are only strong in negotiations if they remain united.

And the Golden Gate Yacht Club appear to still be waiting to hear from Alinghi, and have issued a further press release explaining their vision of the 33rd America’s Cup. They want it in 2009, in the same boats, in the same place (Valencia), with a global circuit of preliminary events, a neutral event management, a democratic challenger commission and a united effort to come up with a new design rule for subsequent regattas.

I could spend some time second guessing what all this means, and how it might all play out. But frankly, I’ve got better things to do than indulge in an exercise of literary wrist-slashing.

I’m going to have to find something else to write about. Something cheerful.

Anyone what to hear how the novel is going? No? Oh, all right…

Tour de France anyone?

But I spent ten minutes yesterday watching the Eurosport commentator’s breast-beating over pro-cycling’s latest positive drugs test, and German public tv’s response – pulling all live coverage of the race. But you know what? The Tour will survive, just like the America’s Cup - because too many people have been touched by it, one way or another, over the years. You can’t just conjure up 156 years of history any more than, it seems, you can conjure up an annual regatta on an arm of the sea…

There, I managed to be upbeat after all.

Mark Chisnell ©

It All Kicks Off…

I had barely completed yesterday’s post – largely an exercise in giving Alinghi the benefit of the doubt over their new America’s Cup Protocol – when it was made almost entirely redundant by the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC).

Larry Ellison’s Challenging club for his Oracle Racing team aren’t giving anyone the benefit of anything. They don’t like the way things are shaping up for the 33rd America’s Cup, and they’ve posted a further Challenge to Alinghi’s yacht club, the Société Nautique Genève (SNG).

It claims that the Spanish Challenge that Alinghi accepted as Challenger of Record is invalid, on the grounds that the Club Nautico Espanol de Vela (CNEV) is not a bona fide yacht club, because it’s never held an annual regatta on an arm of the sea, as required by the Deed of Gift.

More pertinently, I suspect, GGYC also claim that CNEV have carried out none of their duties to determine the conditions of the America’s Cup Match, but simply rolled over and accepted what Alinghi put on the table. The CNEV replied almost immediately, saying that nothing in the Deed of Gift states that their annual regatta must have already taken place when they challenge, and that their event will be held this month in Santander.

Nevertheless, the GGYC reckon that theirs is now the first valid challenge, and they want to negotiate a Protocol along the lines of the 32nd America’s Cup. Should Alinghi fail to come to the table, then as far as the GGYC are concerned, the 33rd Match will take place under the conditions specified by the Deed of Gift should mutual consent not be possible. To that end, they’ve informed SNG that they’ll be turning up in ten months time with (presumably) a catamaran 90 foot long, 90 foot wide, with 20 foot deep centreboards. Oh, and its owner is Oracle Racing, Inc.

A couple of points – I don't think Oracle/GGYC expect the next Cup to be raced in the 90 foot multihull. Their challenge clearly states that they want something along the lines of the 32nd Cup, and they want to negotiate that with Alinghi. Ellison’s position on the next Cup has always been thought to be a two year cycle, in roughly the same boats. The GGYC’s Challenge is all about taking Alinghi down a peg or two, and getting a Protocol with a level playing field. As I said in yesterday’s post, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the current Protocol - if Alinghi resolve all that uncertainty in their favour, it would lead to a very one-sided affair.

The big question is whether or not GGYC can make their claim that the CNEV Challenge is invalid, stick in a court (I’ll see your five lawyers, and raise you ten…). Or at least, will it give them enough leverage to negotiate a more reasonable Protocol out of Alinghi? Only time and the lawyers will tell us that. Normal service has been resumed. Meanwhile, potential Challengers are left hanging around street corners, whistling for it, while sponsors melt away and crew sign up for the Volvo Ocean Race. Alinghi produced a fantastic 32nd America's Cup, but if they handle this badly, they'll flush that memory faster than you can say New York Court of Appeal.

One final word – where’s the BOB when you need it? Tom shut up shop just in time, did he know he was going to be too busy flying to Geneva…?!

Mark Chisnell ©

Stand By to Stand By...

So you take a few days off, get out on the water, get some fresh air and come back to find… New boats?! Ninety footers…!!

It’s all change in the America’s Cup world, and coming after what’s probably been the best sailing Match we’ve ever seen, you’ve gotta wonder about the motives of those doing the changing. But it’s easy to be cynical, and we should remember that this is being brought to us by the same people that introduced a lot of the elements that made the 32nd Match so extraordinary – notably the preliminary Acts and reducing the design ‘box’ that the Cup yachts had to be built in.

So I think we should hold off making snap decisions about motivations here, until we know a little bit more about what’s going on...

And there is plenty of uncertainty. Alinghi claimed at the Protocol's press conference that these bigger boats were a late idea. And if you read the relevant para 14.1 in the Protocol, which deals with the new boats, there's a grammatical error that you’d think they’d have spotted if they had read it more than a couple of times - The new ACC Rules may provide for yachts having a maximum length overall of ninety feet in length overall… Unless they put that second length overall in there to make us all think it was a late addition...

Conspiracy theories again.

But notice also the words - may provide for yachts… Another example of the uncertainty.

The lack of a date and venue is particularly irritating to those people with lives in Valencia, who don’t know whether to shut them down and go home, or not. But that seems to apply just as much to the Alinghi crew, and the big decision is really Valencia or somewhere else, and we should know the answer to that one pretty soon…

Here's some more - how, exactly, might the Defender be going to participate in the Challenger semi-finals, now allowed for by the Protocol? By taking the place of one of the Challengers? By turning it into a five boat round robin? But given that there is also a provision for Defender trials in the Protocol, perhaps it’s a little early to get too exercised about this one.

(Taking a bit of a diversion - I wonder if any of the European teams have thought about proposing to race Alinghi in Defender trials, in exchange for a healthy percentage of the Defender's event profits, whilst ceding the right to run the next Defence? Given that the Challengers share 45% of the event profit between 11 of them, and the Defender gets 45% all to themselves, it would be a lower risk strategy for a new-ish team. They can't take the big prize home, but they won't need to raise as much money either.)

And while Alinghi could have a headstart in the design process because they are generating the new rule for the boats, they could also choose to negate some of this advantage - by ensuring that the measurement committee (who will ultimately be called upon to adjudicate the rule) are involved from the beginning, and that someone issues progress reports.

Alinghi can play this two ways - they drive a bus through the holes they've left in the Protocol to give themselves an undeniable advantage. Or they don't. The problem is that we won't know which way it's going to go until they start issuing the rest of the rules, and appointing the bodies that will oversee them. And by then, it may well be too late to level the playing field back up...

As to whether the whole new boat thing is good or bad, I jotted down some pros and cons for the three prospective viewpoints:



Alinghi gave every indication of believing they had (and actually had) a design and technical edge in the four or five years prior to the 2007 Cup match. But in the end, that edge wasn’t enough to stop it turning into a full-blooded yacht race, giving the sailors more influence than usual over the result. Moving the Cup into new boats ought to allow Alinghi every opportunity to properly use their perceived technical advantage and produce a significantly quicker boat to this new rule.

If Alinghi write the rule, they will have a headstart in designing a boat for it.


The next Cup is a series of 5-0 bore-fests and all the interest generated so far dissipates, leaving them with a seething throng of angry sponsors and media rights holders…



A new class means a brand new opportunity to come up with something inspired. The only way to win in the old boats was to out-Alinghi Alinghi – in other words, endless navel-gazing refinement of arcane detail. Some people find it hard to get excited about this stuff. I can’t imagine why. The new boat will make it a lot easier to raise enthusiasm amongst designers, and will create opportunities to build a wonder boat.


Alinghi will almost certainly have a headstart in the design process.

If you didn’t race in 2007, you are faced with the problem of competing in a qualifying series conducted in Version 5 ACC boats, while not being allowed to build a new one. All of a sudden, competitive second hand boats may be at something of a premium.

The new boats will cost more. Alinghi have suggested that teams might subsequently be restricted to one new boat for this campaign (but there’s nothing in the Protocol to that effect), and they’ve also raised the possibility that there will be restrictions on training and testing. If they push ahead with either of these rules, they may be able to negate some of the additional costs imposed by the bigger boats. But much of Alinghi’s technical advantage seems to have stemmed from their ability to refine design ideas in an iterative loop between on the water testing and their tank and software predictions – why give that up? In which case, the sailing teams will have to jump from around 36-40 people to 44-50 sailors to run a two boat programme – in salaries, accommodation and other personnel overheads that’s a fair chunk of change, before we even get started on the cost of the boats, sails and gear.



Bigger boats will look cooler and more exciting - the proposed length of 90 feet will make them a visual match for most of the modern canting keel supermaxis, and that’s important. It’s the America’s Cup – the boats have to look the part.

More powerful, lighter boats will be able to race in less windspeed - so there's not so much chance of waiting around for a week to get enough breeze to go sailing.

Faster boats means they will be more responsive to wind speed changes, and that ought to allow for more rapid gains and losses, and that ought to mean more passing – but see the cons…


The actual speed of the boats matters little to spectators – sailboats just don’t look quick when viewed from a distance or on television, unless it’s blowing like hell in huge waves.

What matters is relative speed – and although the design tools have been much refined since Il Moro built five boats to the first iteration of the IACC rule, we’re still going to see some serious differences in boat speed. The next Cup match will almost certainly be a return to the bad old days of 5-0.

Faster boats means the apparent wind will be further forward downwind, and that means the wind shadow will go further aft. It will make it much harder to use the wind shadow to attack from behind downwind, and will likely lead to less passes.


Did I miss anything? It feels like there’s good and bad for everyone involved - no surprise that Alinghi have the smallest downside, in the short term, at least. The bottom line is that at some point, the weight of the desire amongst designers and sailors to change the boats had to be satisfied. A few weeks back, Alinghi's head designer, Rolf Vrolijk, gave an interview to Seahorse magazine to the effect that the current rule was finished. So if it's not for this Cup, it's the next, or the one after that. The only question remains: is this the right time? If Alinghi do a good job, then it can be so - but I’d rather answer the question in five years time…

Mark Chisnell ©

Swanning Around Cowes

Back in the day, when I used to write columns for Yachts and Yachting and (remember them? Quokka, I mean, Y&Y are still going...) I used to bang on about race committees getting their priorities straight.

If you’re running a big commercial event with lots of sponsorship money behind the event and boats, then you can put the competitors through all the hoops you like, so long as the sponsors get value. Or they won’t come back, and then you won’t have a regatta.

If you’re running a regatta for amateur sailors and owners, then they’re the customers, and you need to give them a good time. Or they won’t come back, and then you won’t have a regatta.

So I'd like the Royal Yacht Squadron to explain why - with a 25-30 knot breeze forecast the previous evening - they thought it necessary to get everyone up for a seven am start to the Swan European's round the Isle of Wight race. Only to then postpone it as we all staggered into the marina in the weak light of dawn, because - guess what? - it was too windy.

They followed this up by setting the final long beat of the last race of the regatta into the teeth of a foul tide, up several miles of the rocky island shore. Never mind the endless short tacking, I saw three boats go hard on the bricks - what a great way to end their week.

The weather makes it tough enough to drag people away from the Med to come and race in the Solent, we don't need to make it any harder.

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 ©