Monday, 30 April 2007

Day of the underdog

Today’s line-up looked pretty ho-hum, and with the stronger breeze it seemed like everything would run to form. How wrong can you be! BMW Oracle v China Team should have been the dullest of matches, but no sooner had former BMW Oracle bowman Geordie Shaver made the comment on America’s Cup Radio that this was still a pressure race for the B-boat crew (because that is who was sailing USA 98 today), than the jib blew out of the headstay foil.

Poor old Sten Mohr and the rest of the B-boaters – sent out to do a routine bit of paperwork at the office – and then the window bursts open and all the paperwork goes blowing off down the street. Imagine going back to the BMW Oracle base and having to tell the bosses what happened on their day off!

Fortunately for the sailing crew, Ian Burns, head of the design team, took it on the chin. “It was disappointing. We couldn’t get round intact so they [China Team] deserve the two points - these things happen in sailing, it’s part of the territory really.
We were surprised and disappointed to see that failure, but I think it’s a sign of cutting it too close for comfort, and we will be reviewing that and a few other things to make sure that we are good enough to go the whole way. Maybe the compensation is that losing a couple of points to China Team is not as expensive as losing them to some of the other competitors out there.”

Areva Challenge sailed a blinder of a day, taking both of their races – first against Mascalzone Latino which the French won with a sucker punch of a luffing match on the first run. And then they pounced on +39 Challenge down the final run of a thrilling showdown between these teams that promise so much, but don’t quite have the finesse to match the top teams.

It was a day of so near and yet so far for Iain Percy and the +39 gang. To lose by just one second to Desafio Espanol in their first match after dominating the Spanish in the pre-start and leading for all but the final hundred metres, only to repeat the whole painful process against Areva. Hardly surprising, though, considering the severe lack of practice and organisation this team has endured for the past two years.

The team can sail smart and fast when unbothered by the other boat, but in close quarters contests the boathandling just wasn’t sufficiently tight. What Areva and +39 Challenge have both proven today, however, is that they are no pushovers and both teams must be treated with respect.

Possibly two of the most eagerly anticipated matches of the day, Victory v Luna Rossa and Mascalzone v New Zealand, proved to be among the least exciting. Not that they were dull, but the two middle-order teams had an opportunity to prove their pedigree as Semi Finals contenders, and neither managed to do so.

With Desafio’s skin-of-the-teeth win from +39 Challenge, the Spanish hold a useful three point lead over their rivals for the fourth spot in the Semis. That one second victory today could be the moment that Spain ensured its survival beyond the end of the Round Robin phase, little more than a week from now.