Sunday, 22 April 2007

BMW Oracle avoids a South African upset


Well, when the racing happens in Valencia, it's actually pretty good! For a while it looked like we were about to witness an upset of even greater proportions than Mascalzone's scalping of the Kiwis two days ago. When Shosholoza pulled ahead of BMW Oracle on the first lap of their match today, every neutral observer - and quite a few besides - were willing the South Africans to beat the Americans.

However, when the Shosholoza crew fluffed their spinnaker drop at the leeward gate, Chris Dickson's team was ready to pounce and they sailed in typically controlled and ruthless fashion to overhaul the underdogs. That's tactician Gavin Brady doing all the concentrating in the photo above, with navigator Peter Isler to his left and the iceman Dicko on the wheel.

At least in the Desafio v Areva match the underdog French team managed to hold on to their lead and stick one on the Spanish team who have such high hopes of making the Louis Vuitton Semi-Finals.

For all the fact that we've only had two days' racing in a seven days of competition, this first week says so much about the Swiss management of the Cup, both good and bad. Perhaps someone should have listened more carefully to Russell Coutts when he suggested Cascais on Portugal's Atlantic seaboard would be the better sailing venue. Or maybe we've just been really unlucky with the breeze.

Valencia is known (by some) as the Fremantle of the Mediterranean, but the supposedly reliable thermal effect has been in short supply to date. Chief race officer Peter 'Luigi' Reggio expects the situation to improve the further we get into the summer, when the mountains further inland can be expected to heat up properly and start to suck in a decent sea breeze. But that doesn't really start happening until late June when the event is all but over. That might be fine for the America's Cup but it's not much fun for the challengers in the LV Cup.

You could surmise that this was all part of Alinghi's cunning plan, to have the challengers wallowing around in no wind for two months before the Cup, but that would be a conspiracy theory too far! After all, Alinghi's second boat, SUI-100, has barely had time to get wet, let alone test the 'can they, can't they' canting keel.

Looking on the bright side, at least these light breezes are producing some real upsets in the competition. The 'Big Four' are not looking nearly as impregnable as they have in seasons past. And for that, Alinghi and ACM deserve real credit for introducing the Louis Vuitton Acts. Would Shosholoza have led BMW Oracle so confidently in the race today, even if they didn't end up winning? Would Mascalzone have trounced the Kiwis last Friday if we hadn't had the 13 Act regattas? I don't think so.

The naysayers (largely from the other side of the pond who still think the America's Cup was named after their great nation, and hanker for a return to those halcyon days in Newport RI) have long gone silent over this particular criticism of ACM. Whatever you think of the choice of Valencia as a reliable sailing venue, you can't fault the Acts and the implementation of the Version 5 design rule. Both have conspired to produce what is set to be a tighter challenger series than we have ever witnessed before. That's bad news for the Kiwis, but it's great for us sailing fans.


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